W.Va. native finds passion for helping small business owners

By JOSEPHINE E. MOORE, The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — In the mid-’90s Judy Moore decided to open her own business as a travel agent.

Like most small businesses, it lasted only about a year.

Moore said she believes her business was unsuccessful partly because of the growing popularity of the internet but also due to a lack of any state organizations at the time that were dedicated to helping support and guide small business owners.

“When I started my business, I didn’t have any real preparation,” she said. “There were no programs to turn to for support or knowledge … I didn’t have a business plan; I didn’t have anyone to strategically challenge me or say, ‘Have you thought about this?’ or ‘Have you done that?’ or ‘What about your competitors?'”

Roughly 26 years later, Moore now serves as the person who does that for entrepreneurs and small businesses owners as the executive director of West Virginia Hive.

Formed in 2017, WV Hive is the entrepreneurship program of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority and assists small businesses and entrepreneurs in southern West Virginia through business advising and technical assistance support.

“All of the questions that we guide our businesses through now and the steps that we take them through on developing their business plan … I didn’t have any of that,” she said.

“If I had had any of that type of support, maybe I would still be in business.”

Moore said she knows that not all businesses succeed but she has found that the ones that have support from programs such as WV Hive have a much greater chance of success than those that go it alone.

Moore said the passion for her work comes not only from her own experience as a small business owner but from her proud West Virginia roots.

Moore, 64, a native of Nicholas County, said she has spent the majority of her life in West Virginia, briefly relocating to Florida with her husband and two kids for a five-year stint before heading back home.

She said she’s also the proud daughter of a coal miner and a first-generation college graduate.

Moore said she’s always felt driven to work hard and prove herself.

Before coming to work for WV Hive, Moore said she worked in predominantly male-oriented industries.

“I worked for a concrete company where there was a lot of contractors that were male, worked with engineers that were mostly males, worked for an alternative fuel automotive program and just dominant male-oriented industries,” she said.

“So as a woman I found myself feeling that I had to work harder because there was something to prove.” I was a woman amongst a majority of men and I needed to really just work harder and harder and be in front and always be a step ahead.”

Moore said the pressure she felt to prove herself did not come from the people she worked with but was pressure she placed on herself.

She said she also felt the need to prove herself because it was not until she was in her late 40s that she earned a college degree.

“I was an adult learner — I did not get my undergrad degree ’til 2004 and so I always struggled because it was something that was inside of me and I didn’t put myself on the same platform as others,” Moore said.

“So getting that degree was such a big deal for me because I felt then that that gave me the confidence that I could step out and take on the bigger roles.”

Moore said she started taking college classes online at a young age but got sidetracked by having children and just life in general.

“I would go back and get a few classes and gather a few credits here and there and then along came the children, but it was always one of those things that I just knew I wanted,” she said.

“It was at the core of me. It was one of the biggest goals that I had, and I wanted that as much for my family as I did for myself because it was a way of saying, ‘Yes, I can,’ or ‘Yes, we can. We’re good enough. We can do this.’ It was really a pride thing for me.”

In addition to earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual communications, Moore also has a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications, which she earned from West Virginia University in 2009.

Moore said she credits her aunt with inspiring her to complete her undergraduate and go on to pursue a master’s.

“She was the first one in the family to get a bachelor’s degree on my dad’s side,” she said.

“She was really the person that inspired in me that that was what I wanted as well.”

Moore said she recently had a niece start her undergrad at WVU, which she believes she had a role in inspiring as well.

Moore said her niece, as a freshman, is already feeling the pressure and anxiety of college life and being away from home long-term for the first time.

“Some advice that I gave her, which I wish I had learned earlier, is that if you do your very best, that’s all that you can do,” she said.

“Still give it everything that you can, but at a certain point you can’t let it break you down. You can only do the very best that you can do.”

While earning her master’s, Moore also worked as an assistant director for West Virginia University’s National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, a position she held for 12 years, where her roles included providing leadership in creative direction, media relations and outreach efforts.

Moore said she originally came to WV Hive in 2017 from her position at WVU to become a business advisor.

“It was my desire to get back to southern West Virginia because that’s where my heart was,” she said.

“I felt like I needed to come back home and I wanted to do something that mattered.”

Starting out as a business advisor right when the WV Hive program was getting off the ground, Moore said she had the opportunity to be part of helping to build WV Hive into what is it today.

“I really had a unique opportunity to learn about the foundational aspect of the Hive,” she said.

“We were literally putting the plane together as we were flying it so as a business advisor I was able to participate in the development of the program.”

After serving as a business advisor for five months, Moore was promoted to executive director, a role that became vacant shortly after Moore was initially hired.

Moore said she truly feels at home in her position with WV Hive, noting that their services are even more in demand since the start of the pandemic last year.

Pivoting to remote services, Moore said her team never missed a beat and helped their clients in a number of ways from helping them navigate all the paperwork necessary to apply for federal funds to offering advice to clients on how they could alter their services in order to adhere to Covid safety protocols and still be successful.

Moore said they also saw an influx of new clients as many people were stuck at home and had more time to pursue business ideas that they never had time to think about before.

“It’s easy to love what we do,” she said. “Whenever you get to sit in a room with a business owner or an entrepreneur with a dream of opening a business … they come in and then there is just this back-and-forth collaboration where we advise them and to help them find the answers … It’s just very gratifying to know that you’ve helped a business or helped them to realize their dream and giving them a better opportunity to be successful.”

To find out more about WV Hive go to wvhive.com.