Letter From the Publisher

Entrepreneurs ignite the spark to power our nation’s economy

By:Charlotte Weber

Issue:Winter 2015 : Columns

Entrepreneurs, innovators, artists and manufacturers -- joined by tinkerers, inventors and hobbyists of all ages -- flocked to RCBI in downtown Huntington Oct. 3 for the inaugural West Virginia Makes Festival. Nearly 500 individuals, including more than 150 students from kindergarten through high school age, attended the celebration and design challenge. Sponsored by RCBI, Advantage Valley, the City of Huntington and Marshall University, the festival focused on innovation and fun with challenges, prizes and giveaways, as well as interactive attractions including this LEGO demonstration aimed at reinforcing STEM skills in youngsters.

 

Small businesses are the powerful engine that creates jobs in the American economy. They may be small, but there’s nothing small about their impact.  While small businesses may not generate as much money as large corporations, they are a crucial component of – and a major contributor to – the strength of local economies. Small businesses present new employment opportunities and feed the supply chains essential to the operation of the nation’s largest enterprises.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, America is home to 25.8 million small businesses. Since 1995, small businesses have generated 64 percent of the new jobs that have been created and have paid 44 percent of the total U.S. private payroll.  Certainly there’s nothing small about the impact of small businesses in West Virginia. Statistics show 97 percent ofWest Virginia companies are classified as small businesses.

If small businesses are the engine that turns the wheels of the nation’s economy, then it’s entrepreneurs who serve as the spark plug in that engine.  Although the definition of “entrepreneur” may vary a bit depending on whom you ask, the basic definition of an “entrepreneur” is one who organizes a business or develops an idea and takes responsibility for its operation, its profits and its losses.  Successful entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They look at a problem and see it as an opportunity. This may sound glib but it‘s absolutely true. Successful entrepreneurs identify problems without solutions, then strive to supply those solutions. Of course, envisioning the solution is just the beginning — you then have to devise and implement it.

People who don’t like to take risks generally don’t have the qualities necessary to be successful entrepreneurs. Nor do reckless people who leap first and look later. If you’re to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be able to examine a problem and decide if trying to solve it is worth the risk.  Famed inventor Thomas Edison, who gave us the electric light bulb, the phonograph and so much more, was of course an entrepreneur. So is computer guru Bill Gates, whose small start-up business mushroomed into an international giant. But so, too, is the guy next door who spends hour after hour in his garage, where he tinkers around with an odd-looking gizmo that may – or may not – ultimately earn him fame and fortune.

Brian Tracy, one of the nation’s leading experts on entrepreneurship, describes entrepreneurs as “a national treasure” and urges they “should be protected, encouraged and rewarded as much as possible.” Tracy is absolutely on target. Our nation’s future is in the hands of today’s entrepreneurs.

The Faces of Entrepreneurship

Our cover story, “The Faces of Entrepreneurship,” takes an in-depth look at entrepreneurs in West Virginia. It offers a look at more than two dozen successful entrepreneurial ventures.

First, we start with brief profiles of four Mountain State companies whose entrepreneurial roots stretch back for decades. Over the years, Blenko, Homer Laughlin, Marble King and J.H. Fletcher have become legends in the ranks of West Virginia businesses.

Next we look at a collection of today’s businesses that display the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and flair that just may enable them to become tomorrow’s legends. The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) is proud to have worked closely with many of the entrepreneurial businesses we profile.

And this issue offers still more to read on our entrepreneurship theme:

Since taking office as Huntington’s mayor, Steve Williams has frequently talked about the importance of small businesses and entrepreneurs to Huntington’s economic future. Wanting to hear more from him on the subject, we sat down with him in his office at City Hall for the lengthy, candid conversation that begins on Page 14.

Joe Manchin learned a thing or two about business when, as a youngster, he worked in his grandfather’s grocery store and later when he worked in his father’s furniture business. Today, as a member of the U.S. Senate, he works hard at lending a helping hand to West Virginia’s small businesses. He writes about some of his recent efforts in this issue.

