WV Angel Network Provides Jump-Start Investments for Cutting Edge Businesses

To Be Showcased At Huntington Conference


The start-up entrepreneurial spirit in West Virginia has gotten a significant lift over the past several years thanks to Country Roads Angel Network, the state’s first accredited angel group. Founded less than five years ago, CRAN (www.wvcran.com) is a sponsor of Bridging Innovation Week 2024 and the WV Entrepreneurship Ecosystem conference taking place in Huntington from April 8-11.

During the week, CRAN will hold its annual meeting (beginning at 5 pm on Tuesday, April 9) at the Marshall Health Network Arena. The meeting, sponsored by United Bank and Huntington Bank, will feature a variety of presentations from entrepreneurs, a keynote address by Dr. Don Capener, dean of the Brad Smith School of Business at Marshall University and remarks from CRAN leadership.

“Everything we do at CRAN is pointed towards the future of our state and supporting the amazing talent that lives within the Mountain State,” said Kevin Combs, chair of the CRAN board and one of its founders.

The reference Combs makes about “pointing to the future” is reflected in the angel investments from CRAN’s membership to date. Those investments—totaling about $1.1 million in six different ventures—have been leveraged to generate nearly $10 million in additional capital from others. CRAN’s investments have been in made in multiple sectors, including sustainability, broadband, arts, health and food.

CRAN has made direct investments in six Mountain State companies: Iconic Air (an aggregator of environmental data); Parthian Battery Solutions LLC (battery storage for electric vehicles/home solar power); Endolumik, Inc. (developed first approved medical device under the FDA’s STEP (Safer) program focused on bariatric surgeries); Cox Telecom (builder of cell towers); Mountain Steer Meat Company (processes and markets local beef to premium markets) and O Pioneer, a film by creative studio Coat of Arms about modern day WV pioneers. More CRAN investments are forthcoming this spring as

CRAN is in the process of finalizing investments in several other West Virginia entrepreneurs.

From its beginning in 2019, CRAN has been awarded organizing grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the One Foundation and the Massey Family Foundation. At the outset, CRAN’s operating partner was the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. Last July, CRAN became a standalone organization.

In November, CRAN was awarded a 2-year, $150,000 Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation grant to support CRAN’s efforts to both increase the number of people making investments in West Virginia entrepreneurs and in providing mentoring to develop their businesses. The Foundation for the Tri-State Community, a community foundation serving the Huntington and surrounding area, is the fiscal sponsor for the Benedum grant.

“The Benedum grant helps us to significantly escalate more opportunities for new startups in West Virginia and grow our investor membership base. We believe the economic picture for West Virginia is brighter than ever as we see more and more dedicated entrepreneurs come to us with a vision for making a difference and impacting so many growth areas that can benefit West Virginia” said Combs.

The Huntington region is well-represented in CRAN. Local businessman/attorney Xavier Staggs is on the CRAN board and serves as treasurer, and Isaac Sinclair, portfolio manager with United Bank, is a CRAN angel member. Also, Adkins & Reynolds, a CPA firm in Huntington provides advisory support to CRAN.

Another indicator of CRAN’s growth trajectory was the appointment in January of Frank Vitale as CRAN’s president. With Vitale at the helm, his focus will be on doubling CRAN’s current investor roster over the next two years and generating millions of dollars of investments for WV start-up businesses. Vitale, who is based in Morgantown, also serves as CEO of Forge Business Solutions.

“West Virginia is poised for tremendous investment and growth in the start-up and early-stage space. Rest assured that CRAN will be a lightning rod for this,” noted Vitale.

In his initial few months in the position, Vitale has represented CRAN at key meetings and is beginning his outreach around membership recruitment. For potential angels interested in joining CRAN, Vitale can be reached via email at [email protected].

According to Vitale, entrepreneurs have access to supportive investors they can look to for guidance. CRAN’s investor-members donate significant time to mentoring, both before and after a venture is ready for funding. Mentoring activities include fine tuning their business model; advising on capital stacking and ideal capital structure; assisting with marketing and communications strategies; and performing business plan reviews. In some instances, CRAN members become advisors to the companies so they receive continued guidance. Finally, CRAN members frequently leverage their own networks to provide the entrepreneurs with key introductions to potential customers, vendors, and other strategic partners.