The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 13, 2013

Entrepreneur Cafés help with seed money for new business ventures


— West Virginia has the lowest entrepreneurship participation rating in the U.S., according to the Kaufman Foundation, a Missouri foundation seeking to further entrepreneurship.

A local collective spearheaded by Vision Shared and the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce wants to change that by offering quarterly Entrepreneur Cafés, where people can gain seed money of at least $500 to launch a venture, market a product or service, buy needed equipment, etc.

The first Greenbrier Valley Entrepreneur Café is scheduled for late February. The Chamber is collecting proposals until the end of January.

Vision Shared was created in 2000 as a public-private partnership to bring together business, labor, government and other diverse interests to develop a strategy that will sustain West Virginia and make our state more economically competitive. They have been launching these café events throughout West Virginia.

Other local sponsors of the Greenbrier Valley Café include New River Technical and Community College, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation and the Small Business Administration.

Some of the selected presenters at café events from Shepherdstown and Huntington have included a birthday party business, therapists creating an educational game, a bowling supply business, a massage therapist, an alternations business, a software inventor, online magazine, inventor of a portable pottery wheel, inventor of purse clutch, organic flavored tea business owner and the owner of a small venue for community gatherings.

“The goal is to spark the creative entrepreneurial spirit within our local community to begin formulating ideas, motivating work on a business plan and finding an innovative way to sell an idea to a group of supportive community members”, according to Chamber Director Katie Ickes.

Five finalists will be selected from entries to present their ideas in February. Rebecca Randolph, president of Vision Shared has offered to meet with finalists to give pointers on making the most of their presentation time. The proposal time is limited to 5 minutes. There will then be an opportunity for a question and answer period before the voting takes place.

With the café concept, anyone may attend and invest $10 to vote for the person they consider the most deserving of the seed money. A complimentary supper will be served, hence the name café. The winner's only obligation is to return to the Fall café and relate how the money was used and how it benefited.

Vision Shared is donating $500, but other donations are encouraged. In other communities, civic leaders and business owners have given donations to “sweeten the pot” to encourage fledgling businesses or those wishing to go to the next level with some aspect of their business.

To submit a proposal, go to the Chamber website, www.greenbrierwvchamber.org and click on the Entrepreneur Café icon for more information and an application.

For further assistance or to provide a sponsorship, please call the Chamber office at 304-645-2818.