Huntington, WV – Bridging Innovation Week, West Virginia’s premier entrepreneurship event, concluded with a resounding success, drawing a diverse crowd of over 1,000 attendees including aspiring and established business owners, resource providers, funders, educators, students, and additional key stakeholders. Held at the Marshall Health Network Arena in Huntington, West Virginia, the annual symposium served as a catalyst for entrepreneurship-led economic development throughout the Mountain State.

"We want to express our utmost gratitude to all attendees for an inspiring Bridging Innovation Week,” said Amber Ravenscroft, Director of Innovation for The EdVenture Group and West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Co-Chair. “Together, we've ignited sparks of innovation that will illuminate West Virginia's path forward in entrepreneurship. Let's continue nurturing our statewide ecosystem, fostering collaboration, and paving the way for a brighter, more vibrant future."

The week kicked off on Monday, April 8th with a focus on empowering Black entrepreneurs in West Virginia. Seeds for Growth: Building Black Business in West Virginia offered a hands-on, strategy-based agenda to address the unique opportunities and challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs in the state.  A fireside chat explored the current landscape of Black business ownership in the state. Monday’s events also included Marshall Advanced Manufacturing tours, the Huntington Chamber of Commerce After Hours held at the recently opened Brad D. Smith Schools of Business at Marshall University, and the University of Charleston’s i3 Competition held on site in Charleston.

“One of the strengths of [West Virginia]…is the warmth of the people and the beauty of the place.” Victor Hwang, Founder of Right to Start.

The week’s premiere event, the West Virginia Entrepreneur Ecosystem Conference, was held on Tuesday, April 9th. Over 300 attendees participated in a diverse array of educational sessions and networking opportunities from over 40 speakers and thought leaders of diverse backgrounds. The conference kicked off with a compelling fireside chat featuring Victor Hwang, Founder of Right to Start, and Brad Smith, President of Marshall University. This session provided valuable insights and inspiration for entrepreneurs at all stages of their journeys. As Victor Hwang stated, “One of the strengths of [West Virginia] is…the warmth of the people and the beauty of the place.” Attendees then had the opportunity to delve deeper into specific challenges and opportunities through a range of focused workshops. Networking and support was further strengthened by an Ecosystem Showcase, allowing entrepreneurs to explore over 25 resource providers available within the state.

During an engaging lunch session, the third recipient of the Guy Peduto Award was announced, given to an outstanding individual committed to the growth and support of the state’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. The 2024 awardee is Mike Green, Managing Director at Mountain State Capital. The lunch program also included a policy overview by Jason Grill, Chief Government Affairs Officer at Right to Start, a fireside chat featuring Ali Diallo of LG NOVA’s West Virginia Investment Fund and Toney Stroud, Chief Legal Officer and Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Corporate Relations at Marshall University, and a trailer viewing of O Pioneer, a West Virginia-based documentary and Country Roads Angel Network investment. The conference concluded with a series of updates from the Ecosystem’s five active subcommittees on arts, capital, government, talent, and youth entrepreneurship and an engaging closing panel on Scaling Sustainably: Cultivating Entrepreneurship in West Virginia, featuring representatives from Marshall University, Coalfield Development, The EdVenture Group, and Boujee Boards by Roz.

Tuesday concluded with the Country Roads Angel Network Member Meeting, Marshall University’s Business Model Competition, an Art-to-Art Gathering hosted by Tamarack Foundation for the Arts, a Tech Meetup hosted by Iconic Air, a Veterans Meetup hosted in collaboration with National Veterans Leadership Foundation, a Young Professional Mixer hosted by Generation West Virginia, First Ascent West Virginia, and Ascend West Virginia, and a We Are All Starters: Happy Hour with Victor Hwang hosted by Right to Start.

Bridging Innovation Week’s momentum continued on Wednesday, April 10th, with Competition Day. This exciting event awarded over $400,000 in non-dilutive funds to aspiring West Virginia businesses, providing a platform for entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas, compete for investment and financial backing, and gain valuable feedback from experienced judges. A series of competitions and demos allowed business owners and entrepreneurs to present their innovations. The day began with Marshall University’s Business Model Competition Demo, highlighting teams from three higher education institutions that competed for over $9,250 in awards Tuesday evening. SparkWV, hosted by The EdVenture Group, Inc., ignited innovation in middle and high school students through its two tracks: Big Ideas and Small Business. Eleven finalists competed for a prize pool of $10,000, with $3,000 in additional leveraged investment provided to three student-run businesses.


West Virginia University Encova Center’s IgniteWV competition, the state’s largest annual pitch competition awarding over $200,000 in non-diluted funds, empowered aspiring founders aged 18 and over to launch successful startups in the state. IgniteWV provided finalists a four-month program with tailored training, coaching, and resources, turning ideas into reality with expert guidance and industry connections. IgniteWV is also the regional partner for Startup World Cup, announcing Moodr Health to compete in their national competition for $1,000,000 in October. IgniteWV 2024 winners can be viewed on their website.

The final competition of the day, the Hayhurst Invitational, was a new statewide pitch competition hosted by West Virginia University’s Morris L. Hayhurst LaunchLab. The competition offered a grand prize of $100,000 and $50,000 to the runner-up. Five finalists vied for these prizes, showcasing their visions for growth and how the funding would propel their businesses forward. Lost Creek Farms took home the grand prize, with $50,000 being awarded to Mountain Steer Meat Company.

“I am blown away each year by the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. In a post COVID world, it is evident that these types of events causing intentional collisions are critical,” said Tara St. Clair, Director at WVU’s Encova Center and WVEE Co-Chair. “I overheard folks talking about collaborating on grants, new business partnerships, and investors making deals. This is what the week is about, making a real impact in real time”.

Bridging Innovation Week 2024 concluded on Thursday, April 11th with Entrepreneurship Education Day. Nearly 100 educators and students from across the state of West Virginia engaged in a series of interactive workshops and professional development activities led by industry experts from The EdVenture Group Inc., West Virginia University Industrial Extension, Marshall Advanced Manufacturing Center, and the West Virginia Department of Education.


Huntington, West Virginia, provided a warm and enthusiastic welcome as Bridging Innovation Week energized the city and state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. We extend our deepest gratitude to the city’s leadership and host site partners, including the Huntington Chamber, Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Marshall University, for their outstanding hospitality. We are incredibly grateful to the generous sponsors who made this impactful week possible. Diamond sponsors included the Appalachian Regional Commission, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Right to Start, and the West Virginia Department of Economic Development. Platinum sponsors included Huntington Bank, WVU’s Morris L. Hayhurst Launch Lab, and WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics’ Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Bridging Innovation Week’s success lies in its comprehensive approach. By empowering entrepreneurs of all backgrounds at various stages, fostering collaboration across the ecosystem, and igniting a passion for entrepreneurship in future generations, the symposium paves the way for a more prosperous and diverse economic future for West Virginia. With a focus on removing barriers, providing practical tools, and fostering a supportive environment, Bridging Innovation Week is pioneering the Mountain State to flourish through the power of entrepreneurship.

For more information on Bridging Innovation Week or the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, visit WV BusinessLink and contact WVEE Co-Chairs, Tara St. Clair and Amber Ravenscroft.

Check out the 2024 Bridging Innovation Week playlist: