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WVU receives grant to support youth entrepreneurship in low-income and rural communities

Students learn about entrepreneurship through the Impact Challenge program.

West Virginia’s young people bring innovative ideas, powerful insights and a true entrepreneurial spirit to the state. As West Virginia communities work to grow the economy and build community, youth voices will drive that success, particularly in rural and low-income communities.

A team from West Virginia University is working to ensure that these bright young minds have equal access to the tools and resources they need to feed that entrepreneurial spirit. Through a nearly $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, a team from WVU Extension Service, WVU Chambers College of Business & Economics, Morris L. Hayhurst LaunchLab, and the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative is developing a strategic plan to encourage and support youth entrepreneurship in West Virginia. The award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries.

Youth entrepreneurship education is key in providing the next generation of entrepreneurs with the knowledge and skills they need to consider non-traditional career paths. The “Equity in Entrepreneurship: Strategic Planning for Youth Entrepreneurship” project is focused on expanding access to education and programs throughout the state and building a strategic plan that ensures young people in West Virginia’s underserved communities have equal access to programs and resources that reinforce entrepreneurship.

“Youth voices and ideas are critical in building a strong economy for our state. Giving our young people an opportunity to be heard and providing them with the tools and resources to launch their entrepreneurial spirit benefits everyone,” WVU Extension Service Family and Community Development Specialist and Assistant Professor Lauren Prinzo said. “The Equity in Youth Entrepreneurship team has an opportunity to give them, as well as others in the state, the foundation they need to follow their dreams and build a better, stronger West Virginia.”

Research has shown that youths in underserved communities often face significant barriers to educational programs, including finances, transportation and scheduling conflicts, as well as general awareness of options available to them. The Equity in Youth Entrepreneurship team will be working with partners throughout the state to conduct surveys and focus groups with youths to gain insights and perspectives, while enhancing collaboration with businesses and others who have a vested interest in developing young entrepreneurs.

The team will host several virtual and in-person focus groups, surveys and other research opportunities that will allow young people to share their thoughts and ideas. Additionally, WVU Extension Service faculty in Braxton, Clay, Fayette, Lincoln, Logan and Nicholas counties will host events for local youths to participate in conversations about entrepreneurship.

The team hopes that the research and insights gained not only will help provide greater access to youth entrepreneurship programs, but also increase the number of youths who participate in these initiatives.

“West Virginia has the largest population decline in the nation, with youth and younger adults accounting for most of the outmigration. The entrepreneur resources we want to share and provide gives students the skills and most importantly, the hope, to empower them to stay and make a difference in our state,” said Tara St. Clair, director of operations, Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the WVU Chambers College of Business and Economics. “Entrepreneurship can often be perceived as an independent pursuit, but entrepreneurial endeavors are often not successful in isolation. With an ecosystem of support from youth to retirees, our state can set a precedent of collaboration and support to empower all ideas.”

During the next year, the team will develop a strategic plan that will be shared publicly with educators, state leaders, community partners and others who want to work in this field so that entrepreneurship programs can be tailored to better serve young entrepreneurs.

As the team moves through the strategic planning process, the goals are to develop a plan that will increase knowledge of available resources and any gaps in service; incorporate youth voices in the strategic planning process; identify and address barriers to participation; enhance collaboration; and provide long-term sustainability of programming for future youth entrepreneurs.  

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin said. “Many of the projects we announced will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”

Additional support of WVU’s Equity in Entrepreneurship: Strategic Planning for Youth Entrepreneurship projects is provided the West Virginia Department of Education,

WVU’s Office of the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, the Benedum Foundation, Marshall University iCenter, West Virginia Small Business Development Center, the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education (EntreEd), Junior Achievement and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.




Tara Curtis

Director of Communications & Marketing, WVU Extension Service


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