The business growth that West Virginia has experienced just in the past three years has been spectacular. Following 2018, each year has shown an almost 50% increase in business registrations in the Mountain State. Statistics show 4,345 new business formations from 2010 to 2020, and we expect that once the data is published, 2021 will evidence even more growth for West Virginia businesses. These numbers are nothing short of impressive, especially during nearly two years of business experiencing strain by a global pandemic affecting everything from supply chains to consumer behavior.
We can trace the business boom in West Virginia to a number of factors:
- More streamlined online licensing through the West Virginia Secretary of State: Secretary Mac Warner introduced the “One-Stop Business Portal” and digital licensing around the start of the growth.
- West Virginia Department of Education’s focus on enhancing entrepreneurial education: the Governor’s School of Entrepreneurship was established in 2015, sparking an interest in entrepreneurship for our state’s youth population and looking ahead to a bright future.
- An invigoration from regular monthly meetings of the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem through West Virginia BusinessLink
- Organizations uniting in efforts to advance West Virginia’s economy: like WV BusinessLink and 3 Steps to Startup. designed to support entrepreneurs formed to help new businesses succeed and empower entrepreneurs with the knowledge to get their businesses off the ground and succeed.
With the shared goal of guiding West Virginia’s prospective entrepreneurs in a meaningful way, organizations across the state aim to build West Virginia’s future economy with knowledgeable, home-grown entrepreneurs. Two such organizations are WV BusinessLink and 3 Steps provide ways for business owners to access the technical resources they need to succeed at every step of their venture.
3 Steps to Startup began in 2019, and it has thrived in part due to the innovation noted above: West Virginia is making efforts to make business ownership more accessible. 3 Steps is a collaboration between INNOVA, TechConnect West Virginia, and the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, each entity offering expertise throughout the “steps” of business startup. Funding to start 3 Steps began with a $1.2M POWER Grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The POWER Grant was also supported by funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. 3 Steps is accessible to any business venture in West Virginia, and its specific mission is to further innovation and diverse job creation.
3 Steps is a “virtual incubator,” helping an entrepreneur navigate the ins and outs of business formation. The process starts with education, and entrepreneurs can easily access Master Classes, podcasts, and attend venture fairs to learn and connect with other entrepreneurs and funding sources. Lack of knowledge is the very first obstacle that an entrepreneur encounters, and 3 Steps helps them take that first step, ensuring that they can reach their goal. 3 Steps then leads startups through commercialization, and then it links entrepreneurs to early-stage investment.
West Virginia BusinessLink provides more opportunities for aspiring business owners to receive help navigating business ownership. SBA CARES Act funds launched WV BusinessLink in September of 2021 to assist small businesses with pandemic recovery and build business resiliency. The COVID pandemic demonstrated that many business owners aren’t aware of all the available resources. In a time of crisis, resources are critical to their survival. Similar to 3 Steps, the goal of WV BusinessLink is to ensure that entrepreneurs have a simple way to find answers to their questions or get connected to someone who can help them when they need it.
One of the newest services of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development links entrepreneurs and business owners to local, regional, and state resources to help them launch, grow and prosper. It is developing as a one-stop network of organizations and agencies in the state that support entrepreneurs across many sectors of our economy: manufacturing, retail, technology startups, and more. By sub-contracting SourceLink and becoming the 8th state to implement their online search and support system for entrepreneurial resources, WV BusinessLink is the starting point for small business support.
More than 130 not-for-profit, government, or educational entities that serve entrepreneurs and small businesses are registered with WV BusinessLink’s online platform. These resources highlight the diversity of entrepreneurship across West Virginia. Most importantly, each organization maintains independence in its operations and mission but benefits from being linked to other organizations. In this way, BusinessLink creates a team of experts that can collectively answer any question that an entrepreneur has. This team can be accessed through the WV BusinessLink database of Resource Partners. Additionally, Resource Partners can add events to a shared calendar, creating a streamlined schedule of opportunities for entrepreneurs and other Resource Partners alike.
Organizations collaborating for the success of West Virginia small businesses enrich our state’s growing economy. Specifically, the technical resources that both 3 Steps to Startup and BusinessLink serve as comprehensive guides to help startups at any stage in business. West Virginia business will continue to prosper with organizations like these serving the community. If you are interested in talking to someone about your venture, connect with 3 Steps to Startup or West Virginia BusinessLink today!
About The Authors
Michele O’Connor has more than 30 years’ experience in the finance and banking industry. She has attained her Certified Financial Planner designation along with the Accredited Investment Fiduciary Manager and Development Finance Certified Professional designations. She is also a graduate of the Venture Capital Institute.
Michele was the Portfolio Manager for the Trust Department at First United Bank and managed over $600 million for the department. Currently she is the Senior Investment Manager for the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, which is a leading WV venture capital firm focused on turning the innovation of new ideas into successful world-class companies. She is a Board member and Chair of TechConnect West Virginia and serves as an Advisory Board Member for the WVSBDC and the WV Women’s Business Center.
Michele graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Finance from the University of Maryland University College.
William J. “Bill” Woodrum is the Coordinator of the WV Entrepreneurship Network and project director for the WV BusinessLink initiative at the WV Department of Economic Development. Prior to coming to state government, Bill served as the Director of Entrepreneurship at the Robert C. Byrd Institute of Marshall University for seven years. In this role he supported a variety of innovation support in agricultural technology, entrepreneurship, rapid prototyping, and small batch manufacturing programs. He also helped establish the WV Agricultural Leadership Committee in 2016 which combined business & industry with government, educational and non-profit resources. In 2018, he was a founding member of the WV Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and is currently serving as co-chair. This network now has more than 110 regularly participating members representing entrepreneur serving organizations from across the state.
A native of West Virginia, Bill’s career has been dedicated to community resource development through government and non-profit administration. This work has allowed him to work at local, state, regional, national, and international level. His specialty is building resource networks to support on-going community and economic development systems.
Mr. Woodrum holds a Bachelor of Arts from Marshall University and received his Master of Science from The Ohio State University. Mr. Woodrum has presented seminars on best practices in development, management systems, ecosystem building and leadership at the local, state, national and international level.