In West Virginia, roots to one’s family tree run deep.
Whether your ancestors were born and raised in the Mountain State or you can trace your lineage as far back as another country, they worked hard to provide for their loved ones.
Some worked in coal fields and for the railroad, while others went into their family-owned business.
Those who were bold enough started their own businesses.
You may say they were brave and adventurous – and they were – but fourth generation Morgantown native Samuel “Auggie” Chico may say it’s just the nature of a true West Virginian.
A finance alumnus turned startup business owner, Chico provides us insight into his family’s ties to the University town, his time spent at the Chambers College and his plans for his business.
Q: You say your family has been in Morgantown for four generations. Can you tell me a little bit more about your family and how they came to the city?
A: I have pretty deep roots to Morgantown. My great-grandfather and grandmother were Italian immigrants and moved to Morgantown at the turn of the 20 th century. Over 100 years ago, my great-grandfather set up his own dairy processing facility here in town – Chico Dairy Co. – and he was known as the local milkman who dropped off the cartons on people’s doorsteps. The family business grew from there and took many twists and turns, eventually launching convenience stores, and a bakery – Chico Bakery – where you can still get a Julia’s Original pepperoni roll.
Q: Not only do you have roots to Morgantown, but it sounds like entrepreneurship runs in your blood.
A: I have always been surrounded by entrepreneurs. Many people instrumental in my upbringing were entrepreneurs, including my grandfather, my dad, and many others who all had a huge impact on shaping me into the person I am today. Being surrounded by that at such a young age gave me some degree of insight into the entrepreneurial world that you can’t get any other way.
en-tre-pre-neur: a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses.
I guess growing up around all that instilled in me the value of originality, which is something I think goes hand-in-hand with being an entrepreneur. I’ve always been one to march to the beat of my own drum. For me, if I have the ability to pave my own way forward, that’s the direction I want to go in. In high school I worked several jobs between classes and various sports. I mowed lawns and did landscaping for people in the Morgantown area, and worked jobs in construction, among other things. I was also into all things cars, so the introduction of electric vehicles really caught my attention in high school.
Q: Knowing this about yourself, was majoring in business at WVU always your plan?
A: I knew I wanted to attend WVU because my father attended and earned a degree in management. As early as middle school I had my own E-Trade account where I learned how to trade stocks and I always had a great degree of interest in it. Being in high school and involved in the business community around my father, I had a lot of mentors in the business world and those that I gravitated towards the most were in finance. Even pop culture references like the movie “The Big Short,” which came out when I was in high school, increased my interest in the field of finance. That’s how I landed on studying finance at the Chambers College. I knew that starting my own company would be something I would want to do in the future, but being that I didn’t really have a clear path to doing that and it being too big of a task for me to undertake right out of high school, I was attracted to the idea of a career in finance.
Q: Did you have any experiences in or out of the classroom that could have changed your mind about staying on the finance path?
A: I really enjoyed being a finance student at WVU. My junior year I interned at the derivative strategy desk of a financial brokerage in Philadelphia. At the internship I quickly learned the strategies that the company employed and worked as an analyst to offer trade recommendations for their clients. It was an incredible experience but it was one that cemented my belief that starting my own business would be a career I’d find most fulfilling. So, it was actually the opposite. It guided me in a different direction from the financial field and spurred me to explore new options.
Q: When you had that realization, what was your next step? Did you have one?
A: When I came back to Morgantown after that internship I saw posters around campus for the 2020 West Virginia Collegiate Business Plan Competition and I figured, "why not give that a shot?" I figured, "what do I have to lose?" In a worst-case scenario, I’ll learn a thing or two and have something to put on my resume. I asked my friend Kyle Seese who was an industrial engineering undergrad at WVU’s Statler College to go in with me on the business plan competition. We ended up winning first place in the competition – earning funding and interest from key industry partners. Our business plan that won – Parthian Battery Solutions – was the idea of developing affordable, eco-friendly energy storage solutions for electric vehicle batteries. After graduation, Seese went his own route and has had a successful career as an industrial engineer. On the other hand, Greg Lusk, who developed the first prototype is still with the company today as the lead technical contractor – overseeing systems design and engineering.
