The West Virginia economy is broken. The solution is to move heaven and earth to help young businesses grow into the lions of the global economy. This requires a fundamental change in our culture: we need to invest in talent.
Developing a Culture of Entrepreneurship
The West Virginia economy is broken. The solution is to move heaven and earth to help young businesses grow into the lions of the global economy. This requires a fundamental change in
our culture: we need to invest in talent.
I am convinced that innate intelligence is evenly distributed geographically, even though
economic opportunity is not. Children born in central Appalachia have the same brilliance and talent as those born in Silicon Valley. It is time to invest in our greatest asset rather than export our brightest minds to the world beyond our mountains.
The first step is to create an environment where our children believe they can create their own path to business success. The path is well known to us, albeit in a different context.
The Huntington YMCA is filled with kids practicing for thousands of hours in hopes of becoming a professional basketball player. What makes them think they can play professional basketball?
They’ve watched local players like Patrick Patterson, O.J. Mayo and Andrew Wiggins go from small-town all-stars to superstars in the NBA. They’ve seen a kid from Rand dominate the NFL. They don’t just admire their heroes; they want to be heroes themselves and are not afraid to pursue their dreams.
Unfortunately, we don’t celebrate business superstars in the same way.
There are plenty of West Virginians who have achieved all-star status in the business community. We need to celebrate the success stories of West Virginians like Bill Bright, Paula Tompkins and Brad Smith. Maybe then the future stars in our ranks will become startup founders, business innovators and multi-generation owners revitalizing important family businesses.
Yes, we need the time and space to incubate ideas. We need access to capital and mentoring. We need to remove legal obstacles and enhance an infrastructure that facilitates unlimited access to the world economy. But, first and foremost, we need to teach our children that it is possible to find their way to the top of the business world. We need them to hear the stories of West Virginia heroes so they can see a real path to success.
The next generation of heroes is upon us. Each year, we graduate high school and college seniors who are only a few years away from launching their own companies. We must tear down the misconception that many years of experience are required to start a business venture.
Steve Jobs founded Apple at 21 years old. The Google founders were both 25. Sam Walton started Walmart at 26. We can develop a culture of entrepreneurship by teaching students the skills necessary to recognize, evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities. We can tell them about home-grown entrepreneurs like Frank Alderman, who started MedExpress in West Virginia and grew it into a billion-dollar business. We can highlight exciting stories of start-up successes and foster a culture that makes being an entrepreneur a noble calling worth dreaming about.
The transformation to a culture of entrepreneurship begins this summer with the West Virginia Governor’s School of Entrepreneurship. This West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts initiative is a three-week learning experience open to high school students currently in 9th through 11th grades. Young entrepreneurs will study business models, design thinking and scaling new startup ventures. Through funding support from private industries, students will participate in team competitions and have the opportunity to launch a new business venture.
Playing in the NBA or starting a billion-dollar business are dreams that come true. We spend our resources building ball fields and basketball courts. We encourage our kids to play on “travel ” teams to expose them to the athletic talent around the country. So too should we spend resources to create an entrepreneurial culture and expose our children to the great intellectual resources available at places like the Center of Science and Industry, the Smithsonian and the Carnegie Science Center.
Our young people already have the creativity and determination they’ll need to play the game. Let’s focus their attention on real-life heroes and then support them as they grow into entrepreneurial superstars of tomorrow.
Patrick Farrell is the founder and president of Savage Grant.
This article originally appeared in the West Virginia State Journal.