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Turning Innovation Into Enterprise


High School, Collegiate Business Plan Competition Winners Announced

Sierra Cook, center, winner of the High School Business Plan Competition.

Sierra Cook, center, winner of the High School Business Plan Competition.

A senior from John Marshall High School has won a $10,000 college scholarship after her idea was chosen as the best in a field of 103 entries in West Virginia’s inaugural high school business plan competition.

Sierra Cook of Glen Dale, W.Va., was one of eight finalists from high schools across West Virginia who traveled to the West Virginia University (WVU) Mountainlair for the final competition March 22. The first-ever competition in the state was hosted by the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located in the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.

Cook’s concept, Marshall Mushrooms, is a local small business engaged in the production, growing and marketing of shitake and maitake mushrooms to restaurants, grocery stores and health food stores in the Ohio Valley.

“Fresh, local produce is becoming more and more in vogue in the health conscious segment of our society, and our business will be the first in the Valley to grow and market these delicious, medicinal and nutritious mushrooms,” Cook said in her proposal.

Along with John Marshall High School, the eight finalist teams hailed from Washington High School, Shady Spring High School, Bluefield High School, Herbert Hoover High School, Morgantown High School, Mingo Central Comprehensive High School and Wirt County High School. The 103 competing teams represented 36 schools from across West Virginia.

Collegiate Business Plan Competition winners and associates.

Collegiate Business Plan Competition winners and associates.

Separately, West Virginia University and, specifically, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, won all three categories in the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, which granted $10,000 first prize awards to three students to help make a business idea come to life.

Jessica Elliot, RenaSnacks, Lifestyle & Innovation category; Gaylynn Johnson, Mountain State Hydroponics, Hospitality & Tourism category; and Harold Vass and Alan Davis, Weld Safe Technologies, STEM category (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), took home the first place for their respective categories in the competition, which lasted nearly the entire academic year and included a record field of 235 entries, on April 4.

The event culminated in a competition that saw participation from 11 West Virginia colleges and universities. The record number of entries included 123 entries in the Lifestyle & Innovation category; 88 entries in the Hospitality & Tourism category; and 24 entries in the STEM category, a new division in this year’s competition. The event is hosted by the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located in the WVU College of Business and Economics.

“I believe this is the most competitive event to date,” said Steven Cutright, director of the BrickStreet Center. “It has been our goal to make the competition better for the participants every year, and the competitiveness demonstrated this year really showed that. We’re pleased with the progress and participation, and we’re already looking forward to an even better event next year.”

RenaSnacks is a West Virginia startup company that will produce healthy snacks for those who have special dietary requirements due to renal failure. The line of snack foods will feature ingredients low in phosphorus and sodium, meeting the nutritional requirements of a person with kidney failure.

Mountain State Hydroponics, a start-up venture located in the Mid-Ohio Valley region of West Virginia, specializes in the year-round production of high quality vegetables, herbs and fruits. This venture will utilize an innovative growing method, hydroponics, where produce is grown without soil, relying instead on mineral nutrients.

Weld Safe Technologies is designing a gas sensor device that increases worker safety in welding, with the intent of patenting, prototyping and licensing. Its first product will constantly monitor and measure lower explosive limits of volatile gasses present in the environment along with a number of different harmful gases that might be present in the air, all related to the welding process.

In addition to a $10,000 cash prize, winners will also receive a prize package worth more than $5,000, including legal, marketing and accounting services, as well as incubator space.

For additional information on the Collegiate Business Plan Competition, visit  For additional information on the High School Business Plan Competition, visit