Q: Can you explain how you came up with the name?
A: The name stems from the first-ever battery discovered in Iran, known as the Parthian battery. I named the company Parthian Battery Solutions because the battery itself was an archaeological find and, to me, the name was original, sharp, and incited imagery of strength.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Parthian Battery Solutions?
A: Parthian Battery Solutions brings new life to lithium-ion batteries. We provide re-certification services to electric vehicle batteries so that they can be safely and effectively used in second-life applications. Essentially, we take used batteries, that would otherwise just be disposed of in a landfill or some other less desirable location, and find out which ones are capable of being reused. This ensure that the most amount of value is extracted from them over their lifetime, while simultaneously minimizing their environmental and supply-chain impact.
“Batteries from electric vehicles, after they’ve been retired from the car, can maintain upwards of 85 percent of their original capacity. Oftentimes, they ae very useful batteries and there is no need for them to just be disposed of.”
There haven’t really been any great solutions for auto manufacturers when it comes to retiring these batteries, so they are our go-to clients right now. We’ve partnered with Nissan to handle the end of life management of the batteries from their Leaf EV. Since the first EVs hit the road roughly 10 years ago in the US, we’re on the cusp of a major inflection point in the number of batteries coming to the end of their life on the road. It’s imperative that companies like ourselves are prepared for this huge inflow of used batteries when they come.
Q: At this point you’re a senior finance student who just won the competition. What was next for you?
A: It wasn’t until winning the competition that I realized all the resources surrounding me at WVU. When we first entered the competition and learned that we were moving past the first round, we were introduced to WVU’s Morris L. Hayhurst LaunchLab. The LaunchLab helped us develop our strategies and our business model, as well as other aspects of our business pitch primarily for the competition. I met Kyle Gillis and James Carnes who were doing a presentation for their business, Iconic Air, and how they were residents at Vantage Ventures after finding success with the business plan competition themselves. We then had individuals from Vantage Ventures reach out to us to connect about getting involved.
Even though I had entrepreneurs around me growing up, what I was doing and am doing now with Parthian is still very foreign to me. I’m essentially learning how to run a successful startup as I’m doing it.
Every step that I take in growing my company is one that I’ve never taken before.- Auggie Chico
It can be overwhelming at times. Having the support that Vantage Ventures provides helps in making those kinds of next steps a little bit easier to take and provides clarity on what direction the company should go in.
Q: You also went on to win another competition, too, correct?
A: Yes, we won the West Virginia Collegiate Business Plan competition, then I graduated in May 2020. My last semester of my senior year was the start of the pandemic and everything was virtual. It gave me a new perspective and time to scale the business. In 2021, I entered Parthian Battery Solutions into the Seed WV competition and won second place, which meant additional funding for the company.
Q: Being with like-minded entrepreneurs in other competitions and in the community must be encouraging, too.
A: Absolutely. Being with like-minded individuals who are there to support you and bounce ideas off of is something that is invaluable. It’s easy to feel isolated as a single-member startup founder. Having that community is really a huge support both on the personal level and on the professional level. From developing strategies to getting connected with others in the industry, such as key partners and investors, there are endless resources within the communities here in WV. The resources we’ve taken advantage of have offered help in the form of community support and guidance to legal counsel and fundraising. We just closed on our first investment round, which stemmed in part from investors we were introduced to through the Vantage Ventures network. We’ve also been connected with automotive companies like General Motors, Ford and Toyota. Not only are they helping the company, but they’re also helping to change West Virginia into a startup state.
Q: What does your day look like running Parthian Battery Solutions?
A: Being an entrepreneur, especially for a startup this early on, no two days are the same. Every day brings something different. Right now, we’re working on a couple different grant opportunities with our battery services and technologies. A lot of my time right now is pursuing those grants and putting together applications. In the evenings and on the weekends, it’s getting down and dirty, and actually building batteries. Then, during the typical 9-to-5 hours, it’s often standard desk-job tasks like attending meetings and making calls.
