Fungi Earn JMHS Student $10K for College

GLEN DALE – When John Marshall High School senior Sierra Cook heard her name called at the inaugural West Virginia Statewide High School Business Plan Competition this past weekend, she couldn’t believe her business plan had won first place statewide.

“I was so surprised,” Cook said. “I was just shocked because there were other people with really good ideas.”

It’s really no surprise Cook’s unique business plan stole the show though. Cook’s concept “Marshall Mushrooms” is a small local business that would grow, harvest and sell shiitake and maitake mushrooms to restaurants, grocery stores and health food stores in the Ohio Valley.

The idea won Cook a $10,000 college scholarship to her choice of nine higher education institutions in the state. Cook’s said she was inspired to start her business plan when she discovered her marketing teacher Cindy Nicholson took mushroom extract pills for her health.

“I became really interested in the fact that a mushroom could have so many health benefits,” Cook said.

In cook’s 15-page business proposal, John Marshall High School students would be employed to grow mushrooms on a local farm and then package and sell them to surrounding businesses. The mushrooms could be used in medicines, finely chopped to be used as a meat substitute for local restaurants or incorporated into beauty products.

Cook’s plan stands out as there are no mushroom manufacturers in West Virginia, Nicholson said. The closest producer Cook and Nicholson could find was in Pennsylvania.

“There isn’t competition for Sierra’s project and her delivery on the project was very good,” Nicholson said. “I’ve really enjoyed working with Sierra. She is a talented person.”

Cook said she has not decided what her plans are after graduation, but said she has already been accepted into West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics. She hopes to possibly bring her business plan to life locally before leaving high school.

Cook was one of eight finalists to participate in the state competition. The finalists were chosen from 103 competing teams from 36 school across West Virginia. The competition was hosted by the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship located in the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University and was created through a $3 million gift from the BrickStreet Foundation to the college in February 2013.