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Advantage Valley, WV Helps Launch Careers

Advantage Valley puts entrepreneurs in position to thrive.

By Brittany Anas on October 13, 2020

Advantage Valley
Charleston / Chris Gosses Photography / Mountwest CTC

Walk into a butcher shop in New York City, and there it is sitting on one of the shelves – salt produced by a company right here in Advantage Valley. J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works is the product of Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne, a brother and sister duo who revived their family’s 200-year-old trade of harvesting salt from the ancient Iapetus Ocean trapped underneath the mountains of Appalachia.

What makes this salt such a hot commodity? Once it is gleaned from the earth from an underground aquifer, it is processed naturally using the sun and mountain breezes – in other words, this salt is the purest of pure, and people from all over can’t get enough.

“We’re the epitome of an authentic brand,†Bruns says. “I love what I do and having a connection to my family’s history.”

Discover Advantage Valley, WV

Recently, Bruns started curating subscription boxes packed with the company’s salt, along with other made-in-Appalachia products. For those who subscribe, one month, for example, they might get a box full of Bloody Mary salt or roasted peanuts sprinkled with the savory crystals.

Customers enjoy “sending a little flavor from home,†Bruns says, often to their friends and relatives who have Appalachian roots.

Another successful startup that has had an impact on the region is UG Apparel, a clothing line for universities launched by Nesha Sanghavi in 2008. Sanghavi came up with the idea while in college, when she noticed a lack of fashionable collegiate apparel for women.

The market was oversaturated with boxy, screen-printed T-shirts. She began her business developing clothing for West Virginia University and Marshall University, ensuring they showed team spirit without sacrificing fashion.

“I wanted to be in business for myself, and I wanted to be an entrepreneur,†she says.

Advantage Valley, WV Offers Residents a Major Advantage

Sanghavi studied finance and economics at West Virginia University and competed in a statewide business plan competition, which helped her learn the ins and outs of creating a business plan as well as how to pitch to potential investors, network and conduct a profit analysis.

Today, Sanghavi is also the owner of chicka-d, another collegiate clothing company that UG Apparel acquired in 2019. Products are sold at retailers across the nation.

Charleston / J. Q. Dickinson Salt Works / Lauren Stonestreet

Former Intuit CEO Supports Entrepreneurs

To assist the next generation of entrepreneurs, the former CEO of financial software company Intuit Brad D. Smith made a $25 million donation to Marshall University in 2018. This gift has been used to help the university rework its business curriculum and build new facilities.

One recently established building, the Brad D. Smith Business Incubator, named after the alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration, offers mentorship and support to startups as well as access to subject matter experts and a pool of talented interns. The university benefactor says his passion for West Virginia and the potential of its people continues to grow, and he wants there to be a space to encourage game-changing ideas.

“West Virginia needs its people to remain committed to its progress,†Smith said at the time of the announcement. “I believe Marshall’s business incubator will motivate folks to do just that.”

Charleston / Marshall University

Readying Startups

The Advantage Valley region offers a number of other facilities that promote innovation and serve as a resource for startups.

The West Virginia Regional Technology Park, for instance, is a hub for research, education and technology and collaboration, promoting partnerships between the state’s colleges and universities. For technology companies based in the region, the park provides labs, working space and support opportunities.

Tenants of the park, like ChemCeption, the only incubator in the country focused solely on commercializing chemistry-based technology, are making waves.

All Roads Lead to Advantage Valley, WV

Other opportunities for entrepreneurs include the West Virginia Growth Investment, which provides startups and early-stage companies with avenues of funding; the Charleston Area Alliance and Unlimited Future Inc. in Huntington, which offer support services to help accelerate small businesses; and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, which provides startups with workshops, business coaches and financial resource connections.

Plus, maker-spaces in the region, such as the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) and the GRID at BridgeValley Community & Technical College give creators space and tools to innovate. RCBI was a pioneer in the use of 3D printing and a founding member of America Makes, the national accelerator for additive manufacturing in the U.S. Its Maker Vault provides space for innovators to experiment, develop and learn through self-led projects and group workshops. Coworking spaces in the region include CoWorks in Huntington, Area 34 in Putnam County and the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center in South Charleston.

Charleston / Chris Gosses Photography / Mountwest CTC

Accelerating Innovators

Did you know that West Virginia has the most favorable regulations regarding the Cottage Food industry? Because of strengths like this, the FASTER WV (Fostering Advantages for StartUps & Entrepreneurial Resurgence in West Virginia) program was created to spur the creation of businesses in sectors with high growth potential.

By focusing on high-value sectors, such as food and beverage manufacturing, outdoor recreation, health care, small manufacturing, construction and dependent care services, the program will create 150 jobs and $4.5 million in new investment over three years. FASTER WV participants have access to business coaches, nationally recognized entrepreneurial training and loan funds that are the key ingredients for a successful startup.

Advantage Valley, WV Celebrates the Power of Partnership

To enroll in FASTER WV or for more information, contact Advantage Valley Executive Director Terrell Ellis at 304-352-1165 or terrell@advantagevalley.com.

If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, WV.

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