In elementary, middle and high school classrooms across the state sit brilliant, creative young minds — the future of West Virginia, the future of the country, the future of the world.
Written by Blair Dowler | Photographed by Alex Wilson
And at this point in time, those children do not know the impact they can and will
make. Empowered by West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, the WVU College
of Business and Economics has made a commitment to ensuring K-12 students across
the state realize their potential, and to help cultivate young, entrepreneurial
minds to grow and diversify our economy and transform the state’s business landscape
— to move West Virginia forward.
“I have said many times that West Virginia’s greatest resource is its people, and that we have too often exported our best and brightest,” Gee said. “If this state is to have a healthy future, we must keep those minds inside our borders, and that means we have to have entrepreneurs and innovators in every hill and hollow. This push by the College of Business and Economics is one of the most important programs occurring on our campuses.”
Through several outreach initiatives, the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and other B&E centers, faculty and staff have touched the lives of young people across West Virginia, encouraging them to be the change for the state and to pursue degrees in business.
“As a recruiter, it is a huge benefit to work for a college that offers educationally enriching activities for prospective students,” said Rachel Nieman, B&E undergraduate recruiter. “Being able to talk about programs like the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurship to prospective students definitely shows them how we can help them learn and grow. It shows that we are focused on helping students be successful.”
Health Sciences AND Technology Academy
Business is a part of every industry. And with the Health Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) at WVU, the BrickStreet Center shows high school students in grades nine through 12 who are interested in healthcare and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields the business side of those industries.
“It’s important for students to see where business fits in all areas,” said Nancy McIntyre, associate professor of management and HSTA instructor. “Just because you’re a scientist doesn’t mean you do not need some business knowledge. You may be running a lab or even with projects, knowing the business side might help. So, it’s not to take them away from the sciences; it’s to encourage them to combine.”
HSTA is a program that focuses on increasing the number of underrepresented students who pursue degrees in health sciences and STEM. Participants are placed into a group of 10 in their high school, led by a trained HSTA teacher. They meet weekly to work on group activities and individual projects, and must maintain their grades and attend at least two summer camps while in the program. That’s where B&E comes in.
Partnering with WVU Health Sciences, the BrickStreet Center became involved with HSTA in 2014. Students select activities during the weeklong summer camp at WVU, which includes a business plan competition hosted by the BrickStreet Center. This past year, participants were divided into three teams of three, who then went through four days of structured class taught by Steven Cutright, director of the BrickStreet Center, and McIntyre. They then spent their afternoons at different farms around the Morgantown area to learn sustainable farming models.
“These students are in an actual higher education setting, so they get a real feel for what college is going to be like. And our benefit is to teach experiential learning outcomes to these high school students so they can take it back to their communities and make real contributions,” Cutright said.
At the end of the week of training, the student teams competed, presenting their ideas to help their communities.
“You’d be surprised at how well they grasped the concepts. They came in not knowing much about agricultural business, but left with a certain level of expertise. They now know enough to go back to their communities to teach others what they learned,” Cutright said. “We also fund $2,000 to the competition, so that each team has money to go back and invest in their communities. So, we were very pleased with the students’ outcomes and their willingness and desire to go back and make a positive impact in their communities.”
Students learn to turn lemons into lemonade and lemonade into an entrepreneurial venture.
Each year, elementary school-aged students from the Morgantown, West Virginia, area put forth their best entrepreneurial efforts on Lemonade Day. The young entrepreneurs set up a lemonade stand across from the Mountainlair and encourage those in the WVU community to purchase a cup of lemonade for $1, with all proceeds being donated to a charity of their choice.
“When I ask a group of college students if they have ever had a lemonade stand as a kid, almost every student raises their hand. And at that time, they didn’t think about the fact that they were essentially an entrepreneur,” said Julia Bolt, assistant director of the BrickStreet Center. “So, the whole reason we do Lemonade Day is, one, because it’s fun, and two, to jump-start that entrepreneurial mindset early on.”
There are actually two parts to Lemonade Day, which is hosted by WVU Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO), a B&E student organization. The first is an academic session on entrepreneurship taught by CEO Club leaders, while the second part is the operation of the lemonade stand.
