TechConnect’s ScaleUp Boosts Economy, One Innovation at a Time
The State Journal
March 5, 2017
By: John Dahlia
The journey from idea to concept to prototype to market can be riddled with obstacles specifically designed to prevent success. But a relatively new statewide initiative called ScaleUp West Virginia has quietly been giving homegrown innovators what they need to take their dreams to reality
“We launched this in 2015,” TechConnect West Virginia Executive Director Anne Barth said, speaking about a $500,000 award the organization received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to create the ScaleUp West Virginia initiative. The state added an additional $210,000 as a required match to bring the total value to $710,000.
“The idea is to serve entrepreneurs and small businesses who needs some help,” Barth explained. “Maybe it’s technical assistance. Maybe they need to get a prototype made. Maybe they need some professional assistance to flesh out their venture development plan.”
Counties included in the service areas include: Barbour, Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Fayette, Gilmer, Grant, Greenbrier, Harrison, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Marion, Marshall, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monongalia, Nicholas, Ohio, Pocahontas, Preston, Putnam, Raleigh, Roane, Taylor, Tyler, Tucker, Upshur, Wayne, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt and Wyoming.
According to Barth, ScaleUp West Virginia is helping to accelerate the state’s capacity to foster business formation through programs designed to encourage entrepreneurship, help startups find the assistance needed to successfully launch and support existing businesses in devising strategies for growing and adapting to new markets.
“It’s a way to combine a lot of different types of technical assistance in one grant,” she said.
“What more often happens is the entrepreneur or small business will find one of the partners,” Barth said. “Each group has their own application process to determine which companies qualify and which ones they can take on and when they do they become part of our ScaleUp program.”
One example involved staff at RCBI, a well-known Huntington dentist and his innovative, efficient way to feed horses.
In addition to practicing dentistry, Dr. Greg Crews has been an avid horse owner and enthusiast for more than 15 years. He said his big idea came out of frustration after arriving at a fence line to feed his horses only to find the feed buckets laying in mud, muck and manure.
“I began searching local feed stores and horse supply stores, as well as looking online for an alternative bucket and a solution to this problem,” Crews said. “I found none.”
About this time, Crews said he heard RCBI was giving grants as part of its participation in the ScaleUp West Virginia program.
“They immediately told me, ‘We want to help,’” Crews said.
He then was asked to make a presentation to the members of the RCBI Board of Directors. According to RCBI deputy director Jamie Cope, Crews was awarded two grants following his presentation; the first was $5,000 from ScaleUp and the second was an agriculture innovation grant for $5,000.
The bucket itself was an innovative design Crews said has a “one-of-a-kind, lock-and-load attaching mechanism” he had patented.
Crews said the experience he had with ScaleUp and RCBI was as good as it gets.
“They hooked me up with an engineer, and it was a perfect match,” Crews said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”
As of March 6, Crews said about 500 of his “LOCK-N-LOAD feed buckets” are being manufactured from high density polyethylene at PIT Inc. in Point Pleasant.
“My goal is to produce multiple products and manufacture them myself,” Crews added. “Future designs will include a smaller size for other livestock, as well as a water bucket, both with the one of a kind LOCK-N-LOAD attaching system.”
Crews has joined with more than 60 entrepreneurs and companies who have benefited from the ScaleUp initiative so far. Barth said the program has created and retained 40 jobs and ushered in the birth of 12 new companies.
“At the end of the day, if we can create companies here at home, we are more likely going to keep them here in the state,” Barth said. “I like to think of it as the USEDA made an investment in us, and the results that come out of this are the return on that investment, and we are seeing job creation, and we are seeing the formation of new companies.”