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The Power of Small Businesses in Appalachia
The heart of Appalachia lies in its small businesses. This is especially true in West Virginia where they not only contribute to the diversification of the economy, but are also responsible for employing 49.1% of the state’s workers. According to Forbes, there are 33.2 million small businesses nationally, accounting for nearly 99% of all businesses in America. In West Virginia specifically, there are just over 113,000 small businesses. These companies alone represent 98% of the state’s total businesses.
With a significant portion of the population dependent on small businesses and their success, Brad D. Smith has focused initiatives at Marshall University and beyond toward creating an environment where businesses can thrive. He has also given his support to small businesses through the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, aiding in their growth and transformation from ideas to successful ventures.
Marshall’s Contributions to Making West Virginia a Startup State
In an effort to support student entrepreneurs at Marshall, Brad has assisted with creating the Brad D. Smith Student Incubator through the MU iCenter. The center was established through the Brad D. Smith Schools of Business and the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI). It serves as a resource for budding entrepreneurs, mentoring and supporting them as their ideas are tested, adapted and validated in the market.
Under Brad’s leadership, Marshall has also begun integrating design thinking into their curriculum for students and faculty. Brad was first introduced to this thinking methodology during his time in Silicon Valley. Design thinking encourages students to reframe their way of interacting with a situation by focusing on the problem rather than the solution.
Serving the Entrepreneurial Interests of Students and the Huntington Community
Additionally, the university broke ground on a new college of business, the Brad D. Smith Center for Business and Innovation, and the larger Marshall Business and Innovation district last spring. This innovation district will not only offer student-focused opportunities for learning and collaboration, but will also provide community members with opportunities to grow their entrepreneurial interests. Supporting both students and entrepreneurs outside of the student body will encourage knowledge and idea sharing, and spark the formation of connections that can lead to sustained economic growth in the state.
Brad’s predecessor President Jerome A. Gilbert commented on the development of the innovation district stating, “We have put a lot of planning into this building so we can ensure that this new facility will be shaping innovators, business people and entrepreneurs who will take on the many challenges of the 21st century.”
Promoting Entrepreneurship for Economic Growth
As small businesses are essential to the Appalachian economy, West Virginia is dedicated to supporting the state’s rising number of startups. West Virginia is fortunate to have several organizations that support small businesses and ventures, such as Vantage Ventures and the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, which was founded by Brad and his wife Alys Smith.
Supporting startups means supporting the people and economic development of Appalachian communities. As industries that have traditionally supported the region, such as coal mining, are depleted, communities must look to creative solutions to strengthen and evolve the local economy. The Appalachian Regional Commission has also invested in regional entrepreneurs to help communities thrive in rapidly changing conditions. As outlined in their entrepreneurial ecosystem analysis, creating supportive environments in which small businesses can thrive helps to stimulate a diverse economy and job creation, which in turn propels local and regional economic development.
Supporting Small, Thinking Big
The spirit of Appalachia is rooted in resilience and ingenuity — so it’s no wonder that the backbone of economic growth lies in the success of small businesses. As more entrepreneurs emerge across the region, it is essential to provide resources and services that uplift these people, their ideas and the businesses they bring to fruition. The more Appalachian entrepreneurs are supported in achieving their dreams and goals, the more the economy and spirit of Appalachia benefits.
Learn how Brad’s Wing 2 Wing Foundation supports small businesses across West Virginia.