Q: Where is your office located?
A: The physical space where we do all of the hands-on work with the batteries is located on Morgantown’s waterfront. There, we have some storage space for all of our batteries that we get from Nissan, but it’s mostly used as a workshop where we disassemble the batteries, and where we do our testing, analysis and manufacturing. Fortunately, we’ve teamed up with some co-manufacturers who take most of that work off our shoulders so that we can focus on the business side of things.
Fact: Parthian Battery Solutions looks across the river to Morgantown’s Beechurst Avenue where Chico’s great-grandfather started Chico Bakery and where it can still be found today.
For the expansion of our operations, we’re teaming up with a West Virginia-based laboratory equipment supplier, Preiser Scientific, based out of Nitro, West Virginia. They will assist in the production of our battery hardware.
Q: What would you say to a business student, any student, who has similar dreams of starting their own business one day?
A: No matter what discipline you’re studying, getting a higher education gives you the tools you need to be successful. The biggest takeaway for me from my time at WVU was not so much the material I learned in the classroom, but the problem solving skills I gained. What I’m doing now is pretty far removed from the topics I studied in undergrad, but I learned how to think critically and keep an open mindset. That’s what running a business is all about. I studied finance and I thought I was going to work a job on Wall Street. I was excited for that, but I also knew that the most fulfilling career for me personally would be to start my own company. While it was a large undertaking, the tools and the resources that the University provided allowed me to pursue my real passion of being that entrepreneur. Being at WVU also introduced me to the support I received from the faculty and friends at the Chambers College and the Statler College, those in the LaunchLab and the Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, they all helped me gain the confidence and take the first step.
Q: Expanding on that, what do you hope for the future of your company here in Morgantown?
A: At Parthian Battery Solutions, we’re trying to make society’s transition to a greener and more sustainable future as economically and environmentally feasible as possible. I think doing so would help better our community and the world as a whole. West Virginia is such a community-driven state to begin with. It’s the individuals here who love seeing homegrown success stories and they’re willing to do what they can to help make those success stories more frequent.
Batteries are very, very dirty when you actually break down how they’re sourced and how they’re manufactured – even more importantly how they’re disposed of. It’s Parthian’s goal to establish itself as the first line of retirement for all batteries, incorporating them into a circular economy and ensuring they’re responsibly managed throughout their entire lifecycle. We’d like to be the company who provides the service in determining where the battery goes – if it can be reimplemented into its original application, reused for other applications or if it just need to be recycled.
Q: You’ve mentioned all of the resources WVU and the community has shown you that they have for entrepreneurs and startups today. Can you tell me why you believe it’s a positive change for our state?
A: The state of West Virginia is changing so much right now. I, along with many others, believe one of this state’s biggest issues has historically been our problem with brain-drain – losing talented individuals to other areas outside of the state that are perceived to have more opportunities. However, my experience so far with Parthian has shown that this “lack of opportunity” in WV is no longer the case, if it ever was. There are world-class resources here in WV available for people to take advantage of. People like Brad Smith and John Chambers, just to name a select few, have done so much in advancing this state. These advancements will enable more homegrown success stories to emerge, which will change the narrative around WV, which will in turn not only keep talent from leaving the state, but also recruit new talent from outside WV’s borders.
I think of places like Silicon Valley or New York City. Personally, I don’t know if Parthian Battery Solutions would have had the same success that it’s had if we were there or anywhere else. Those places obviously are hot-beds for resources startups can tap into, but there are also a lot of other entrepreneurs wanting to do the same things you’re doing. Would we have been able to separate ourselves from all the noise out there? It’s hard to say. But we did do it here in West Virginia. You look at people from the early stages of a startup, like myself, to multi-billion dollar companies like DataRobot, who have chosen West Virginia because it is the place to be right now. There is so much going on for startups in the state and it’s only getting better.
There has really never been a better time than now to be an entrepreneur in West Virginia.- Auggie Chico