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Ahead of legislative session, WVU expert addresses ways to remove potential economic development hurdles facing West Virginia

A portrait of Erienne Olesh is shown on a blue background. Olesh has long, light brown hair and is wearing a plaid blazer over a black top.

Erienne Olesh, executive director of the WVU Office of Student and Faculty Innovation, is one of the scheduled presenters during the Jan. 5 West Virginia Press Association Legislative Lookahead in Charleston. (WVU Photo)

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A West Virginia University expert with a background in bringing research-based innovations and University-based startups to commercial markets considers partnerships with local and state governments important components in growing the Mountain State’s economy.

Erienne Olesh, executive director of the WVU Office of Student and Faculty Innovation, will speak about the economic value of cooperation during the West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead Friday (Jan. 5) in Charleston. The regular session begins Jan. 10.


“Although we are making gains for startups in West Virginia, significant challenges remain. The Mountain State is a venture capital desert and is underfunded across both private and public sources. This creates a financial barrier for startups looking to grow and scale in the state. Access to experienced mentorship also remains a challenge.

“Startups and small businesses are key components for economic development and an integral part of the fabric of West Virginia’s economy. In fact, 98% of businesses in the state are considered small businesses and they employ more than 49% of West Virginia’s workforce.

“Innovation is a driver to creating new startups and economic development, and WVU has a rising number of innovations that can positively impact the state and, more broadly, the country. From technologies relevant to rare earth elements, hydrogen and methane production, to new surgical devices, WVU and its researchers are developing technology that can benefit our national security, energy systems and health care offerings. WVU is on par with other similarly funded institutions in terms of technology development and innovative products. We now need to support the further growth of those technologies through increasing partnerships with industry and supporting the University spinoff companies that can scale those products to the market.

“Federal funding can catalyze regional growth for economic development and there is a swell of federal grant funding right now that either focuses on or requires a significant component of work to address economic growth and prosperity. WVU has been a successful participant in several of those programs and, importantly, has helped build regional teams that can continue to compete for this funding.

“The National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program supports early-stage innovators and entrepreneurs in West Virginia as they develop business models and connect to customers. The program recently received another five years of funding to support these efforts. At a national level, we are gaining significant notoriety for how we are adapting this program to the needs of rural communities. As part of this work, we can award $3,000 to program participants to support travel and connecting directly to customers. Programs like this are directly reducing barriers for entrepreneurs in West Virginia.

“A critical piece of being able to capture future federal funding is demonstrating partnerships with our local and state governments. Many recent funding opportunities have required a demonstrated commitment from state governments as part of the application process, so developing those shared objectives for success and creating the partnerships now can benefit us in the long run with future funding opportunities. Objectively showing that we are all on one team and collectively have the same goal in mind to benefit West Virginia and its economy will go a long way in helping secure additional federal funding.” — Erienne Olesh, executive director, WVU Office of Student and Faculty Innovation

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, areas of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday.



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