BOONE COUNTY — The Robert C. Byrd Institute’s Early Stage Funding Opportunities (ESFO) initiative delivers technical, manufacturing and rapid prototyping assistance to entrepreneurs and businesses across West Virginia, helping them bring new products to market quickly and efficiently.
Over the past eight years, RCBI has awarded more than $700,000 to nearly 175 entrepreneurs and small businesses. A study found that in one three-year period, the initiative led to the creation of 318 jobs and generated $66 million in sales.
This achievement is made possible through the support of the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
In Boone County, Hernshaw Farms is turning abandoned mining sites into productive agricultural enterprises. The operation produces a variety of mushrooms, growing kits and other items for the restaurant and home garden markets.
George Patterson, the entrepreneur behind the farm — which began as a small, retail-focused enterprise — quickly saw the opportunity to scale his operation by selling starter kits to aspiring mushroom growers across the country and world. With technical assistance from RCBI, a sterilization unit was designed that would increase his capacity to produce substrate growing medium. Now, Patterson is producing and selling 600 to 700 blocks of sterilized growing medium each month. The sterilizer enabled Hershaw to increase production of its growing kits just in time to pivot business toward the home garden market after the COVID-19 pandemic led to a large reduction in sales to restaurants.
While the mixture Hernshaw Farms uses for its growing medium is proprietary, Patterson will tell you that the mixture is a “secret blend of sawdust, soybean hull, gypsum and love.”
By increasing capacity, Patterson has been able to expand into the international market and recently began shipping his products to Canada and Mexico.