A visit to CART Inc.–Bluefield, West Virginia

Selfie of myself, Heather Williams, John Browning and Bruce Mutter (left to right) (and yes selfies are not my strong suit :)

Selfie of myself, Heather Williams, John Browning and Bruce Mutter (left to right) (and yes selfies are not my strong suit :)

I sit here writing after my first meeting with the team at the Center for Applied Research & Technology (CART Inc.), an organization that has received funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Bluefield, WV. The team includes Bruce Mutter, CART CEO and professor of engineering management at Bluefield State College, Heather Williams, Office and Project Manager, and John Browning, Project Engineer. To be clear, I had been working with CART Inc. since June, when I was admitted to the CREATE program (Creating Resilient Economies Assisting Technology Entrepreneurs) and Commercialization Station–their manufacturing technology incubator.

We talk a lot about innovation in the entrepreneurship circles so I want to clarify what we are speaking of here. At CART Inc. innovation means problem solving with different tools including electronics and technology to improve upon or create a new type of physical product. One of CART’s goals is to help businesses create prosperity in the region. Not just more profits, or money for taxes, but JOBS as well.

So we sat around a table in CART Inc.’s original industrial design studio at Bluefield State College. Around us were all sorts of products they were working on, including photos of their driverless cars, and an innovative 4-wheeler. Their small team rallied around one driving force–you have to just DO the work, try things out. They spend very little time talking about problems, looking at points versus counterpoints to solving them. They just start working on the solutions.

This struck me as unique right away after meeting Bruce. We had previously had a few phone conversations over the past 5 months. I had shared the information I had on women’s made to measure clothing, what worked and didn’t work, what technologies are coming down the pipeline, the major bottleneck for progress in apparel manufacturing: the pattern adaptation. And he says – “OK. Let’s get started.” This was somewhat mind blowing to me. No long-winded application, with 2 videos and 10 pages of short answer questions? No pomp and pageant showing a board of advisors and how important I look?

No. CART Inc. believes in the work I’m doing and they want to help. So they will. And they are. After agreeing that the 1st major goal was making 100 blouses for different women, we began looking at software and hardware right away. Bruce helped assess the options from an engineering perspective. Last week CART Inc. purchased the software and a piece of hardware we needed to get started. Nothing fancy, just what we need to do the work, to prove our concept with the 1st 100 blouses.

Sitting around the table with their small team, I felt that I had found my team of collaborators, people that believe in technology, progress, problem solving and innovation AND who are motivated by a mission: to make the world better, to create jobs, to make our communities better.

I could feel the winds of change that morning, blowing through towns that had lost so much population, so many jobs, with decades of economic stagnation, followed by a drug epidemic. If you look around this town, that was once at the center of coal mining, you can see the rebirth. The 60,000-square foot Commercialization Station is being renovated, entrepreneurs are moving in with their gadgets and devices, bits and pieces of projects they are building. Intuit, the accounting software company, opened an office downtown and will soon open a maker’s space for entrepreneurs.

What can we build together that creates jobs, that is less harmful for the environment, that empowers people through creativity and problem solving to take ownership for their wellbeing?

We will see. I will keep writing to share what I am learning on this path. It is a blessing to walk it.

Go, fight, win.