Energizing Entrepreneurship Across West Virginia

Ariana Shives
3 min readSep 29

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A state uniquely positioned to advance entrepreneurial opportunity.

Photo by Sharosh Rajasekher on Unsplash

Nearly all job growth in America comes from new and young businesses. That’s why entrepreneurship is so vital to West Virginia and why I’ve become associated with two entities that can be pivotal to catapulting West Virginia to national leadership in new business growth. The entities are Marshall University, already a national leader in commitment to design thinking, and Right to Start, the national nonprofit organization championing entrepreneurship as a civic priority.

Marshall University’s leadership in entrepreneurship moved to new heights with the appointment in 2022 of former Intuit CEO and Marshall alumnus Brad D. Smith as president of the public research university in Huntington. A core part of his strategy for the university is prioritizing design thinking — Silicon Valley’s methodology for innovation — and championing it across the state and the nation.

That’s why I’m so pleased to be part of the entrepreneurial community at Marshall University through its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (iCenter), which is a leading force in expanding new business opportunities in West Virginia. Marshall University will take another major step forward next year with the opening of the 78,000-square-foot Brad D. Smith Center for Business & Innovation.

Right to Start was founded by another leading figure in entrepreneurship: Victor W. Hwang, entrepreneur, author of the landmark book The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley, former Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation (the largest foundation in the United States to focus on fostering entrepreneurship), and now CEO of Right to Start. Victor recently wrote about Brad Smith’s exciting plans for Marshall University in a national commentary for Inc. magazine titled “How Design Thinking Can Help Lower the Poverty Rate.”

At Right to Start, I am one of 13 part-time Advocates in eight states. Together, we share insights into barriers that obstruct entrepreneurship, design efforts to remove them, and pursue related policy change.

Among the great advantages of our advocacy work is that entrepreneurship enjoys broad bipartisan support. Right to Start conducted a recent bipartisan survey of American voters. Its results underscored that, even amid the nation’s partisan divide, American voters almost unanimously agree that “it is important to America’s future that citizens have a fair opportunity to start and grow their own business”: 94% agree, 2% disagree, and 4% are not sure. That near-unanimity crosses party lines — with 95% of Republicans, 95% of Independents, and 92% of Democrats agreeing.

In support of that advocacy, Right to Start has created “Field Guides for Policymakers” at all levels of government: local, state, and national. The Field Guides offer policy recommendations for removing common barriers to entrepreneurship.

Right to Start has also recently developed and launched a brief Statement of Principles that we are asking individuals and organizations throughout the nation to sign. It’s brand new, but already nearly 50 organizations and more than 100 individuals have signed it. Many more are on the way.

Our goal is to get 10,000 signers. During the election season of 2024, we will deliver this Statement with all signatures to the U.S. President, leading presidential candidates, the U.S. House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, all 50 state governors, and other elected officials, urging them to pursue policies that advance these principles.

We hope that you’ll read our Statement of Principles, sign it, and share it with your networks over email and social media. This folder contains sample shares and images that you can use.

West Virginia is increasingly well-positioned to be a national leader in entrepreneurship. Both Marshall University and Right to Start are crucial to that quest. I hope that you will look for opportunities to engage with both entities, as we seek to build widespread support throughout the state for small business growth and innovation that can set a new standard for America.

Originally published on West Virginia BusinessLink.

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Ariana Shives

Social entrepreneur and product designer stoked on design thinking, UX, and entrepreneurship⚡️