SWEEP: Training West Virginia’s Entrepreneurs

“About 80% of West Virginia businesses have 20 or less employees,” said Alyssa Keedy, the Advanced Career Education Coordinator at the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE).

Why is that the case? One reason is a disconnect between West Virginia workers and the skills needed by local employers. With many young West Virginians either leaving the state to seek employment, or unable to meet the skill qualifications for local jobs, it was clear a program was needed to address this gap and even help people create new opportunities.

The Simulated Workplace Entrepreneurship Education Pathway (SWEEP) program is an entrepreneurial training initiative for high school students to develop the skills they need to find success in their own communities. Focusing on six economically distressed counties (Calhoun, Fayette, Gilmer, Lincoln, Mingo, and Wyoming), SWEEP is a project created by the EdVenture Group, an ARC POWER Initiative partner.

With ARC support, SWEEP developed and implemented three project-based learning units for West Virginia’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) students. West Virginia CTE’s offer training in a simulated workplace environment where students drive their own learning. The program also offers an end-to-end business competition for students to test and launch their own entrepreneurial ventures. SWEEP is expected to expose 1000 students and 75 instructors to entrepreneurship education through project-based learning, as well as to develop business plans for 50 local businesses. Key partners include the West Virginia Department of Education, Marshall University’s Innovating for Impact Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation (iCenter), Intuit Education, and Standwatch Academy.

“We need to take [West Virginia’s] problems and look at them as opportunities… let’s create those jobs. Instead of leaving the state to go and get them, let’s bring them here,” said Tricia Ball, Associate Director at Marshall University’s iCenter and alumnus of ARC’s Appalachian Leadership Institute.