HUNTINGTON – What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
To take risks. Facial failure. Keep an eye on the problem. Find a solution that people need. Research the numbers.
These would all be correct answers to a quiz for college students studying entrepreneurship. For a small group of Marshall University undergraduate and graduate students, these were the practical steps that were put into practice as they worked through a 12-week pilot program that prepared them to go in front of investors to discuss funding for their ideas .
The pilot program is called Jewel City Jumpstart. It is an initiative supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission and sponsored by the Appalachian Investors Alliance, the Tri-State Angel Investment Group (TSAIG), the Lawrence Economic Development Corp. and the EPIC mission is supported. It is offered to students studying Entrepreneurship at Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business (LCOB) and the Brad D. Smith Business Incubator.
Jeremy Turner, Associate Instructor and Executive-in-Residence, and Olen York, Entrepreneurship Instructor and Director of iCenter at LCOB, came up with the idea of applying the entrepreneurial concepts the students were studying to experiences outside the classroom.
“We talked about how we can better prepare young entrepreneurs for success and connect them with funding to get them started,” said Turner, founder and CEO of EPIC Mission. “One of the challenges young entrepreneurs face is that they do not have the financial resources necessary to access traditional credit or finance, and they are often unaware that there are investment groups looking for new business ventures. that you can support. “
These discussions led to the 12-week pilot program aimed at engaging, encouraging and developing Appalachian entrepreneurs through public-private collaboration.
The program is designed to provide motivated, aspiring college entrepreneurs with the opportunity to learn best practices, develop their entrepreneurial skills, and gain access to expert coaching, guidance, and insights from seasoned educators, entrepreneurs, and investors. Led by the LCOB faculty and patent attorney Olen York, students receive coaching and mentoring outside of the classroom from partner organizations.
This is not a literal experience.
“There are a lot of good ideas,” said York. “We want students to recognize that a good idea or invention doesn’t make them an entrepreneur. The difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur is knowing what problem the invention solves for people and how it meets unmet needs. “
Teams in action
To help them gain the experience they needed, York’s pilot course was a laboratory where students met in teams, developed business ideas, and then set out to research needs, identify the solutions, and develop a business plan.
“With no quizzes, no exams, and no homework, students quickly found they were getting down to business and using creative and innovative ideas to figure out how best to turn their idea into a business,” said York.
This challenge brought many lessons.
“I always thought I would one day have my own business,” said Hannah Ellis, senior with majoring in Entrepreneurship and Marketing with a minor in Management. “When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian and had ideas for all kinds of side businesses related to pets. As part of the Jewel City Jumpstart program, I came up with plans for a product that I was thinking about. “
Ellis was due to present her plan to TSAIG in March.
“I’ve acquired skills that will help me know where to start,” she said. “I’ve learned that mistakes are scary, but there is a benefit when you learn from your mistakes and improve yourself and your product.”
Harrison Letchford, McKenna Sunderland and Greg Hewitt work as a team on a business plan they didn’t have in mind when the program started.
“We turned the decision on our product because we found through empathy interviews with potential customers that our original idea doesn’t really solve a problem,” said Sunderland. “Through these conversations, we listened and, being open to what people were saying, we found another problem and came up with a new solution.”
“We learned to fail early and early and move on,” said Letchford. “The class is structured to reflect how we need to work outside of school if our business is to be successful.”
Investors on board
As students develop their business plans, TSAIG looks forward to the potential to invest in young start-ups.
“We have been investing in this area since 2014,” said Don Perry, TSAIG chairman. “We were keen to invest more in the Huntington area and work with Marshall when Jeremy Turner and Olen York proposed the Jewel City Jumpstart pilot program. Our investment members look forward to seeing what the students have developed and how the program continues. “
TSAIG is a member managed fund that invests 10 to 15 investments of varying sizes in its fund distributions. All members take part in the presentations and vote on the companies that are financially supported. TSAIG has established two mutual funds and is raising capital for its third fund, which is expected to be actively investing through April.
“One of the exciting things about this is that our members have the option to drive a sidecar or invest in if they’re particularly interested in a new business,” said Perry.
This means that an entrepreneur could get additional funding.
“Our portfolio is mixed,” said Perry. “That means we’re not just looking at one industry such as high-tech and growth opportunities, we’re going to invest in a variety of companies. In this area, we’ve funded small businesses, hotels, restaurants, and businesses on Main Street. These type of companies are all over the Appalachian Mountains and we are looking to see who comes to the table with a creative idea and plan that will ensure economic diversity in our region. “
build up trust
Bill Bissett, President and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, believes that the success of entrepreneurs in the region is of great value.
“With programs like Jewel City Jumpstart and Marshall’s Brad D. Smith Business Incubator, people are realizing they don’t have to find a job – they can start one,” said Bissett. “We’re seeing a real influx of young people who are passionate about startups and who keep money in the local economy.”
Bissett believes that this support has a lot to do with turning happy accidents into happy successes.
“With programs that instill confidence in mentoring and funding organizations willing to help these people take risks, we see new business growth here in Huntington,” he said. “In fact, even during the pandemic, we saw many events here where people decided to embrace change and not run away from it.”
This trust helps investors and planners alike.
“What students in this program learn is that once they have a good business idea, there are people and programs out there that can help them,” said Turner. “Entrepreneurs are better prepared to seek funding, and fund investors are seeing better plans so they can make better decisions about the strengths of a new business solution and its risk value.
“Additionally, students in this program learn that entrepreneurship skills aren’t just for small business owners,” he said. “Corporations, nonprofits, and other businesses need the creative and innovative thinking of people whose ‘intrapreneurial’ skills lead to critical business success and breakthroughs.”
“Ultimately, entrepreneurship is based on problem-solving and looking for opportunities,” said York. “Jewel City Jumpstart promotes problem-solving, gives students permission to think innovatively, and encourages them to get up if they make a mistake.”
Turner and York both believe that innovative and creative monuments are peculiar to Appalachia, and West Virginia in particular.
“People who came to these mountains to shape a life had to be creative in solving critical livelihood, home and community problems,” said Turner. “They were creative doers who wove basic housework and lifestyle skills from different cultures into today’s world.”