By Monica Chapman
A West Virginia bank is giving $1 million to TechGrowth Ohio, a coalition set up to provide operational assistance to technology firms in Southeast Ohio that counts Ohio University among its partners.
Athens-based TechGrowth Ohio, founded in 2007, is one of six not-for-profit organizations funded by the state's Department of Development to spur economic development and nurture firms with commercial potential. With its investment, Wesbanco joins existing TechGrowth partners Ohio University, Adena Ventures, OSU South Centers and the East Central Ohio Tech Angel Fund.
At Ohio University, experts from the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Edison Biotechnology Institute and Innovation Center provide venture-ready businesses with counsel through TechGrowth, connecting area entrepreneurs with resources and potential sources of capital.
"This is a great partnership and it's going to in the long term put this region in a much more competitive position for economic development, which is increasingly important in terms of the U.S. economy," said Voinovich School Director Mark Weinberg.
Joe Flynn, senior vice president at WesBanco, announced the investment at the TechGrowth Ohio collaborators' meeting on Monday. Flynn said the investment was born of Wesbanco's Community Development Corporation, which aims to bring businesses into the area.
For Athens-based entrepreneurs Dan Krivicich and Geoff Greenfield -- both Ohio University alumni -- investments like these provide avenues for success in an otherwise economically challenged region.
"Sometimes it's hard for entrepreneurs in our area," Krivicich said. "You think you can do in on your own, but you need to know what is available. (TechGrowth Ohio) helps you plan with realistic goals about growth… which always takes more money and more time than you think."
Krivicich's company, FITNE, produces and distributes multimedia educational programs for nurses and nursing students. Third Sun, meanwhile, sells and installs renewable energy systems.
FITNE was among the first graduates of Ohio University's innovation center -- a business incubator which provides guidance and resources to area start-ups. According to Krivicich, the additional resources provided through TechGrowth Ohio helped fuel a 500 percent increase in sales of software for its Virtual Learning Resource Center in one year's time.
Third Sun's Greenfield is hoping for similar success. The company is projecting gross sales of $3.2 million in 2008, more than four times its 2006 sales.
Greenfield credits the Voinovich School's Kevin Aspegren, director of the Appalachian Regional Entrepreneurship Program, for providing insight into issues within the growing industry. ESP also provided marketing support and consulting services in human resources and accounting.
Having worked with the Voinovich School as a client since 2003, Greenfield said the "new set of eyes" has been invaluable to his family's business.
"They had outside perspective and business school attitudes and asked a lot of hard questions," he said. "It really helped us think about our business in a growth perspective, bringing us out of the day-to-day details and thinking about strategy."
FITNE and Third Sun were among three companies to present their success stories at Monday's forum. Rounding out the presentations was Peebles, Ohio-based Toobla, an early stage technology-based company seeking to capitalize on the fast-growing social networking market.
"This is one of the more opportunistic parts of the state of Ohio, in our opinion," Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis told the TechGrowth Advisory Council. "And as we have delved more deeply into looking at the opportunities for economic development, we're clear that TechGrowth Ohio will provide an opportunity to more effectively and efficiently leverage internal resources that are aimed at spawning more economic development."
contributed to this article.
Updated Nov. 21, 2008.