As an increasing number of youth leave West Virginia for opportunities elsewhere, WV Hive’s relationships with local stakeholders provide investment to ensure local talent stays.
It’s familiar to all of America’s rural states and small towns. The birth rate in the US is dropping overall, and young people all over the country have been clustering in large cities for the past several decades.
More Americans are college-educated than ever, and college graduates continue to find work in historically large metropolises—New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco—as well as emerging epicenters of startups and tech companies, such as Nashville or Austin.
It’s a problem the state of West Virginia has been contending with for a while now. The Mountain State recently made national news by offering out-of-state remote workers an incentive of $12,000 to relocate in West Virginia, which features lower cost-of-living and multiple outdoor recreation opportunities.
Given these circumstances, it’s clear that organizations like WV Hive have their work cut out for them.
“We’re losing a lot of our young talent,” shared Judy Moore, Executive Director at WV Hive. “We have great universities, but we’re not retaining our talent. A real focus of not just the Hive but also of the state in general is to build various programs to identify and work with our young talent in the state. That comes from building more pitch competitions and business programs, which West Virginia University (WVU) and WVU Institute of Tech have been huge partners in.”
The entrepreneurship arm of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, WV Hive offers programs for businesses that are just starting out (CO.STARTERS Core and the Get Started Workshop) in addition to resources for seasoned businesses (one-on-one advising, a makerspace, and technical assistance funds). On top of all of this, WV Hive hosts pitch competitions twice a year (pre-COVID), giving out up to $4,000 in prize money at each event.
A problem that many nonprofit entrepreneurial support organizations (like WV Hive) face is the question of funding. While grants are an available and essential resource, they often don’t cover the full costs of operation, and most funds are designated for specific projects. If an organization wants to run multiple services and operations, like WV Hive does, they have to source their cash from a variety of sources.
Judy believes their ability to fund their projects sufficiently and consistently has to do with the number and quality of partnerships WV Hive has forged in the West Virginia area.
“Everyone has such a vested interest in the success of West Virginia's economy,’ Judy said. “That shared concern gets us all on the same page when it comes to recognizing the importance of WV Hive’s work and the work of our partners.”
That shared concern plays a central role in WV Hive’s fundraising for programs like CO.STARTERS Core and the Get Started Workshop, two central tenets of their entrepreneurial education effort. Judy explained, “We wanted to make sure that every stakeholder and investor was there when the CO.STARTERS team arrived and demonstrated the importance of grassroots entrepreneurship support. For CO.STARTERS, all of our primary funders were at the table for that community training, and it’s made CO.STARTERS our easiest program to find funding for.”
It’s also important to Judy and the team at WV Hive that their investors come and meet individual participants during the course of the program to hear about the impact their cash is making in the lives of everyday West Virginians. Everyone has an agenda, Judy said; you just need to make sure that a stakeholder sees the return on their investment.
“Everyone has such a vested interest in the success of West Virginia's economy. That shared concern gets us all on the same page when it comes to recognizing the importance of WV Hive’s work and the work of our partners.” - Judy Moore
As for their pitch competitions, Judy emphasized the importance of nurtured partnerships and relationships in the community. Local businesses, smaller banks, community colleges—it’s easier to get funding through many small, local players than to land a huge grant from an affluent foundation.
“Some have contributed grants and funds,” Judy shared. “But some just offer their services at a discounted rate. Some offer to pay for individual CO.STARTERS participants. Some give prize money for the pitch competitions—it’s hard because you have to plan...staying up on all the conditions—it takes real effort. Nurturing the partnerships and relationships is the most important.”