Wonder Valley Farm takes off at Launchpad competition

Photo by Madeline Murphy From left, Tres Ross, executive director of the Ross Foundation; Chris Bender, judge; Sierra Cox and John Pennachio, the owners and operators of Wonder Valley Farm; Kathi Dowler-Fought, judge; Bob Boone, judge, and Stephen Cogar, judge, with the $5,000 check the Wonder Valley Farm had just been presented.

PARKERSBURG — Business startups from tech hubs, to all natural product creators and a brewery were among the finalists for the third annual Launchpad pitch competition Thursday at the Parkersburg Art Center.

Winning the $5,000 prize and a free radio advertisement package with Results Radio were the owners and operators of Wonder Valley Farm, Sierra Cox and John Pennachio.

Wonder Valley Farm is a veterans-owned agritourism business in Gandeeville, W.Va., that concentrates on lavender, bees and forest botanicals.

“Our 2019 expansion will focus on establishing sailboat-style cabins, and hosting workshops that promote personal growth and outreach education exploring West Virginia’s horticultural treasures,” Cox said.

According to Cox, the Roane County farm has 50 beehives and over 1,000 lavender plants that can be used for lavender honey production, to grow West Virginia’s bee population and other lavender products such as oils and teas.

Photo by Madeline Murphy Area residents visited the Parkersburg Art Center Thursday to sample foods, learn about the businesses and cast their votes for the top five businesses present.

“The land used to be part of a horse farm, so there are great hiking trails,” said Pennachio.

The 2018 semifinalists were:

* Lily’s Soap N Suds, Friendly, handmade soaps

* Sistersville Sweets, Sistersville, handcrafted baked goods

* The Golden Spike Brewing Company, St. Marys, craft beer

* Jennie’s Bed & Breakfast, Parkersburg, bed and breakfast inn

* The Slice Pizza & Grill, Parkersburg

* The Experience/MOVXP, Parkersburg

* Catered Whims, Parkersburg, catering

* Wonder Valley Farm, Gandeeville, farm

* Chrissy’s Bakeshop, Spencer, baked goods

* Your Proper Pooch, Cairo, dog trainers

Organized by the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, the Pleasants County Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Launchpad was open to businesses less than two years old in Wood, Wirt, Calhoun, Jackson, Roane, Ritchie, Pleasants and Tyler counties.

Nonprofits and charities were not eligible.

Participants set up booths to showcase their business. Even for those who did not make the top five, there were networking and learning opportunities.

“As a future entrepreneur, I gained a lot of information on how to become successful in following my passion,” said Daniel Glock, a student at Marietta College, who was attending the event with fellow students from Linda Roesch’s class for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Of the 10 businesses present, five participants had five minutes to pitch their company or business plan to the judges, Bob Boone, president of the Bernard McDonough Foundation; Kathi Dowler-Fought, owner and operator of Dowler Tractor Sales; Chris Bender, owner of Da Vinci’s, and Stephen Cogar, business owner.

The five businesses that got to pitch to the judges were selected by those attending through a voting system.

Those five businesses were The Golden Spike Brewing Company, Jennie’s Bed & Breakfast, The Experience/MOVXP, Wonder Valley Farm, and Your Proper Pooch.

After their presentations, the judges were given five minutes to ask questions.

“Wonder Valley really stood out to me, because their plan was solid; they knew what they wanted and pursued grants, partners and applied themselves to getting the necessary funding,” said Cogar.

“Their presentation was great. It really showcased their knowledge of the industry,” said Boone.

Launchpad is sponsored by the Regional Council, the Ross Foundation, Results Radio, Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, the Ritchie County Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Bank, NOE Office Equipment, Ritchie County Economic Development Authority, West Virginia Social Media Consultants and Camden Clark Medical Center.

All 10 businesses were presented with a goodie basket from NOE Office Supplies and a certificate for a free social media audit from West Virginia Social Media Consultants.