The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) is hosting the first step of an innovation challenge to identify products and services that empower the lives of women and families.

Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the local InnovateHER Competition offers West Virginia entrepreneurs the chance to advance to the national competition March 16 and 17, 2016, in Washington, D.C., where finalists will vie for cash prizes up to $40,000.

“Entrepreneurs and innovators in West Virginia consistently demonstrate their abilities to think outside the box using inventive ideas that improve the lives of ordinary citizens,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI Director and CEO. “The InnovateHER Competition is a unique opportunity to recognize these contributions, reward innovators financially and assist them in bringing commercially viable ideas to market.”

Competitors must submit a brief proposal and written business plan to RCBI by Nov. 13. A panel will review submissions and select up to five individuals who will then pitch their ideas to judges during an event at RCBI. One local winner will be announced Nov. 23 and advance to the semifinal round, from which SBA staffers will select national finalists.

Judging is based on the following criteria:

  • Has a measurable impact on the lives of women and families (30 percent)
  • Has the potential for commercialization (40 percent)
  • Fills a need in the marketplace (30 percent)

Trusst Lingerie, winner of the 2015 local InnovateHER Competition hosted by Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia, placed third in last year’s national competition by using robotics, advanced engineering and cutting-edge technology to create a bra that reduces pain and discomfort for large-busted women by redistributing the weight of the breasts. The first-place national winner was Bethany Edwards and a team at LIA Diagnostics in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who created an easy-to-use, ergonomically designed and environmentally friendly pregnancy test.

RCBI’s local InnovateHER Competition is open to both men and women. Individuals, companies, non-profits or other agencies may participate. Participants must be at least 18 years old and either U.S. citizens or permanent residents. To apply, submit a brief proposal describing your product or service and a business plan to

For assistance in crafting a business plan, visit or, or contact a regional West Virginia Small Business Development Center.

More information, including a complete list of contest rules, is available online at or by calling RCBI at 800-469-7224.