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Equity in Youth Entrepreneurship

Strategic Planning for the Expansion of Youth Entrepreneurship

Project Overview

This report reflects the outcomes of a one-year strategic planning process aimed at expanding entrepreneurial opportunities for youth, with an intentional focus on rural and low-income counties in West Virginia. This project was funded by a technical assistance grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The process included inventory and assessment, evaluation and planning and development of an action-oriented plan. 

West Virginia and other rural states struggle with a persistent challenge: the outward migration of talented young adults. According to the USDA, the population of rural communities in West Virginia dropped by 130,562 people between 1980 and 2018 (USDA Economic Research Service, 2019). As West Virginia University’s President Gordon Gee stated, “We’ve exported four things: coal, oil and gas. But the most tragic thing we’ve exported is talent” (Nash, 2018). It is often assumed that graduates leave the state after completing their education to pursue gainful employment. West Virginia, particularly in rural areas, has struggled with a lack of traditional employment opportunities and unemployment rates are typically higher in rural areas (Workforce West Virginia, 2019). Read the entire project report, including more detailed information.

Executive Summary

The “Equity in Youth Entrepreneurship” project team has completed a one-year strategic planning process for the expansion of youth entrepreneurship with an intentional focus on rural and low-income youth across West Virginia. The process included inventory and assessment, evaluation, planning and development of an action-oriented plan. Over a one-year period, the project team conducted four statewide strategic planning meetings, six in-person youth focus group discussions, and a series of statewide surveys (of youth, educators and providers). Engagement efforts sought to reach diverse stakeholders including rural youth (in grades 6-12), teachers, youth development professionals, economic development professionals, higher education representatives, government/elected representatives, entrepreneurs, members of the faith community, and other community members. The information gathered was utilized to complete this statewide strategic plan that can be used as a tool to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for rural youth in West Virginia. 

Funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the overall goal for the project was to explore resources for youth entrepreneurship. Over a 12-month period, the project team hosted three full day sessions in locations across the state. One online session and six conversations were held with rural and low-income youth in Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Braxton, Fayette, and Nicholas counties. These are designated as distressed counties by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Youth conversations were held in partnership with county-based faculty from WVU Extension.

Through collaboration, engagement of diverse stakeholders, and a focus on youth voices, the project offers a publicly available strategic plan. This plan includes valuable data, insight relating to available resources and gaps in service, barriers to participation, strategies for increasing access and opportunities for expansion through increased collaboration. You can browse a  list of stakeholders who engaged in this project via the full report.

Key Findings

  • Current opportunities for youth entrepreneurship are limited in West Virginia.
  • There is no central network to facilitate growth of entrepreneurial opportunities for youth.  
  • There is a lack of understanding of the term “entrepreneurship” among rural youth and adults.
  • Rural youth demonstrate low awareness of entrepreneurial opportunities in West Virginia.
  • Rural youth express significant interest in entrepreneurship as a career pathway.
  • Youth experience significant barriers to access to programming. 
  • Current policies and practices may affect the growth of youth entrepreneurship programming.


Establish the Youth Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Subcommittee.

The West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem is a formal network that works to facilitate collaboration among entrepreneurship programs throughout the state. This statewide Youth Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (YEE) will include adult and youth leaders. Committee members will continue to refine and implement the next steps included in this plan.

Build a pipeline of talent by engaging K-12 youth through in- and after-school entrepreneurship opportunities.

The project team recommends incorporation of entrepreneurship programming into existing systems including classroom education, after-school programs, community-based clubs and summer learning opportunities (including STEAM/STEM). Additionally, youth entrepreneurship should be incorporated into degree programs in education, business and/or entrepreneurship to prepare practitioners entering the workforce.

Develop a shared understanding of “entrepreneurship” and related terms.

The definition of the term “entrepreneurship” is understood differently among youths and adults. Developing and communicating a shared understanding of terms is key to broadening youth awareness and combatting stereotypes that may increase psychological barriers to participation. 

Intentionally design youth programs to reduce or eliminate barriers to participation. 

It is crucial for organizers to consider barriers to participation when designing and budgeting for programs. The project team recommends the following: 

  • Expansion of local opportunities. 
  • Evaluate location and length of statewide opportunities. 
  • Integrate entrepreneurship into existing youth development programs, including STEM/STEAM initiatives.

Advocate for policies and practices that support the growth of youth entrepreneurship opportunities. 

Stakeholders identified policies and practices that can be adjusted to better foster continued growth of opportunities, including expansion of existing services for entrepreneurs to youth audiences; expansion of existing youth programming to include entrepreneurship; and adjustment of funding outcome metrics to reflect deliverables that align with youth audiences. 

Conduct further research to strengthen the existing body of knowledge relating to youth entrepreneurship.

There is a need for additional research relating to youth entrepreneurship in rural communities. Research conducted for this project engaged students from six counties in grades 6-12 and focused on youth awareness, interest and access. Results support the need for additional research to further explore themes in student responses. Specific areas include: 

  • Understanding youth perceptions of “entrepreneurship" and related terms. Exploring youth perceptions of terms is vital to the development of programs that appeal to youth audiences. 
  • Exploring youth perceptions of entrepreneurship as high risk. Many participating youths expressed sentiments of entrepreneurship as a high-risk career path. More research is needed to better understand the origin of this perception, and how it influences student interest. 
  • Developing common measures to evaluate youth entrepreneurship programs. There is a need for researchers to work collaboratively with practitioners to define the potential outcomes of youth entrepreneurship programs and standardize metrics and evaluation tools.

Collaboratively pursue funding for the expansion of entrepreneurial opportunities for youth. 

The project team has identified several funding opportunities, including the ARC POWER grant to pursue in 2023. Engaging youth-serving organizations and entrepreneurship/economic development professionals in collaborative pursuit of funding will capitalize on the strengths of both groups to increase the reach of programming. 

Full Report

To learn more about this project, including detailed information get the full 56-page report now!

Download the Equity in Youth Entrepreneurship Report
Contact an Expert
Lauren Prinzo Extension Specialist Community and Economic Development

Lauren Prinzo

WVU Extension Specialist – Community & Economic Development

phone 304-293-8690

About Lauren Prinzo