By Josephine E. Moore
CNHI News W.Va.
A little over a year ago, Deiandra Blair and Jordan Casey each had ideas for small businesses they wanted to open.
Blair had been working as a nurse for more than 14 years, but when Covid hit, she needed to find a job that would allow her to stay home with her kids. So she started baking cakes and using Facebook to sell them and gain new customers.
For Casey, collecting and caring for plants had been a hobby of his since age 5. But with a desire to help others become knowledgeable plant owners, he started thinking about how he could turn his hobby into a career.
With the help of WV Hive, a nonprofit that helps connect entrepreneurs with the resources and expertise they need to grow successful businesses, Blair and Casey were able to turn their ideas and dreams into realities.
In January 2021, Blair opened Blair’s Sweet Treats & More in Bluewell, W.Va., which is just a few miles north of Bluefield. Located at 180 Majestic Place, Blair said she offers a number of sweet treats, from banana pudding to brown sugar pound cake, as well as a variety of food items from hot dogs to salads and chicken pot pies.
Casey opened Botany Tropicals with co-owner Steven Jones in early 2022 in Hinton. Casey said he initially started selling plants from his personal collection, but after quickly selling out of those he had to look for a new way to stock his inventory.
During an open house and celebration Dec. 2 at WV Hive’s location in downtown Beckley, Casey and Blair received awards recognizing the growth and success of their businesses in 2022.
Casey and Jones were awarded the 2022 WV Hive Startup of the Year Award while Blair received the 2022 WV Hive Social Enterprise of the Year Award.
Judy Moore, executive director of the WV Hive and deputy director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA), said the startup award goes to a small business startup that is innovative and offers a unique product, and also responds to adversity and has measurable accomplishments in advancing an idea or a business.
Moore said the social enterprise award is meant to highlight a small business that looks to solve specific social or environmental issues.
Casey said the award and recognition from WV Hive nearly brought him to tears, adding that he couldn’t believe Botany Tropicals will soon celebrate its one-year anniversary.
“When we started this, it was all a hobby. We had no clue what we were doing,” Casey said. “… (WV Hive) was able to help me with technical assistance; they built my website. They helped me find places for signs. They helped me hire an employee. Helped me with CPA needs – taxes.”
Blair said she too was honored by the recognition from WV Hive.
From the start, Blair said she always wanted her business to be more than just serving food.
“I have a heart for the community,” she said. “So from the get-go, when I got my building I knew I was going to serve my sweet treats but I also wanted to do outreach for the community.”
In August, Blair hosted a back-to-school bash at her business, where she treated more than 100 families to free food as well as donated school supplies. She said she’s also working on putting together a similar event for families that need assistance buying presents for their children for Christmas.
Four other business and community partners were also recognized by WV Hive during its award ceremony.
The 2022 WV Hive Small Business of the Year Award was given to Amanda Green and Ceretha Green of Falcon Mine Service, located in Midway.
The 2022 WV Hive Entrepreneur of the Year Award was given to Marcus Thomas of Fat Bottom Coolers, from Beckley.
The 2022 WV Hive Partner of the Year Award was given to United Bank and accepted by Zack Statler, the market president.
The 2022 Community Advocate of the Year Award was given to Donnie Pomeroy, a business services representative at Region 1 Workforce Development Board, in Meadow Bridge.
Moore said she’s enjoyed watching the businesses that come to WV Hive for help, be able to grow and thrive.
“Most of the businesses that we’re seeing, they come to us with a talent or a love of something that they feel that they can give to others, but they have no idea the business side of things,” Moore said. “And that’s what we do. and we don’t look at it as though ‘Oh, you’ve got to learn everything that a business owner has to have.’ We try to instill in them the fact that you don’t have to be everything. There are resources. Let us connect you to those resources.”
Since its inception in 2016, Moore said WV Hive has served nearly 500 businesses, been instrumental in helping 63 new businesses with startup, helped create 189.5 new jobs and retain 330 jobs as well as helped entrepreneurs raise over $6 million in capital to support their businesses.
“In addition to that, we have aspiring entrepreneurs and partners and supporters and our general community and we’re almost at 1,000 that we’ve actually worked with – they’ve attended some sort of a training or partnered with us in some capacity and we’re really happy and proud about that too,” Moore said.
The WV Hive is the entrepreneurship program of the NRGRDA and the administrator of the Country Roads Angel Network. Its 13-county service area includes Raleigh, Fayette, Summers, Nicholas, Webster, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Monroe, Mercer, McDowell, Wyoming, Logan, and Mingo counties. For more info, go to wvhive.com.