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Young entrepreneurs make name for themselves

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Megan Bullock and Josh Dodd came home to Charleston for visits during college, they always talked about working on design and development projects together.

But the 2004 George Washington High School graduates didn't start working together until after college when a mutual friend encouraged them to have lunch together and talk seriously about their work.

"It was 2008 and there weren't a lot of jobs on the scene," Bullock said.  "We saw a lot of opportunity in Charleston."

Today the two have settled into a steady flow of projects that has taken their company, MESH, beyond the Mountain State and the nation's borders as it continues to grow.

Bullock attended the Rhode Island School of Design. Dodd received his computer science degree from West Virginia University. Neither had a business background but the two launched MESH Design and Development on Charleston's West Side and have not slowed down since.

In the beginning they picked up small projects here and there. A lot of local small Charleston businesses helped kick start their efforts, they recalled.

Dodd was still working a job in Morgantown while working on projects with Bullock via email and Skype. Bullock had just returned home to Charleston after working aboard in India.

After a six-months of projects they felt like they could move forward. 

"We realized we worked pretty well together and we made it a reality," Dodd recalled of starting the company. "I decided to move back here [to Charleston] and we got the ball rolling."

The two could learn well from each other, they said.

"It seemed like there was an opening in the market for a developer who came from a technology background and came from a design background to work together," Bullock said.

One of MESH's goals is helping people communicate their best assets in more efficient, relatable ways. Bullock and Dodd once heard the founder of SNOOK Design tell a conference gathering that, "when it's all said and done, improved quality of life is the end goal."

The ethos resonates with them today. 

"Even though we both love design and technology, they are really just tools that help us improve quality of life for both the clients and communities we work with," Bullock said.

Their start up model was refreshingly simple. Buy business cards. Buy a domain name. And buy a business license.

The cost wasn't bad at $500 either. They didn't want to take out any loans for the business. They had laptops from college to use and traded labor for rent at their first office space.

"We were sanding floors during the day and talking to people about our company at night," Dodd said.

The two renovated the 1920's style office building on Washington Street West. Dodd was recognized for the effort by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia with a 2011 honorable mention for rehabilitation of a historic space in a redeveloping community. He also used part of the renovated space as a flat to live in.

"The big thing for us was convincing people that we were here to stay and that we were serious even though we were young and 23 years old," Bullock said.

A big part of MESH's approach to business is about understanding clients better than they may understand themselves. It's about taking the time to know them inside and out, what their best assets are, what a client is doing different than competitors and making them feel apart of it all, Dodd said.

"It's all about relationships," Bullock said. "We have learned so much from the people that we've worked with. Every project we work on we get to learn about a new industry."

MESH offers web design and development services, campaign development, branding and identity design, photography and copy writing services to clients.

"Some people call it branding, we try and call it identity design because it's not about building a brand as much as it is about helping communicate who you are," Bullock said.

MESH has already expanded to an office in New York. It over looks the East River and Bullock refers to it as her heaven. They're currently working on projects in West Virginia, New York and Washington, D.C.

The MESH team started working with America's Essential Hospitals in Washington, D.C., last year. They're working with the hospital to develop a new communication strategy. One of MESH's photographers traveled around the country to five different hospitals documenting patients that benefited from the association's work. MESH will launch the hospital association's new website in early 2014.

Because the project was so large Dodd and Bullock had to bring more contract workers on. Because of that, it's one of Dodd's favorite MESH projects so far. 

"It had so many moving parts and difference people working on it," Dodd said. "It was bringing all that together."

The other major business approach MESH keeps in mind is being flexible with where and how they work. As the company grew, Bullock and Dodd hired 3 full-time employees and about 10 contractor employees for various projects.

"We've always wanted to build a model where we could work anywhere and not be limited," Bullock said. "We have a lot of opportunity through technology to flex and move and work with different people."

They try and make sure they meet each client face-to-face at least once.  They have about 20 clients right now with varying project sizes.

"We wanted to create something that would connect West Virginia with other markets," Bullock said. "We really connect with projects looking to diversify West Virginia's economy. We feel that's important and it's a commonality between a lot of the projects we work on."

MESH just helped Nancy Burns and brother Lewis Payne launch their family's salt products again about three weeks ago. The two are descendants of the Dickenson family who founded the first salt well in the Kanawha Valley.

"That's my favorite project," Bullock said. "It's taking something that's so West Virginian and actually made in West Virginia and it's part of our history and being able to share that with other places."

The product will sell in-stores in New York and Seattle.  MESH couldn't even launch the salts ecommerce's because they sold out of the product in two weeks.

Both enjoy the diversity of projects.

Currently they're working with West Side Main Street, the West Virginia Farmer's Association, an immigration law firm in D.C. and a music site in New York.

"Everybody has their hand in the pot in what we do," Dodd said.

Last year they successfully launched MESH's first international traveling exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York, called "People Building Better Cities," in partnership with the Global Studio project.

The project traveled around the world to 10 countries.  The MESH team was recently recognized by graphic design PRINT Magazine, for Annual Regional Design feature for a project MESH completed for Charleston-based Mission Savvy.

"We take it day-by-day," Dodd said. "We're both very mobile and adaptive so we kind of roll with the punches. We are not really surprised by anything."

The two said MESH will always call West Virginia home as it continues to grow.

"This has been learn as we go," Bullock said. "We had so many amazing mentors and advisers in West Virginia and we couldn't have done this anywhere else. It hasn't been easy but people can do it. I'd love to see more entrepreneurs in West Virginia and more young people looking for opportunity here."

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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