Fuel makes an engine run, and two gifts from Huntington Bank will help provide fuel for the new Startup Engine business accelerator at the West Virginia University John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
Huntington has committed $2 million to the Startup Engine, including a $500,000 charitable grant through the WVU Foundation for the operation of the business accelerator and the provision of $1.5 million for a venture capital fund managed through Mountain State Capital on behalf of the accelerator program.
“We are proud to partner with WVU to help unlock the entrepreneurial potential in our state by supporting innovation and providing access to capital through the accelerator program,” said Chad Prather, regional president of Huntington in West Virginia. “Startups play a foundational role in driving economic growth and job creation. The accelerator program will inspire and provide valuable resources to entrepreneurs in our state while also fostering economic self-sufficiency through economic development, financial education and social services.”
The Startup Engine houses WVU’s first startup accelerator program, and is designed to attract, select and accelerate startup businesses focused on the sectors and industries identified in the West Virginia Forward report, helping those startups to hone their ideas, access seed capital, develop mentor relationships and partner with existing businesses. The ultimate objective of the program is to support the diversification of West Virginia’s economy, as well as the push to move the state into the innovation economy.
Javier Reyes, Milan Puskar Dean of WVU’s business school, said the commitment to create the Startup Engine was the result of extensive collaboration with WVU alumnus and former Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers, for whom the college was named last month.
“This is a commitment to a mindset of innovation, creating startup companies and effecting change,” Reyes said. “John Chambers helped us create the Startup Engine and has put his resources behind this business accelerator. The mission of the Startup Engine is to generate new companies, build an environment of innovation and propel us into the digital economy. This is an exciting project — not just for the business school, WVU and the City of Morgantown, but also for the entire state of West Virginia. Huntington understands what the mission of the Startup Engine is and wants to take a leadership role in continuing this wave of change.”
Reyes is also the newly announced Vice President for Startup West Virginia. In this new role, WVU President Gordon Gee said Reyes “will position the University to both engage with coordinated statewide efforts and to affect implementation and impact to grow and diversify West Virginia’s economy.”
Huntington Bancshares Incorporated is a regional bank holding company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, with $106 billion of assets and a network of 970 branches and 1,860 ATMs across eight Midwestern states. Founded in 1866, The Huntington National Bank and its affiliates provide consumer, small business, commercial, treasury management, wealth management, brokerage, trust, and insurance services.
Prather said the goal is to attract fledgling companies to grow in West Virginia, with the hope that they will choose to stay in the state.
“We are firmly committed to the economic future of West Virginia,” said Prather. “This investment will attract companies to our state where they will receive world-class support to grow their businesses. There’s so much to offer here and we know they will want to make West Virginia their permanent home.”
Huntington will establish a $1.5 million venture capital fund with Mountain State Capital, an Appalachian region-based venture capital firm spanning from Pittsburgh and State College in Pennsylvania to the north, southward to Knoxville, Tennessee, and Asheville, Winston-Salem and Charlotte in North Carolina. “Over the past two decades, we’ve worked with, co-invested with, and have provided guidance and assistance to many of the region’s most prominent research universities, angel groups and seed funds,” said Mountain State Capital, “and we’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs.”
Reyes said, “The Startup Engine will be a place for companies in that past-the-prototype stage — a place where we can accelerate companies to a knowledge base that will help them develop business plans faster, develop management teams faster and start connecting with potential clients. It will also help entrepreneurs connect with potential sources of capital and other services.”
On September 21 at its regular meeting, the WVU Board of Governors approved $1.8 million to lease and renovate space for the B&E Startup Engine, which will be located on the bottom floor of University Place in Sunnyside, across the street from the new location of the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Bureau of Business and Economic Research and Center for Executive Education. Additionally, the program will build on WVU’s role as a R1 research institution.
Reyes said the gifts from Huntington provide a solid launch for the Startup Engine to make a difference in West Virginia.
“These gifts from Huntington go to the heart of helping the Startup Engine provide the kinds of resources that can make a real difference in our state. Huntington is not only providing resources for the operation of this important business accelerator, but also venture capital, which is critical to business creation,” he said. “We are working to push for innovation in our state and diversify its economy. That’s challenging, but it becomes less challenging when we are trusted as thought and action leaders. Huntington shares our vision for business and job creation that can help West Virginia flourish.”
WV Forward is a partnership with the West Virginia Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help identify and pair West Virginia’s unique assets with economic trends that will leverage growth and development opportunities to strengthen and diversify all regions of the state. McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, was commissioned to identify short-term, larger-scale projects to help boost West Virginia’s economic development and provide a strategic assessment. Among the report’s recommendations was the creation of a comprehensive business accelerator in the state.
The Startup Engine is part of the WVU Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Applied (IDEA) Ecosystem, a university-wide network of centers, offices and programs that fosters and supports innovation and entrepreneurship among WVU students, faculty and staff while engaging the statewide community. A visual map of the full ecosystem and detailed information about the resources included can be found here.
Patrick Gregg, WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics
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