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Turning Innovation Into Enterprise


3 Steps to StartUp Venture Fair Brings Entrepreneurs, Investors Together

Event featured 30 regional, national experts offering strategies to help WV entrepreneurs grow

Video recordings of the 3 Steps to 2 StartUp Venture Fair can be viewed here

Brad Smith, Chairman of the Board, Intuit

Intuit Chairman of the Board and West Virginia champion Brad Smith delivered optimistic remarks about the prospects for entrepreneurship in West Virginia at the recent 3 Steps to StartUp Venture Fair.

In a discussion with Michael Graney, Deputy Secretary of the WV Department of Commerce, Smith said West Virginia is “on the cusp of greatness with entrepreneurship,” given the state’s current startup mentality, alignment of resources and trends that are shaping the future.

With more students enthusiastic about being entrepreneurs and the educational system leaning into entrepreneurial tracks, West Virginia can be like Ireland, Smith said, which was in a similar position facing many challenges more than 30 years ago before emerging as the “Celtic Tiger” in a period of great economic growth.

One trend of particular note is that more students are enthusiastic about becoming entrepreneurs than in the past. Smith said 75% of students coming out of school want to start their own business now, which is much different from when he graduated from college.

Meanwhile, he noted that the state’s educational system is leaning into entrepreneurial tracks, from K-12 to higher education. These trends, combined with the growing acceptance of remote work and an increased interest in rural areas as a result, create tremendous opportunities for the state, Smith said.

“When you put all that together, you have amazing people–many of whom are descendants of Mountaineers who learned how to blaze trails and not follow paths. Now they are surrounded by an education system that is leaning into an entrepreneurial mindset,” Smith said.

He urged entrepreneurs to “fall in love with the problem, not your solution.” He advised them to “get busy in the market, gaining experience” by using strategies like “design thinking” that encourage entrepreneurs to develop deep customer empathy, test a lot of ideas to find the right one and be “scrappy” by running experiments.

The 3 Steps 2 StartUp Venture Fair attracted entrepreneurs from across West Virginia as well as small business owners, investors, assistance providers, economic developers, and other interested stakeholders.

Sessions covered topics aimed at what it takes to launch, and how to be, an effective tech-based startup; trends in early stage investing, how to make an effective pitch, first-hand advice from entrepreneurs who have recently launched new businesses and resources available in West Virginia to assist entrepreneurs.

Kyle Gillis, co-founder of Iconic Air, joined a panel discussion of entrepreneurs who have recently launched businesses in the state. A key to his firm’s success was leveraging a variety of available resources in the state, he said.

“I believe West Virginia is going through a golden era of entrepreneurship,” he added, noting that it’s vital for startup companies to plug into the state’s ecosystem.” Gillis and his co-founder, James Carnes, were named by Forbes to the “30 under 30” list in energy last fall.

Attendees of the Venture Fair also heard from Larry Miller, Managing Director of Life Sciences at Innovation Works in Pittsburgh, who shared positive news about trends in early-stage investing, especially in areas like life sciences and telehealth. Based on what he’s seeing in the Pittsburgh market, “2021 is going to be a good year,” he observed.

Three startup companies pitched their ideas to a panel of investors for feedback and tips, including RealX, Endolumik and NeuroWired. Guy Peduto, Director of the INNOVA Commercialization Group, encouraged tech-centric entrepreneurs to reach out to the 3 Steps to StartUp program for assistance.

“What we’ve done is streamline the process for getting a new company launched and into the marketplace, by collaborating with key partners across the state. Our goal is to help startups get the right help–at the right time–to move their idea forward,” he said.

Video recordings of the 3 Steps to 2 StartUp Venture Fair can be viewed here:

The INNOVA Commercialization Group in collaboration with TechConnect West Virginia and the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust created the 3 Steps to Start Up Program, which is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation through a federal POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) grant. To learn more about the 3 Steps to StartUp Program, or to apply, visit