This year’s winning business ideas in the West Virginia Collegiate and High School Business Plan Competitions are a sign of the times: STEM learning, food and gaming. Three collegiate and two high school teams are a step closer to their entrepreneurial dreams, as entries from West Virginia University, Marshall University, Morgantown High School and Buckhannon-Upshur High School captured the grand prizes in the competitions April 12.
The competitions are hosted by West Virginia University’s BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located in the John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
The high school competition saw Morgantown High School student Marleah Knights win a $10,000 college scholarship with the idea of WV2U, a farm-to-work meal kit service.
Representatives of BrickStreet Insurance, whose support created the entrepreneurship and innovation center at WVU, announced an additional $10,000 prize at the high school competition, enabling a second college scholarship to be awarded to Invisible Castle Gaming from Buckhannon-Upshur High School, a team comprised of seniors Zachary Wellman and Carter Glover.
Winning collegiate teams included two from WVU who were judged as top entries in the STEM and Hospitality & Tourism categories — a “STEM kit” called Iconic EDU, which enables students to fuse concepts taught in the classroom to real world ideas, and The Neighborhood Kombuchery, an idea to open a brewery specifically for kombucha. The third collegiate winner, in the Lifestyle & Innovation category, came from Marshall called Farm to Fork Meat Processing. Each of the collegiate winners were awarded a $10,000 grand prize.
Winning collegiate teams were Kyle Gillis, James Carnes and Alan Brockman, Iconic EDU, WVU; The Neighborhood Kombuchery, Andrew Rhodes, WVU; and Ashley Hoskins and Aaron Simon, Marshall University.
“The final day of the competitions was such a fantastic one, all the way around,” said Tara St. Clair, senior program manager at the BrickStreet Center. “We saw that students had really upped the level of competition and their ideas this year, and that makes the competitions better. And, of course, we were surprised by the addition of a second $10,000 scholarship by BrickStreet Insurance. It was a great day.”
Among collegiate prizes was $10,000 provided by ZinnStarter, whose support for the business plan competition made it part of a national network that includes Brigham Young University, San Jose State University, Utah Valley University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Ray Zinn, the longest-serving CEO in Silicon Valley and founder of Micrel Semiconductors, provided $10,000 to the BrickStreet Center in 2017 to make it part of the ZinnStarter program. For the second consecutive year, those funds will be distributed to any teams with promising business ideas, outside of the grand prize money. The program is designed to allow students to create go-to-market plans, finish prototypes and ultimately be evaluated on the performance of their use of funding.
“Submitting to the West Virginia Business Plan Competition was the beginning of an unexpected journey we will never forget,” said Gillis, Iconic EDU. “We went into the competition with an idea and a few rough sketches. After going through the process of the competition and utilizing the given resources, we now have a fully developed product that’s been in students’ hands all around Monongalia County. Using the money from the competition, we will continue to work hard and refine our product throughout the summer so we can officially launch this August.”
Upon accepting the grand prizes, winning collegiate teams will work toward opening their businesses in West Virginia. High school competition winners were awarded $10,000 prizes, scholarships which will go toward their college educations at West Virginia schools supporting the competition.
The BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is part of the WVU Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Applied Ecosystem, a University-wide web of centers, offices and programs that fosters and supports innovation and entrepreneurship among WVU students, faculty and staff while engaging the statewide community.
Other areas include IDEA Faculty Fellows, WVU Women’s Business Center, LaunchLab Network, Davis Young Innovators program, WVU Extension Service, Patent and Trademark Resource Center, Health Sciences Innovation Center, Legal Clinics, Media Innovation Center, Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the MakerLab and Technology Transfer.
Fostering the creation of new business has been identified as a goal for the WV Forward initiative to advance the state’s economic future. WV Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education, and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.