BECKLEY, W.Va. — The Tamarack Conference Center was full of entrepreneurs from across the state Wednesday for the first West Virginia Good Jobs Conference.
The two-day event was coordinated by Strong Mountain Communities, a non-profit based in Wayne. Zachary Drennen of Strong Mountain told MetroNews affiliate WJLS the goal of the event is to bring business leaders together to trade ideas and provide mentorship to new entrepreneurs.
“Nobody is ever a perfectly-formed business person out of the gate, so they might be rusty in one or more areas. Maybe they’re not so great at building a business plan, or their accounting is a little rusty, or they don’t have marketing skills. Building a network of support around you is crucial to launching a business.”
A large component of the conference was the West Virginia Good Jobs Business Plan and Pitch Contest. Participants had to start creating a business plan in July and pitch it to a panel of entrepreneurs from across the country.
Categories for competitors included community impact, lifestyle solutions, manufacturing, natural resources and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). First place winners received a $10,000 check, second place earned $5,000 and third place got $2,000.
First place winner in the natural resources category Joel McKinney said he is passionate about finding alternatives for abandoned coalfields. His Welch-based business Roadside Farms focuses on hydroponic innovation.
“We don’t have a lot of usable farmland. Instead of scaling on mine land, I’m trying to scale in all of these dilapidated and under-utilized buildings all across the coalfields all throughout the U.S.”
Melissa McKinney owns Stages Music School, a Princeton business providing group and private music lessons, and was also excited for the opportunity to network and compete with other entrepreneurs.
“This is going to be a huge, huge step forward for us. It’s going to allow us not only to grow my business but also to do more programs with my kids. The things that they like to do.”
Zach Drennen of Strong Mountain Communities previously said he predicts innovative ideas from newer industries have a future in West Virginia. The West Virginia-native admits he has noticed a recent shift in the state’s workforce.
“We are so industrial and so smart, and we can build and do anything. But we haven’t had to be entrepreneurial and we haven’t had to grow those networks that help us launch our small businesses. But now I think we’re finally sort of getting to a place where we are becoming more and more entrepreneurial in our nature.”
While the results of the Business Plan and Pitch Contest left excitement in the air, both Melissa and Joel McKinney agreed the toughest part is ahead of them.
“Every entrepreneur here will tell you that now the hard work starts,” said Joel McKinney. “All of us were fortunate enough that we had to go in and look at our business model, draft a business plan, look at profit loss. It really made us be accountable to ourselves. Regardless of anyone that made it to the finals or not, everyone got something from this competition.”
Around 15 businesses participated in the competition.