The Wood Enterprise Institute (WEI), an entrepreneurial venture managed by students from Virginia Tech (VT) with the support of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials and the College of Natural Resources and Environment, aims to successfully introduce a new product from concept to market over the duration of the fall and spring semesters each year. In this class, students are challenged to conceive and create what will hopefully be a profitable product through all stages of new product development, marketing, manufacturing, and sales. Through this dynamic, experiential experience, students learn how to organize, manage, and improve their business model in a sustainable manner.

The eight students making up the 2019-2020 WEI team had to adapt quickly when the semester changed to online classes, and they were not allowed back on campus after spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, the time after spring break is when sales and production reach their peak, and the students do the most work to achieve the goals set forth in their business plans which were prepared during the previous fall semester.

The 2019-2020 WEI team decided to design, produce, and sell customized hardwood cutting boards made of native Appalachian tree species Cherry, Maple and Walnut. Customers were able to personalize their cutting boards by choosing between two dimensions, two wood patterns, and a wide range of routing and customizable engraving options including text and Virginia Tech logos. To assure error-free communication with the customers, all orders were entered into the 2019-2020 WEI team’s sales website.

Cutting board order form
2019-2020 WEI sales website

By the spring break 2020, the WEI team had 13 confirmed orders, 6 of which were already shipped. The closing of the University after spring break forced the WEI, as it is usually a hands-on, experiential learning class, to creatively adapt to the new guidelines through a different type of experiential learning. Although this year’s product had to be discontinued, the WEI team continued their weekly business meetings online, refined their business plan, and developed operating procedures for the instructors who were still on campus. In this way, the existing 13 orders could be completed and delivered to the customers.

The Wood Enterprise Institute is always looking for committed students of all backgrounds to participate in this class! For more information on the Wood Enterprise Institute visit our GobblerConnect page at  If you, or someone you know, is interested, please speak with your academic advisor or contact Urs Buehlmann at

WEI 2019-2020 team member Carolyn Olmsted joining lumber for the production of cutting boards
WEI 2019-2020 team member Carolyn Olmsted joining lumber for the production of cutting boards (photo: Krista Timney).