A new program – 3 Steps to Start Up – designed to provide enhanced entrepreneurial support for business start-ups shows great promise, and we applaud those who have taken the lead.

A $1.2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to INNOVA Commercialization Group, an initiative of the High Technology Foundation, along with the W.Va. Jobs Investment Trust and TechConnectWV, provides funding to help entrepreneurs develop their business idea from concept to reality. The effort is targeted to 42 counties that have been adversely impacted by the decline in coal.

Jim Estep, president and CEO of the High Technology Foundation, believes the new program will have a positive impact on the state’s economic development efforts.

“As West Virginians, we can no longer hope things improve in the future. Our economy has declined to such an unprecedented level that we must execute corrective solutions with an unprecedented sense of urgency,” Estep said.

“One of those corrective actions has to be the implementation of a framework that maximizes the economic impact of the innovative and entrepreneurial assets in West Virginia. This ARC funding enables this to happen, and we are grateful for it.”

The program divides each individual start-up effort into three phases, or steps.

The first is awareness and education, as the group will work to educate those interested in a small business start-up, as well as spread the word of these new start-ups through venture fairs, social media and networking.

Step 2 is commercialization and includes concept validation, market assessment, business structure, strategic planning, professional and technical assistance.

The final step is investment – securing enough capital to move an idea to full development and implementation.

“Taking an idea from concept to market is a Rubik’s Cube of steps. Through the integration of statewide, regional and national entities and initiatives, we are looking to create a linear, modular pathway to move an idea forward faster, more efficiently, more economically and with a higher probability of success,” program director Guy Peduto said.

“The 3 Steps to Start Up model looks to reverse the traditional thought process through the development of a ‘virtual’ incubator by providing these services and assistance to the entrepreneur wherever they are located.”

Andrew Zuluaf, executive director of the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, said program supporters hope it can boost economically low-performing counties and increase diversification.

“The 42 counties served by this project struggle to achieve the economic diversification needed to overcome the job loss and disinvestment resulting from coal’s decline,” he said.

“According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the majority of the targeted counties remain at-risk or are distressed economically,” he said.

“The outlook for these counties without action to spur new businesses and investment remains poor. The project will connect, accelerate and launch new businesses and job creation in this coal-impacted region in West Virginia. This wide-ranging effort will improve these communities and help build a backbone of small businesses that will support a statewide economic restructuring toward a more sustainable, 21st-century economy.”

The ARC, as has often been the case, has done a great service by providing this start-up money for the 3 Steps to Start-Up program.

And those who are investing time and effort are providing a much-needed boost to distressed areas.

We look forward to the anticipated success.

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