In each issue of CAPACITY, Editor James E. Casto writes about a new book from the business bookshelf. In this issue, he delves into Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy. As he notes, the book’s authors offer Congress a long list of suggested actions that would brighten the future of America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs. Here’s hoping the new Congress follows through on some of the suggestions.

“The face of entrepreneurship is changing in America,” writes Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, in her insightful article on Page 60. As she observes: “More of those faces today belong to women, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, native Americans, veterans, seniors and business owners who are socially and economically disadvantaged.”

RCBI and Entrepreneurship

For more than 20 years, entrepreneurs have been an important priority at RCBI. We’re committed to fostering entrepreneurship by connecting both new and existing small businesses with the resources they need to grow and prosper. The assistance we offer spans a broad range of technology-based opportunities, including Additive Manufacturing (AM). Additive Manufacturing isn’t the wave of the future. The AM revolution is already underway, and with access to the leading-edge technology available at RCBI, you can turn your innovative ideas into reality.

Our Design Works labs offer inventors and entrepreneurs the tools they need to take their idea to market by shaping their concepts into three-dimensional digital computer models. Featuring computer workstations with the latest design software, the labs are set aside exclusively for individuals who need to design their products. The completed digital file is then used in a 3D printer to produce a finished item or a working prototype by adding layer upon layer of a powdered, dust-like thermoplastic, composite or metal material. With the help of our trained staffers, you can use our 3D Printers to turn your concept into an actual item in hours.

This AM technology allows quick modifications and nearly instantaneous design changes so customization is easy and fast. 3D printing promises to create new industries, jobs and opportunities. You can use this innovation for a competitive advantage. We will show you how.

RCBI’s Design Works labs are associated with the U. S. Fab Lab Network, an organization managed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms. Since the Fab Lab launch in 2006, the initiative has evolved from a small association into a global network of local labs that enable invention and promote commercialization by providing direct access to digital fabrication tools with 3D Printers.

For more information about taking advantage of Additive Manufacturing with 3D Printers at RCBI, call us toll free at 800.469.RCBI (7224) or send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Another important effort at RCBI extends our innovation focus beyond traditional manufacturing to the farm-to-table food initiative. Agricultural Innovations at RCBI offers technical assistance to help West Virginians produce more food, more efficiently using the latest technologies and expertise.  The initiative involves realizing a vision that supports and enhances a vibrant local foods system powered by entrepreneurship and innovation.  To achieve this goal, RCBI supports innovation that helps resolve logistical challenges in the local food supply chain. Additionally, RCBI helps producers, distributors and buyers expand their network through advanced manufacturing practices and product discovery.

Agricultural Innovation is funded through a partnership with the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. For more information about Agricultural Innovation, contact us by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Adequate funding is often a stumbling block for would-be entrepreneurs.

Two continuing grant programs at RCBI have provided timely assistance for a number of West Virginia businesses and could be the missing link you need to get started on an exciting future.

A grant from our InnovateWV program will help you bridge the gap between concept and reality so you can take your idea to market. Combining your innovative inspiration with design, modeling and manufacturing assistance at RCBI, you’ll have the technology you need to jumpstart your idea, turn it into a prototype, then move it forward. Funding is also available for quality implementation and workforce training assistance.

Funded in part through the U. S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), the initiative is part of the West Virginia EDA University Center partnership among RCBI, Marshall University and Concord University. Share your idea with us and let us determine if we can help fund turning your idea into a commercial opportunity. Awards of up to $10,000 are possible. For more information, call us or e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Another important grant program, StartUpWV, is a joint initiative of RCBI and TechConnect West Virginia. The program assists startup ventures and small manufacturers in the use of high-technology manufacturing tools and processes to create new manufacturing jobs and to commercialize products.  StartUpWV is made possible by a grant from the U.S. EDA and funding from the State of West Virginia. For more information or for an application, call 800.469.RCBI (7224) or e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

As you can see, there’s a world of opportunity available at RCBI for fledgling entrepreneurs as well as successful manufacturers. All that’s required is that you reach out to us.

We hope you enjoy this issue of CAPACITY and its in-depth look at entrepreneurism. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions regarding our magazine. You may e-mail us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Charlotte Weber is Director & CEO of the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI).