WVU receives grant to encourage youth entrepreneurship in rural communities

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University (WVU) has been awarded a $60,000 grant from the Benedum Foundation to develop a strategic plan to support youth entrepreneurship statewide.

Like many rural states, West Virginia struggles to find ways to stem the outbound flow of young people from the state.

“Youth entrepreneurship is important because, in West Virginia, we know our students are leaving to pursue employment in other states,” Lauren Prinzo, WVU Extension specialist and Chair of the Youth Workgroup for the West Virginia Ecosystem said. “We see entrepreneurship as a solution for students to remain in their communities, pursue their passions and contribute to their local economy while giving themselves the chance to have meaningful employment in the place they want to be.”

Funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the group included the WVU Extension, WVU Morris L. Hayhurst Launch Lab, WVU Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, WVU Chambers College of Business and Economics, and the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative.

The Youth Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (YEE) Workgroup was formed through the collaboration that will work with the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem to bring other adults into the fold to work with youth to expand entrepreneurial opportunities.

The group will provide professional development, planning, and support to engage middle school students and educators with events and conferences like the West Virginia Bridging Innovation Conference, the WVU Impact Challenge and county and statewide 4-H camps.

They will also have the opportunity to participate in the Young Innovators Club, a free after-school program that teaches them about key entrepreneurial concepts and skills. Participants will have mentors to develop a community-based entrepreneurship project using the “My Hometown is Cool” program and produce a pitch to sell it. The student teams will also have access to mini-grants to turn their ideas into reality in their hometown.

WVU Extension agents Ami Cook, Cheryl Kaczor, David Roberts, Lauren Weatherford and Dana Wright are facilitating the program.

“The Benedum grant provides our team the opportunity to continue to drive the idea of youths creating real solutions to problems that exist within the communities that they live and work in,” Wright said. “Entrepreneurship is important for the entire state. For small rural towns, one great entrepreneurial idea could be the catalyst for generating economic growth that affects an entire region.”

Youths from Braxton, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, Mingo, and Nicholas counties will participate.