SIF112 Wise Innovation Ecosystem

Project Manager: Donna Henry with Shannon Blevins, UVA Wise

The purpose of this project is to increase enrollment in technical programs and create a more robust culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

BoV Approved: June 2017

Project Dates: 7/11/2017 – 7/10/2023

Funding Awarded: $3,485,460

Executive Summary

This award is designed to create a Wise Innovation Ecosystem to increase enrollment in technical programs and foster a more robust culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. These are important steps toward diversifying the regional economy, and UVa's College at Wise is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in supporting job growth and economic prosperity.

The Wise Innovation Ecosystem leverages existing investments and proposes to:

l. Increase enrollment in technical programs such as software engineering, computer science and management of information systems (MIS); and

2. Create a center for innovation for students to collaborate and develop entrepreneurial skills through real world, hands-on learning experiences.

By focusing on these areas, UVa-Wise students will develop the skills needed to be relevant and competitive in today's economy.

Current Status: Active


The Wise Innovation Ecosystem initiative has been the catalyst to jumpstart pivotal projects designed to grow enrollment in UVA Wise technical programs and build a sustained ecosystem supporting entrepreneurship and experiential learning opportunities through internships for UVA Wise Students. The pandemic created a few setbacks for the project, particularly in activities that required international travel and in-person experiences. However, WISE IE saw overall success in expanding internships, conducting deep analysis of factors related to technology enrollment (recruitment and retention) as well as alignment with employer needs, and converting entrepreneurial engagement activities to virtual formats. At a time when college students across the country were experiencing canceled or deferred internships due to COVID-19, the UVA Wise Works virtual internship program more than doubled the anticipated metric for the performance period. 

Shared courses between UVA and UVA Wise grew to five during the last academic year with topics ranging from investing in Appalachia to technical programs such as cybersecurity penetration testing. These courses attracted 113 students between the two institutions. 

Additionally, entrepreneurial activities at The Nest, the student entrepreneurship space within the Town of Wise, took a different approach amid the pandemic by offering online engagement activities and livestreaming business plan and pitch competitions. UVA Wise has leveraged capacity built through the WISE IE program to secure funding from GO Virginia and the Virginia Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission to support entrepreneurial ecosystem building and launch the region’s first accelerator, which will also support UVA Wise students.