Brad D. Smith Visits West Virginia University to Inspire Future Leaders of the Digital Workforce

West Virginia University aerial view of campus

Jake Stump, director of research communications at West Virginia University, recently wrote an article in WVU’s Business Magazine about Brad D. Smith’s visit to campus in March of 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic fully hit the U.S., Stump joined faculty, staff, and students in welcoming Brad by giving him a tour of the WVU Innovation Hub. They asked the chairman of Intuit and SurveyMonkey board member about his personal relationship to West Virginia and his plans for improving professional and economic opportunities in Appalachia.

While the article’s title “Mr. Smith Goes Home” playfully references Frank Capra’s famous dramedy, it also highlights a major aspect of Brad’s values. As a local guy from Kenova, WV who moved to Silicon Valley, he spent his youth preparing for life beyond his parents’ home near the Ohio river. After graduating from high school, Brad attended The United States Military Academy for a semester before coming back home, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree from Marshall University. When asked what a Marshall graduate was doing at WVU, Brad said he shares the same passion that Marshall and WVU have: fostering education-based opportunities for the next generation to compete in the world’s increasingly digital workforce.

During the discussion, Brad talked about his vision for establishing local startups to improve the state’s professional opportunities and attract new residents. “I call this a seventy-five percent reality,” Smith said. “Seventy-five percent of [graduates today]…want to start their own company and run their own business.” And this isn’t just in Appalachia — seventy-five percent of new jobs across the globe are created by startups and small businesses. However, in 2019, seventy-five percent of venture capital in the United States went to just three states: New York, Massachusetts, and California. 

“So the talent is equally distributed,” Brad said, “The passion is equally distributed. But the capital is not. However, capital follows great ideas.”

According to Brad, one of the keys for successful entrepreneurship is resilience, or “grit,” because ninety percent of all startups fail. “West Virginia has an abundance of resilience and grit,” Brad said. “We know how to overcome adversity…to create the next chapter of West Virginia as the Start-Up State.” While West Virginians already have the passion and will to succeed, Brad said that two “great equalizers,” education and entrepreneurship, would be critical to the state’s future. Through their philanthropic Wing 2 Wing Foundation, Brad and his wife, Alys, work to promote these great equalizers and support programs that help level the playing field for underserved communities.

Just a few months after touring WVU, Brad and Alys donated $25 million to establish new initiatives and jumpstart West Virginia’s economy. By launching a remote workers program during the COVID-19 pandemic and creating immersive outdoor educational opportunities, Brad is devoted to investing in the future of the communities that raised him. “We simply need to prepare our [local] talent…to train our next generation to be entrepreneurs and be the builders again,” Brad said. “Let’s build the next Amazon or Intuit or Cisco right here.”