“Lemonade Day is important because it gives young students real-world experience about business. I don’t think public schools give enough classes or information about business, so I think this is a rare opportunity for them to learn and engage in it and have fun at the same time,” said Nada Aboraya, a junior business major and CEO Club vice president.
In 2017, the group of budding entrepreneurs took the project to a whole new level when they decided to create a scholarship with their Lemonade Day efforts for a WVU business school student interested in entrepreneurship.
“It was really cool that we got to raise money for a scholarship,” said Jack Boyd, a sixth-grade student at Cheat Lake Elementary School in Morgantown. “The money will go to a student who’s interested in starting a business. It was fun to be a part of that.”
These young entrepreneurs will be back on campus for Lemonade Day in April 2018.
Summer Youth Business Camp
In July 2017, a group of 20 West Virginia high schoolers descended on the WVU campus to get a glimpse into the business world at the inaugural weeklong Summer Youth Business Camp.
A collaborative event between B&E and the WVU Extension Service 4-H unit, the first-ever WVU business camp provided the high school students with a full college experience. They resided in WVU dorms, made new friends and participated in local on- and off-campus activities.
“For many of these students, this experience provides them the first opportunity to come to Morgantown or to see WVU beyond an athletic event. Youth learn independence and have the opportunity to master new skills. They gain experiences outside of their local communities,” said Brent Clark, WVU 4-H Development program coordinator. “They have the chance to form positive relationships with peers who have similar educational interests as well as positive adult role models who can encourage them to pursue their goals and interests. It allows them the opportunity to know that they can make our state a better place.”
These future business leaders received crash courses on different areas of business, including HR, finance and marketing. They formed teams led by a B&E faculty champion and developed hypothetical business plans. At the end of the week, each team presented their plans to a panel of judges comprised of local business leaders in Shark Tank-type business presentations.
“What I told them on opening day is that I wanted them to be able to try on some different parts of business to see if any of these areas might be the kind of major they would want to choose when they come to college,” said Dr. Suzanne Kitchen, camp faculty champion and assistant chair and teaching associate professor of management at B&E. “We’re also telling them that we value them and they’re not even really our students. They’re not college students yet. They might be someday, but it is important now to start building that foundation.”
And “going to school” during the summer did not disappoint for these young minds. They discovered a true love for the business world.
“I chose to come to a business camp because I’m interested in business. I joined DECA Club last year as a sophomore and I competed in Anaheim, California, at the national DECA competition. That was my realization that business is my true passion,” Ella Flowers, camp-goer and Bridgeport High School junior, said.
Parents also recognized the benefit of the camp not only for their students, but also for the impact on the state. Brenda Friend, of Buckhannon, West Virginia, said she knew her son, Nathaniel Friend, now a freshman at West Virginia Wesleyan College, was heading toward the business world and believed sending him to the Summer Youth Business Camp would give him the extra boost to make his dreams come true.
“In order to keep our youth in West Virginia, we have to develop something new. I think young people, such as my son, are a great example of how we can make that happen. But we have to change our mindset to help our children grow West Virginia,” she said. “There is a remarkable group of students here that definitely have that drive. If educators are willing to help these students, then West Virginia will become a better state with a better economic base.”
West Virginia Governor’s School of Entrepreneurship
Business campers were not the only young business leaders on the WVU campus in July 2017. WVU also hosted the first of two years as the home for the West Virginia Governor’s School of Entrepreneurship (GSE).
From the first day, the high school students from across the state worked with economics experts from the University and West Virginia to transform their passions and ideas into reality. During the 21-day residential program (July 5-25) students honed their entrepreneurial mindsets through lectures and presentations, hands-on workshops, competitions, travel and adventure.
“WVU was very well situated to be the site for GSE because of the ecosystem of services and the focus on curriculum that we have at the University,” said Mindy Walls, assistant vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at WVU. “We have a number of resources, from our IDEA Faculty Fellows to our various centers including the WVU LaunchLab, the Media Innovation Center and the BrickStreet Center, and all of those pieces play a part in the Governor’s School. We felt like WVU really had a wealth of resources that we were able to expose to the high school students.”
