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WVU LaunchLab's jam-packed semester in review

Written by Stephanie Saldivar

launchlab year in review

It has been another fantastic year of innovation and inspiration here at the Morris L. Hayhurst LaunchLab. The LaunchLab is an applied innovation center that  serves the students of West Virginia University with their creative endeavors. At the LaunchLab, students can take their innovative ideas for a product or service and turn them into a reality. Once a client, students have an abundance of resources available to them. Resources include step-by-step business planning, market research, patent guidance, logo design, and more! Advice and guidance is geared to help easily and confidently navigate the start-up of their idea. There is also the opportunity to win funding through pitch competitions. In addition to funding, pitch competitions open up a world of networking possibilities to further propel the innovative enlightenment.

Here are some highlights from a semester jam-packed with events and student successes!

March Idea Challenge: Social Entrepreneurship March Idea Banner

It was the first in-person pitch competition in two years!

Social Entrepreneurship was the focus of this year's March Idea Challenge. Social entrepreneurship reminds us of the most important resource — people. Social innovations concentrate on propelling us forward as a society, rooting us in the richness of caring for our environment and humanity for generations to come. As we returned from spring break, on March 22, the LaunchLab hosted the March Idea Challenge pitch competition semi-finals. Inside the LaunchLab, the atmosphere was electric, radiating with excitement as everyone gathered together. Although there was a miscellany of creations, each one focused on attacking different social challenges through innovation. Some ideas aimed to address mental health, and others to preserve West Virginia's wild and wonderful legacy. One innovator emphasized a genuinely unique way of recycling plastic bags and another a community outreach through food with a truly noteworthy business plan. After a lengthy deliberation, the finalists were announced.

  • Natalie Phillips, Steven Chettlebugh, and Marlee Norris, creators of Country Roads Creamery, focused on the dwindling dairy farming community in West Virginia by,”bringing country roads to you in your favorite ice cream flavors.”

  • Joyita Sarker, creator of Supertive, a creative textile that provides discrete soothing to growing and changing physics.

  • Tino Kayafas, the developer of Philotimo Enterprises, an authentic Greek food delivery service that encourages community outreach in West Virginia through one gyro at a time. 

  • Jane Peterson, creator of Plarnation, a genuinely unique way of recycling plastic and fostering care throughout the community.

  • Samantha Oleman and Jillian Blair, co-creators of The Blue and Gold Roof, aimed at supporting mental health through sustaining the Wild and Wonderful of West Virginia.

After winning the semi-final, the group moved to the finals to present their passions, creations and pitches to a new audience and group of judges. Although the pitch competition can seem intimidating, the reward of partaking in the experience surpasses any trepidation. 

Jane Peterson with her Plarn Business

Jane Peterson, the founder of Plarnation, participated in her first pitch competition during the March Idea Challenge Semi-Final. Peterson expressed her most significant takeaway from collaborating with the LaunchLab and participating in the pitch competition is that "there are a lot of different resources that I can utilize here at WVU that I definitely want to in the future."

 A few other competitors also shared their pitch experiences. Josilee Scott, co-collaborator of Vermicomposting shared, "I think my biggest takeaway was the networking and seeing how well everyone can work together."

Constantinos Kayafas, founder of Philotimo Enterprises, a Greek food business as entrenched in philanthropy as the name shared his thought. "It's not as much about getting to the finals; it's about learning more about your own business and moving forward with your idea," Kayafas said.

Tino Kayafas and his gyro business

After an impressive showing in the final round, all of the finalists received funding.

In addition to funding and valuable pitching skills, these innovators discovered a network of infinite connections not only with the spectators and judges but with each other — realizing they could collaborate with other innovators to strengthen their passion and purpose.

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Creation Station on Wheels in tow, to Bridging Innovation Week we go!

bridging innovation banner

Bridging innovation is a week-long event that hosts a variety of exhibits and competitions centered around entrepreneurship and innovation for the state. We took our mobile maker lab, Creation Station on Wheels, to showcase during the events. This year the event was held from April 4 - 8, in Charleston, West Virginia. Bridging innovation is a place for entrepreneurs from all over West Virginia to come and showcase their passion through their ideas and creations. And at the heart of their ideas and creations is the pursuit of strengthening West Virginia's economy and ecosystem. 

