Annual Thrive Event Builds Interest, Funds For local Entrepreneurs

By Max Garland The Charleston Gazette-Mail, W.Va.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In its'fifth year now, the Charleston, West Virginia "Thrive" event, focuses on encouraging small businesses in the community. The annual contest offers a cash prize of about $3k and only allows entries from businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail

Base Camp Printing Company's entire operation is run through Emily Sokolosky. She has been using her lone letterpress printer to create handmade stationery, business cards, coasters and posters for customers out of her home in Charleston's Elk City district since May.

The business isn't easy, especially with the surging popularity of digital printing methods. But Sokolosky got a little help Wednesday evening, as voters determined her business to be the most worthy of receiving the $3,100 prize pooled at the Charleston Area Alliance's annual Thrive event.

"You'll see immediate results, I promise," Sokolosky said after the announcement. "I can't wait to get you all up to a letterpress workshop."

With the money, Sokolosky said she will use the funds to build toward obtaining a second, larger press, hiring another employee, creating more products and potentially hosting workshops.

"I love it so much, I want to keep the art alive," she said. "I don't want it to become obsolete."

This is the fifth year of Thrive, which only allows entries from businesses in the Charleston area with fewer than 20 employees. Seventeen businesses submitted their applications for the event, a new high, according to Cody Schuler, the entrepreneur project manager for the Charleston Area Alliance.

Base Camp Printing Company was one of six finalists pitching how it would improve its business with the money pooled from both the crowd and a $1,500 donation from Appalachian Power, Bowles Rice and Charleston Area Medical Center. A panel of judges asked questions after each presentation.

The other finalists pitching their ideas were representatives from Autopods, the West Virginia International Film Festival, Reroote, Filmanatix and Drum n Fun. Most wanted to use the funds to help develop future projects and expand their current outreach.

The West Virginia International Film Festival wanted help funding its underground cinema project. The 30-seat micro-theater would be located in the Annex Gallery of Taylor Books on Capitol Street. It would showcase independent and foreign films on Fridays and Saturdays, giving the organization a greater presence in Charleston.

"There's a challenge in only having a festival twice a year," said co-chair Emmett Pepper. "With this theater, we could bring those films to people year-round."

WVIFF needs $24,800 to fund the project and has raised a little more than $10,000, Pepper said. If funding continues on its current path, the theater would be set for a soft opening in January 2017.

Autopods, the electric micro-taxi service serving a two-mile radius in downtown Charleston, wanted to use the money to develop an app for its iPads installed in each vehicle. The app would advertise local events, coupons and offers the customer could see as they ride in the autopod.

Reroote, a service for people to buy and sell home wares online, wanted to use the funds to develop targeted advertising and create a mobile app. Reroote owner Kathryn McAtamney said the company is for people moving to another home who would otherwise throw all of their wares away and buy new items at an expensive retailer.

"Moving doesn't just happen," she said. "You end up with a pile of stuff to throw away, and the whole thing is a process. There's no better platform for the type of transaction we're providing."

Drum n Fun, which offers drumming programs to relieve stress and build community, would have purchased additional instruments targeted toward different age groups and offered additional programs for professional organizations.

Filmanatix, which creates video content for businesses and helps advertise the content on social media, would have used the funding to expand its outreach and purchase better video production equipment.

The judges for the event were Justin Gaull of MarTek LTD, University of Charleston Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer Fonda Holehouse, Katie Rugeley of The Initialed Life and Steve Rubin of Blue Creek Gas Company. The event also saw an appearance by Thrive's 2015 winner Morgan Richards, designer for the leather goods company Morgan Rhea.

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