Venture capital firms don’t normally descend on West Virginia looking for the hottest new idea.
Only Mississippi, at $1.1 million, has received less venture capital money this year than West Virginia’s $9.4 million, according to data compiled by the website Crunchbase.
The Mountain State has managed to claim the overall worst total in the United States since 2016. Its $43.9 million beats, in an inverted way, Mississippi’s $72.6 million.
Vantage Ventures Executive Director Sarah Biller hopes to at least dent those numbers. The organization will host a pitch day at its headquarters in Morgantown, where six state-based startups will get to pitch to venture capitalists and angel investors alike.
Her organization, a philanthropic venture supported by West Virginia University, aims to plug startup capital into technology projects championed by actual West Virginians. Those with technology pitches will present to Vantage Ventures on Wednesday.
Biller, 50, says she doesn’t want to see other young state residents with promise leave home as she did. The Hurricane native obtained a WVU undergraduate degree in finance, then left for Boston to make a living. She served on the founding team of three companies, including one in financial services.
At the financial services company, she began investing in startups and gained an appreciation for venture capital. She now serves on the boards of Boston-area concerns, including the FinTech Sandbox, a not-for-profit providing entrepreneurs access to high-quality data sets. She has earned numerous accolades.
Biller will be on hand Wednesday to hear the entrepreneurs’ pitches. The money for which they are bidding has been provided by people such as former Cisco CEO John Chambers and former Intuit CEO Brad Smith, both West Virginia natives. Smith recently was tapped to be the next president at Marshall University.
“We have put a bunch of large donors together,” Biller said. “We want to take incredibly talented West Virginians and give them the tools.”
Vantage Ventures also maintains an 8,000-square-foot working space at WVU for these future entrepreneurs.
“It’s one of the key elements in other thriving communities,” Biller said. “They provide spaces where people can work together.”
Some more established entrepreneurs rent space at Vantage Ventures, Biller said, while others just starting out are supported with free access.
“It’s really just the classic co-working environment,” Biller said. “We have all these gigantic tables. You can walk in and feel the energy, people talking, demonstrating technology on big screens.”
At its most recent investor pitch day, Biller said, Country Roads Angel Network chose to invest $130,000 in a startup known as Iconic Air, whose technology makes it easier to detect leaks in gas lines.
CRAN, meanwhile, is an angel investor group, separate from a venture capital firm. Individuals are usually the ones putting forth their money, without the go-ahead from a larger group. It is a separate entity from Vantage Ventures.
“We want people to know they don’t have to go to Pittsburgh or Los Angeles,” Biller said. “We’re investing in these companies. We want West Virginia to have this shot.”