HUNTINGTON - Brad Smith wanted to be introduced as "just a guy from Kenova." At his core, he says he's no different than any of the West Virginia high school students he offered encouragement and insight to Thursday in Huntington.
Smith, a Kenova native and 1986 Marshall University graduate, developed into one of the most powerful players in Silicon Valley as the president and chief executive officer for Inuit from 2008 to 2019.
Smith was at the helm when the company desktop software provider transformed into to a global, cloud-based product and platform giant, creating products like TurboTax and Quickbooks that serve over 50 million customers.
But each student in the room has the potential to do that same, Smith said as the keynote speaker of the West Virginia Department of Education's first "Ed Talk" discussion. About 100 high schoolers - all in the career-technology pathway - from Spring Valley, Tolsia, Mingo Central and the Cabell County Career Technology Center gathered to hear words of wisdom from "just a guy from Kenova" who's lived the Silicon Valley dream. The gathering was held at St. Mary's Medical Center for Education, 2849 5th Ave.
"I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one," Smith said. "So I hope my example is reason to believe they're capable of anything they want to do."
The students were part of the state's Simulated Workplace model in which career-technology students organize and manage their own in-school, student-run companies in their respective fields, such as HVAC, electrical work, or software.
That drive for entrepreneurship is higher now in today's high schoolers than any prior American generation, Smith said.
The problem, he noted, is that although 75 percent of all jobs are in small businesses, 75 percent of the nation's venture capital goes to just three states (California, New York, and Massachusetts).
"God was egalitarian when He was handing out talent, but unfortunately economies aren't as distributive." Smith said.
"So we're trying to bring those ideas here, teach these kids those skills here, and to get the investment bankers to go and invest in these businesses right here in West Virginia."
Smith is a living example of what West Virginia's students can be given the right opportunity, said Kathy D'Antoni, associate state superintendent of schools who oversees career-technology education in West Virginia.
"He's walking the talk, and for that I think students will get a clearer and prominent message from someone of his stature," D'Antoni said.
"Students have the world open to them; they just have to be ready to grab it and go."
Smith's example is especially meaningful for Spring Valley senior Timothy Romans, who also hails from Kenova.
"It really shows the opportunities that we have - that we can do it coming from a small area and still have a chance to make it to the big time," he said.
Romans plans to study software engineering at West Virginia University.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.