The West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design will build on its foundation as an innovation hub with the support of a $157,000 grant from The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and $100,000 from Farm Credit.

The combination of private and public funds will enable the creation of the WVU Davis College Young Innovators Fellowship Program, which will provide students motivated to bring innovation and entrepreneurship to rural environments and communities the skills to do so. The program will accept students from any of the College’s academic programs, from agriculture to housing and all forms of business and technology development.

Advancing the ways and means for WVU graduates to more quickly and successfully contribute to the region’s economic development is the goal. Measuring the success of graduates this way is a new approach.

“Enhancing and sustaining the rural economy of West Virginia is vitally important to the state, and there’s a clear need for innovation and entrepreneurship to support that,” said Dan Robison, dean of the Davis College. “Through the Young Innovators Fellowship Program, we’ll be able to build an even more fertile entrepreneurial environment among students, faculty, farmers, rural business and technology developers, and others who have a stake in these critical issues.”

The program will also provide a think-tank atmosphere, allowing students to interact with many organizations and governmental agencies that are focused on sustainable agriculture and rural development in the state, as well as potential funders for future entrepreneurial activities.

The program will include internships, provide service opportunities for undergraduate students to give back to the state and develop networking and mentoring opportunities.

“Through this program, the college will continue to develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship with real economic value, by better enabling future generation of thinkers and doers,” Robison said. “That different but like-minded entities like the Benedum Foundation and Farm Credit have determined to support us in this venture speaks to their forward-looking commitment to all of West Virginia’s communities, and we are thrilled to partner with them, and seek additional collaborators, in this effort.”

As a first step, the WVU Davis College will assemble a Young Innovators Resource Team composed of faculty, practitioners, managers of working capital, business support and training organizations, and networking groups. The team will select ten sophomores annually as Fellows, who will be active in the program during their junior and senior years.

Each fellow will receive an annual scholarship, so long as they continue to meet program requirements and show good progress in moving toward developing their entrepreneurial and innovation skills. Each Fellow and a faculty advisor together develop a Young Entrepreneur Success (YES) Plan as a guide to their specific participation in the program. Matt Wilson, a professor and assistant director of the College’s experiment station, will serve as program coordinator.

“West Virginians spend more than $7 billion on food every year, but less than 10 percent of that is from in-state production. The markets exist for agribusiness growth, as well as all the other kinds of commercial activity that make rural communities vital,” Wilson said. “The Davis College intends to train students to tap into those markets and build West Virginia’s economy.”

The $157,000 Benedum grant and $100,000 Farm Credit gifts were made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2017.



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.