Scores of West Virginia's economic, education and community innovators will gather this Friday and Saturday in Charleston for the fifth Create WV Conference.
"It's pretty amazing to look back to when we first started this conversation in 2007 and see how far we've come," said Jeff James, team leader of the grassroots initiative that has become Create WV. "People all around the state are talking about innovation economies, and several communities have taken the principles and run with them. Create Buckhannon and Create Huntington will be among the leaders in this year's program."
The conference will include the Start Now Fair from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center. The public is invited to hear brief presentations by a lineup of West Virginia's innovation economy entrepreneurs.
Mary Mazzio, who left a law firm partnership to become a documentary filmmaker and has racked up several national awards for her efforts, will kick off the conference at 9 a.m. Friday with a keynote address on how parents and communities play a lead role in nurturing future entrepreneurs.
EarlyShares.com CEO Maurice Lopes of Miami, Fla., learned of Create WV's "Pitch Your Idea" competition via Internet, and offered to sponsor the event and to offer the crowdfunding contest business winner an opportunity to raise up to $150,000 in equity financing at no charge, a value of up to $12,000. EarlyShares.com specializes in helping startup entrepreneurs use the new fundraising tools available through crowdsourcing, enabled by the recent JOBS Act. Lopes will speak during a working lunch in the entrepreneurs' track on Saturday at the Charleston House Ramada Inn, primary home of the conference.
Nikki Bowman, founder, publisher and editor of West Virginia Living magazine, and Dr. Brian Hemphill, newly named president of West Virginia State University, will deliver keynote addresses to the entire conference. Hemphill will speak at Friday's luncheon on the topic of how WVSU and communities can forge an economy of innovation in West Virginia, and Bowman will deliver the grand finale keynote at the Saturday evening dinner on effective strategies for identifying and growing opportunities in West Virginia. Both the Friday luncheon and Saturday evening dinner are available as events separate from the conference. Tickets are available at $35 per person, and reservations may be made online at www.createwv.com.
The Create WV Conference offers an array of learning and networking opportunities. Tracks focusing on education innovation, community development innovation and important facets of entrepreneurship will each offer six breakout sessions through Friday morning and afternoon, and Saturday morning. Representatives from Create Huntington and Create Buckhannon will share stories of how they have successfully incorporated innovation economy principles in their creative community development plans. Public and private educators will share their insights on infusing entrepreneurship and innovation into the classroom.
Concurrent with the track sessions on Friday and Saturday, second-round winners of the "Pitch Your Idea" contest will be involved in intensive mentoring sessions preparing them for the next round of judging. Three finalists each from business, education, and communities will make their pitches to attendees at the Saturday evening dinner, vying for grand prizes of up to $2,500 in cash to seed winning ideas in each category.
The contest for ideas to generate sustainable businesses drew a total of 36 entries from communities, educators, and entrepreneurs from Cabell, Fayette, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Harrison, Kanawha, McDowell, Nicholas, Summers, Upshur and Wood counties, and described business ideas in technology, social media, agriculture, education, communications, research, sports, health care, green construction, entertainment and tourism.
Track session titles and conference details are available at www.createwv.com. Online registration is open through today.