In a major step towards helping create a new Mountain State economy driven by entrepreneurship and innovation, West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics today (Oct. 4) unveiled Vantage Ventures.
Vantage Ventures is a concentrated effort to launch high impact, scalable businesses that tackle complex challenges. Housed on WVU’s campus, it will lead the way in moving West Virginia Forward into a start-up state. Its mission is to support teams building businesses deploying intellectual property across WVU’s expansive research platforms and leveraging its untapped pools of science, technology, engineering and business talent.
Its initial focus will be on four main market sectors: healthy, security, energy and sensory. Resident companies are supported by Vantage Ventures through its strong pipeline of mentors, executives, and funding networks, access to which has previously lacked in West Virginia.
Vantage Ventures grew from a call-to-action in March when leaders from WVU and a delegation of West Virginians met with John Chambers, former Executive Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems and current Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, to discuss the potential for the newly renamed College of Business and Economics. The conversations paved the way for recreating West Virginia as a startup state.
Chambers – a graduate of the College bearing his name and the WVU College of Law – strongly believes that startups will fuel job creation, GDP growth, innovation, and inclusion in the future.
He also strongly believes in his home state.
“Through investments in skills training and digitization, we will help the people of West Virginia prepare for a digital-first future that will be fueled by startups and entrepreneurship,” Chambers said. “I’m incredibly excited to partner with my alma mater to help the great state of West Virginia fulfill its potential to be a leader in entrepreneurship and innovation.”
One of the participants in that March meeting was Javier Reyes, Milan Puskar Dean of the Chambers College and Vice President of Startup West Virginia, who was charged by WVU President Gordon Gee with coordinating resources to reinvent West Virginia’s economy.
“West Virginia is a place with tremendous resources and opportunities, but we have to think differently about job creation to move into the future,” Reyes said. “Vantage Ventures is the way to provide the infrastructure and resources needed to fuel start-ups and support the entrepreneurs with bold ideas that can transform our economy.”
Vantage Ventures is moving full-speed ahead in its new home, guided by the vision and energy of Executive Director Sarah Biller, one of the founding executives of FinTech Sandbox. More than 15 companies will be in residence at its launch.
“We look at this as an opportunity to access untapped intellectual capital and resources to solve large problems and stand-up businesses that attract venture investment and are profitable,” Biller said.
Gee believes in Biller’s team, which includes Director Erienne Olesh and Associate Director Brandon Cook, and their vision for the future. He is confident that the building blocks of a thriving economic future for West Virginia are positioned right where they belong – on WVU’s campus.
“The creation of Vantage Ventures is a tangible result of the partnership with John Chambers,” President Gordon Gee said. “This initiative will play a key role in fulfilling the vision of West Virginia as being an example of what an entrepreneurship mindset can mean for an overall economy. It is not too much of a stretch to say this could be the birth of a new West Virginia economy – and it is only fitting that West Virginia University is its home.”
After months of behind-the-scenes work, its home is coming to life. The Vantage Point’s 8,000 square feet of space hosts an intersection of creative, collaborative thought and entrepreneurial engagement. WVU celebrated the grand opening of its University Place location Friday in Morgantown with nearly 250 supporters from West Virginia and beyond, including entrepreneurs and partners critical to their mission.
But for this team of tenacious entrepreneurs, the story of Vantage Ventures began on that day in Palo Alto in spring 2019 – and it will continue to evolve long after the ribbon is cut and the last glass of punch is served.
“In five years, the next generation of entrepreneurs will be leading thriving businesses in West Virginia with measurable economic impact,” Biller said. “That’s how we’ll know we’re successful.”
Vantage Ventures 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.