The young entrepreneurs were divided into eight teams and placed into one of four industries – healthcare, technology, creative economies, or hospitality and tourism. They put their pioneering minds together for multiple activities, such as a “Trash to Treasure” exercise where they were tasked with taking recyclable trash and creating a game that could be used by children in third-world countries.
“The students learned that they don’t have to stay in a defined box and can think up anything to be successful. Along with knowing that they are not out there on their own. They can be an individual but work in a team to create a cooperative mission that can be successful for years to come,” Bolt said.
On top of all the innovative skills built at GSE, students also found a renewed sense of passion for the Mountain State, learned a lot about themselves, discovered new career paths and made strong bonds to last a lifetime.
“The common statement we heard from the students from the very beginning was, ‘I never knew there was someone else out there like me.’ We had a number of students who were not comfortable in the beginning talking in public, but by the end we could not get them to stop talking,” Bolt said.
Each team’s major task was to develop, pitch and actually launch a new business venture. They took every avenue to launch their enterprise, learning about trademarking, funding, branding and more. After weeks of brainstorming and working with business coaches, the students pitched their ideas to a funding panel during the GSE Showcase at the Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place on July 22.
One team, Polarized Privacy, tackled visual privacy when it comes to electronic devices.
“To solve that, we decided to use polarized film, which is found on LCD monitors, and what it basically does is filter the color coming from the LCD monitor and turns it into an image,” said Sandrik Tabidze, Polarized Privacy team member and sophomore at Musselman High School in Inwood. “We decided to implement that into glasses so that it’s more private for that user and nobody around them can see what they’re doing and what they’re typing or the information that they’re sharing.”
GSE also has a direct correlation to WVU and B&E’s commitment to economic development.
“It's about trying to diversify the economy; it’s about trying to get more to these students to believe in the state, to have hope for the state,” said Javier Reyes, B&E Milan Puskar Dean. “We have to prepare the future leaders of West Virginia. It takes two to tango – one is education and two is the business environment, and that business environment includes regulation, banks and the whole ecosystem that sets the stage of that time.”
When GSE came to an end, the students really understood what it meant to be entrepreneurs, and to be the people they always wanted to be and move West Virginia forward.
“GSE has changed a lot for me. To be an entrepreneur, I feel like you should understand yourself in order to create your own product. And you have to learn to accept losing because it can be the best option to get to where you want to go to next,” said Hawa Diawara, a sophomore at Morgantown High School. “It helped me learn more things than I actually thought I would have, and I feel like this program can help a lot of kids who actually really don’t know what they want to do. I also found out that you don’t have to pretend to be someone else. This is a place where you can actually be who you are and no one’s going to judge you for that.”
Plans for year two of GSE at WVU, which will run June 25-July 15, 2018, are under way. The application process is now open at www.wvgse.org and will close on February 28.
West Virginia High School Business Plan Competition
Many young entrepreneurs are on the brink of launching their own businesses. And through the annual West Virginia High School Business Plan Competition (BPC), participants garner the right skills and resources necessary to do so and the chance to win a $10,000 scholarship to a participating higher education institution within the state.
“The reason we have created the high school business plan competition is because, one, we want to create economic development in the state of West Virginia through small business. But two, we want to let our youth know that they can do that and they can be successful here,” Bolt said.
The competition is open to juniors and seniors in high schools and career and technical centers within the state, and teams can consist of one to three members. Teams must submit a business plan proposal, which will be evaluated by judges from each region. One finalist from each region advances to the final competition.
This year, 2017-18, marks the fifth year for the competition, and each year the BrickStreet Center sees the participants change and grow as entrepreneurs.
“Over the years, we have noticed that the students are really interested in nonprofit and want to give back to their communities. So, we have started talking to them about for-profit organizations with social enterprise,” Bolt said. “We have around 100 entries each year. But in the two years I have been through the full competition, we have gone from a few good ideas to finalists with real, viable businesses. We are seeing a lot more quality and that we truly do have youth in our state who do have great ideas. They just need to know how to funnel out those ideas to become successful.”