Wednesday, April 6, was the day of the West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competitions. The competitions were broken up into various categories, opening the opportunity for innovators of all ages and backgrounds to participate. Practice pitches make perfect! 

Before the pitch, in front of the judges, the LauchLab's executive director Dr. Carrie White and business advisor Anne Jones, along with various other distinguished West Virginia representatives, held several practice sessions to offer pitch advice. These sessions were open to anyone seeking feedback on their pitch deliverance and presentation. The business plans varied from agribusiness to rocket science, promoting West Virginia's solid and compelling, diverse community. During the West Virginia Statewide High School, Collegiate and Community  Business Plan Competitions, the LaunchLab's bright, influential impact on WVU students and West Virginia was undeniable. With more than $100,000 funding awarded, our Mountaineers showed up and showed out! 

Our client winners of the West Virginia Collegiate Business Plan Competition.

  • Chase Rowand and Tucker Yano, co-collaborators of Aquasthenics, an instrument designed to improve autonomy and mobility, were awarded 10,000. 

  • Anna Marie Cummings, the inventor of Earring Backtrack, a beauty instrument designed to encourage earning independence, was awarded 5,000.

  • Robert Gianniny, the designer of DashPlain, a program aimed at simplifying collaboration and student retention, was awarded 5,000.

  • Bobby Noble, co-creator of Noble Growing, a creation designed to combat the water scarcity crisis, was awarded 5,000 + 5,000. 

Our alumni client winner of the West Virginia Community Business Plan Competition

  • Cameron Keefe, the creator of Thermoroller, a device to ease muscle soreness and blood flow, was awarded 10,000 + 3,000.

The LaunchLab is a powerful resource for WVU students and West Virginia. It nurtures a sense of ownership today to fuel the passions for the betterment of tomorrow. 

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The April Arts Festival and Pitch Competition

april arts

On April 21, 2022, the LaunchLab was again a buzz! Although some may not see the connection between art and innovation, passion and creativity are at the very cornerstones of both. 

During The April Arts pitch competition, it was evident that the tapestry of art and innovation is unmistakably woven. Even though the competition was host to various genres of artistic innovation, all had one thing in common — artistic unity advancement, inclusivity, and cultural appreciation.

These artists are redefining the stereotypical perception of what it means to be an innovator or entrepreneur. A few of the artistic creations presented during the pitch competition included a focus on traditional heartfelt written notes, as well as educating and exposing collective works of musicians in efforts to infuse culture and a deeper appreciation for music. 

Emmy Severs, owner of Lemon Milk Paper Co., one of the artist entrepreneurs, stated this about the competition, “Collaboration is vital for any start-up business and the creative community understands this well.” Sarah Giles, creator of “Album Art Galleries” expressed this directly in her presentation saying “What if, as creators, we focused on elevating each other’s work through collaborations? As a recording artist, I am exploring the possibilities of commercial exposure for artists through collaborative release strategies.”

Judges from the April Arts festival

After a difficult deliberation, the judges emerged to announce the winners. 

  • Erica Cottrill — propelling West Virginia forward by shattering Appalachian stereotypes in her original play

  • Sarah Giles — melds music and business through art enrichment and unifying the painter and musician communities.

  • Bailey McCord — infuses horror and comedy, bringing film and recognition to West Virginia. 

Popular vote winner

  • Emmy Severs — the owner of Lemon Milk Paper Co., spreading joy and love with the sincerity of handmade stationary.

Art transcends language barriers. Through it, we learn to embrace diversity and open our hearts and minds through storytelling and music. Through art, storytelling, music, design and more, we strengthen the future and the quality of life for all West Virginians.

Photos by Shaun Wilson; Design by Agustín Urioste & Adam Payne

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