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Have We Reached a Tipping Point for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in WV?

October 11, 2013

Column in the Charleston Gazette, October 8, 2013

By Anne Barth, Executive Director, TechConnect West Virginia

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” he discusses the moment when a rising idea or a trend achieves critical mass and spreads from a small group to the general population. The “tipping point” phenomena can be used to explore how behaviors and ideas go mainstream.

Have we reached a tipping point for innovation and entrepreneurship in West Virginia? Good question. Evidence suggests that if we are not at the tipping point, we are getting closer. In the upcoming five weeks alone, six events around the state signal that we are building critical mass in the innovation economy.

On Oct. 21, Vision Shared will sponsor “Conversations in Innovation,” featuring former Govs. Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise at the University of Charleston. This “arm chair” presentation by Govs. Caperton and Wise will center on innovation in West Virginia, the goals and methods they employed during their terms to diversify the state’s economy, and opportunities and challenges facing West Virginia in developing and retaining intellectual capital.

On Oct. 22, TechConnect West Virginia will host the inaugural Spirit of Innovation Awards at the Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown. Designed to celebrate success and showcase innovation across the state of West Virginia, awards will be presented in five categories, including Innovator of the Year, Innovative StartUp of the Year, Student Innovator of the Year, Investor Recognition Award, and Outstanding Woman in Technology.

Thirty-three nominations were received, with a broad range of subject areas addressing a number of challenges in health, energy, advanced materials, and more. This is an opportunity to celebrate the individuals and organizations who are leaders in innovation and innovation-based business development throughout the state. TechConnect is eager to celebrate their successes and to share their stories.

On Oct. 22 to 23, the Science, Technology and Research (STaR) Symposium in Morgantown will focus on the “Evolution of Energy.” This event will feature students, faculty, researchers, industry and business people interested in learning about energy use, energy conservation and energy research in the Mountain State. David Pogue, science author, New York Times columnist and host of PBS’s Nova Science Now, will be the keynote presenter.

Create West Virginia will travel to Richwood for its sixth annual conference on Oct. 24 to 26. By exploring themes of diversity, entrepreneurship, place, technology, and education, the Create WV conference is helping innovation and entrepreneurship take root in Appalachia and transform communities into sustainable and creative areas of opportunity.

The TransTech Energy Business Development Conference on Nov. 6 to 7 in Morgantown is hosted by Industries of the Future and designed to promote investment in new companies that can provide solutions to energy, environmental, and economic development challenges, such as creating new jobs and more competitive industries. The conference includes a pitch competition for individuals and companies to pitch their new energy innovations and products before investors, strategic partners, and project developers.

Also in early November, an Appalachian Regional Commission Conference hosted by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state of West Virginia will take place in Charleston. Entitled “Toward Prosperity: Entrepreneurship Transforming Appalachia’s Economy,” the Nov. 6-7 conference will explore ways that communities can foster entrepreneurial ecosystems to provide support and growth opportunities for both new and established businesses.

The common thread linking all of these events is a focus on innovation as the driver of economic development. From higher education to economic development and non-profit organizations, as well as the creative sector, a lot of activity is underway throughout the state. Plug in, get involved, and help get us closer to the tipping point that launches West Virginia full force into the innovation economy. Let’s make innovation and entrepreneurial growth more mainstream in West Virginia!