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Crowd funding gets local with video contest

Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have helped thousands of businesses get off the ground by helping would-be entrepreneurs collect startup money from online supporters.

Now, the Charleston Area Alliance wants to bring "crowd funding" to the local business economy.

The group recently started a new program called the Thrive Initiative, which lets local entrepreneurs compete for seed money by pitching their ideas to the community.

Earlier this year, 17 Kanawha Valley businesses applied to be part of the project. The alliance narrowed the field down to nine finalists using a blind panel, then helped those finalists produce 60-second "pitch" videos for their ideas.

This Wednesday, members of the public will vote for their favorite pitch at a special event held at DigiSo, a digital media lab owned by CreateWV and West Virginia State University's Economic Development Center.

Tickets are $20 each. That buys an attendee's food and drinks, plus the ability to cast a vote in the contest.

Thrive Initiative organizer Cullen Naumoff said each pitch video would run on a loop throughout the evening. Representatives from the businesses also will attend if voters want more information about their ideas.

The entrepreneur who receives the most votes will get $2,000 from local businesses Vision Shared, Industrial Bolting, Jobs Investment Trust and Mountaineer Capital. The winner also will receive all money made from ticket sales.

Naumoff said the alliance started the Thrive Initiative because often, access to startup cash is the biggest obstacle for new entrepreneurs. And since lenders require borrowers to have a credit history, aspiring business owners often have nowhere to turn.

So-called "crowd funding" websites allow start-ups to collect small amounts of money from a large number of people. Musicians who want to record an album, for instance, ask for $10 from supporters. Those supporters, in turn, receive an advance copy of the album for their donation.

"We wanted to bring crowd-funding in person," Naumoff said.

She said a wide variety of businesses are represented in the contest.

Mountain Party gubernatorial candidate Jesse Johnson's company, Eco-Vision Lighting, helps businesses switch from old T-12 and T-8 fluorescent lights to new T-5 bulbs with a proprietary adapter. In his video, Johnson said he would use the seed money to bring the technology to small businesses, volunteer fire departments and "other staples of our community."

Neva Long Barth, who owns the retirement- and aging-planning company Eagle LTC, says she would use the seed money to fund workshops and other events to encourage West Virginians to plan for their later years.

Deborah Rohrer's company, Georhea, uses unmanned aircraft to take photos and create three-dimensional maps for individuals and businesses. Her company would use the seed money to upgrade its equipment.

Cinda Salazar, head trainer at iFiTT24, a 24-hour gym in Ashton Place, would use the money to sponsor a "Biggest Loser"-style weight loss competition.

Jay Cipoletti would use the seed money to start a business, Hoopalytics, which would provide consultants to college basketball teams to crunch player statistics and build better teams, like NBA and Major League Baseball teams do.

In his video, Obi Henderson says he would use the funding to launch Innovative Events Consultation, a company that would help organizations plan after-school programs.

Leonard Hoover says he would use the prize to start Leonard Hoover Auto Art, which would produces commissioned automobile-inspired art pieces. Rachel Pike, owner of UL Life Coaching, said she would use the funds to sponsor life-coaching workshops.

Kayla Wygal, owner of West Virginia Cheer Academy, a training gym for competitive cheerleading, says she would use the crowd-sourced funding to pay off some of the business's debt.

Naumoff said even if entrepreneurs don't win, they still gain exposure through the competition.

Videos are available at

Tickets can be purchased at They also will be available at the door.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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