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Entrepreneur Cafe taking off throughout Mountain State

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For The State Journal

A micro financing experiment is taking off in the Mountain State.

Economic development organization Vision Shared of Huntington has launched a pilot program for communities to hold Entrepreneurs Cafes. Owners of existing businesses and people with ideas for start-ups sign up to make presentations.

The first round of Entrepreneurs Cafes has been held in Buckhannon, Williamson, Shepherdstown and Clarksburg. Vision Shared President Rebecca Randolph said she hopes to hold others in the northern panhandle and southern West Virginia before the end of the year but nothing is scheduled yet.

Everyone who wants to attend a Café pays a nominal fee of $10-$15 to eat dinner. Their payments guarantee them one vote for the business proposal they like best. Following the presentations, everyone votes and the winning entrepreneur takes home the money collected that night as a mini grant to fund his or her idea. Vision Shared kicked in $500 for each initial meeting.

"What we've learned is so many small businesses that are community-based don't need
thousands of dollars," Randolph said. "They need a few hundred dollars to buy a piece of
equipment or do marketing."

But the hope is the money won't stop there and more than one business will benefit from the

"Ideally, you hope angel investors and venture capitalists will attend," Randolph said.

At the Entrepreneurs Café held recently in Clarksburg, seven Harrison County small business
owners presented ideas they hoped would win funding.

Lisa Thompson of Queen Events, LLC, talked about her event planning business. Photographer
Howard Tenke shared his vision for opening a film processing lab. Developer Paul Moses of Humperdix sought the grant to help him renovate buildings in downtown Clarksburg.

Phillip Podesta of Limousines by a Touch of Class proposed a concierge service to help senior citizens keep their independence longer. Barry Calef hoped to get funding to buy a crane and track to smooth out his high-definition video productions.

Ian Rudick of Come From the Heart LLC talked about the matching grants he had lined up from CWV TEL Federal Credit Union and Job Squad Inc. should he win. He would use the money to start a micro-lending program to help entrepreneurs with disabilities start their own businesses.

But the winning proposal was Kniceley Sewn of Shinnston. Owner Suzanne Kniceley described
how her family business making accessories, clothing and doing alterations needed a new sewing

machine. She has burned up several $75 personal use sewing machines purchased at Wal-mart. She said she will buy an industrial sewing machine with the $1,145 collected that night.

"My husband says I drive my machines like Ferraris when they are Pintos," Kniceley said. "Now
I can buy a Ferrari!"

Clarksburg has already scheduled a second Entrepreneur Café, for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Bluebird Store, sponsored by the Harrison County Chamber Economic Alliance Corp. Shepherdstown will hold another at 6 p.m. Nov. 14, at The Jefferson Room, White Hall 104, Shepherd University, 100 High St., Shepherdstown. Williamson has set one for January and Buckhannon may hold another after the first of the year.

Entrepreneurs who have presented at past Cafes can present again but they have to get in line behind first-time presenters.

For details, visit www.visionshared.com, www.cityofclarksburgwv.com, www.cityofwilliamson.org, www.shepherdstown.us, and www.buckhannonwv.org.