Support Our Innovation Economy on Giving Tuesday

You can empower innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region this Giving Tuesday on Nov. 28.  

Your gift provides resources and programming for startups and ultimately supports the growth of our innovation economy. As little as $25 can help a business get the support and resources it needs to thrive!

Learn more about RAMP, as featured in Buzz4Good.

RAMP, the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program, champions startup companies in the growing technology and health and life sciences sectors through a 12-week cohort program and other resources and mentoring. These opportunities are free or low-cost to the entrepreneurs, meaning RAMP relies on grant funding and the generosity of private donors to offer them.

These programs work — both for the entrepreneurs and the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. Since 2017, RAMP has accelerated 48 companies that have gone on to raise more than $28 million dollars in working capital while supporting jobs in the region.

Your support matters. On Giving Tuesday, choose to support the future of the Roanoke-Blacksburg’s innovation ecosystem with a gift to the Verge alliance, which includes RAMP and the Regional Accelerator & Mentoring Program.

#GivingTuesday, which is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is an annual celebration in support of nonprofits around the world. In 2022, more than $3.1 billion was generated in support of nonprofits worldwide; we’d be honored if you would consider a gift to support the innovation ecosystem this year. Thank you!

Verge Fuels Innovation Growth Thanks to EDA Grant and Regional Partnerships

Funding helped scale RAMP, which supported 30 startups through an in-residence acceleration program, between October 2020 and September 2023.

Leveraging a $982,443 Build to Scale grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), Verge has significantly impacted the regional innovation ecosystem and helped provide critical support to more than 100 startup companies in the region over the past three years, thanks to the support of Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP).

Verge received the EDA’s Build to Scale grant in October 2020 as part of a $2.08 million, three-year project, which concluded Sept. 30, 2023. Verge used the grant to scale up the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP) as well as establish new Verge resources and programming for the region.

During the grant period of October 2020-September 2023, RAMP supported the acceleration of 30 startups through seven cohorts of its accelerator-in-residence program. The program provides resources and mentoring for startups in technology and health and life sciences across the GO Virginia Region 2 footprint, including the New River Valley, Roanoke Valley, Alleghany Highlands, and Greater Lynchburg regions.

“These programs provide vital resources and mentoring for technology- and health-based entrepreneurs when they need it most. Verge is proud to be successful with these ongoing efforts to grow the innovation ecosystem and our local economy,” said Verge President Erin Burcham.

Participating companies collectively launched 35 products, created 97 jobs, earned 22 Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer grants, and raised a total $28.2 million in capital through grants, loans, and private investment. 

“The grant funding allowed RAMP to offer a second accelerator cohort the past three years, expanding our mentorship efforts to support the health and life sciences startups that make up an exciting and emerging industry cluster in our region. We are grateful to Verge and the EDA for their support of this important program,” said Sarah Spotswood, managing director for RAMP.

Tiny Cargo Company, which participated in the spring 2021 cohort, notes that the experience in RAMP enabled initial business development activities, and provided the skills needed to appropriately assess the market, develop their product, construct a pitch, and execute with groups ranging from other accelerators, such as JLABS and Blue Knight, to investors.

“Tiny Cargo just successfully closed our first major investment round,” said Spencer Marsh, chief scientific officer for the Tiny Cargo Company. “RAMP was invaluable to Tiny Cargo by providing the tools and honing the skills required during our early-stage growth period that have set the stage for all our success in the last 2 years, as well as that yet to come.”

CytoRecovery learned a lot about their business structure during RAMP, noting that and customer interviews helped them develop and shift sales models; they also got the opportunity to connect with valuable networks that have led to tangible outcomes such as access to capital, grant writing support, and customer leads.

“RAMP is a great place to be involved as a growing business,” said Alex Hyler, PhD, VP and CSO of CytoRecovery. “They have a gravity in the region to connect entrepreneurs to valuable mentors, collaborative environments, and countless networks that may support your business, hiring, technical, or other needs.”

In addition to scaling the accelerator-in-residence program, three key areas were also expanded through the EDA project, including increasing pathways for early-stage startups, enhancing support for later-stage startups and Verge’s ongoing efforts with resource development and research to grow the innovation ecosystem. 

For early-stage startups:

  • Project partners Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH offered a wide range of activities, informational sessions, and initiatives to support technology commercialization research efforts and regional entrepreneurship. 
  • The Fralin Commercialization Fellows Program  graduated 12 fellows over the course of the 3-year project, who developed their research commercialization ideas and plans and received RAMP curriculum and training. 
  • Virginia Tech’s LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH steadfastly hosted Startup Labs and Tech Transfer Bootcamps to further support research commercialization and contribute to startup pathways in the region. 

For later-stage startups:

  • Six PitchPlus Clinics offered 55 companies information about capital fundraising and prepared them for early-stage investment opportunities. 
  • A seven-part Founders & Funders virtual workshop series focused on access to capital served 138 participants during the pandemic.  
  • RAMP supported 25 startups with post-acceleration support and programming. Thanks to Skyline Capital Strategies, 38 companies total received individual capital consulting support, and the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation led three Small Business Innovation Research workshops at RAMP. 

Finally, with the support of two GO Virginia grants and EDA Build to Scale grant funds, Verge continued to develop resources supporting the innovation ecosystem like the annual Game Changer Events and building coalitions to advance regional priorities and address gaps in the ecosystem. 

The success and completion of this project was made possible thanks to matching resources, contributors, and partners that include GO Virginia, Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation, Skyline Capital Strategies, Virginia Tech, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, City of Roanoke, Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation, Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black, Virginia BIO, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, and the Verge Alliance, among other program sponsors. 

As part of the Verge regional data tracking effort, we were pleased to release annual review reports, as well as data dashboards on the innovation and entrepreneurship landscape of Region 2 of Virginia, with the latest report available here.

A one-page fact sheet on the impact the EDA Build to Scale Grant has made on the regional innovation ecosystem is available for download here.

Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Every day, women entrepreneurs and the businesses they lead have a lasting impact on their communities, including those served by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. On Nov. 19, we’ll join the nation in celebrating Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a global celebration dedicated to honoring and empowering women in business. 

RBTC is proud to be supporting a wide range of local startups — including women-founded companies — through RAMP, the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program. 

These women-founded startups are among the companies in western and central Virginia that RAMP has impacted, and they are making innovative marks in a variety of industries:


Lennox McNeary, CEO and Founder

2021 RAMP cohort

Using blockchain technology, ArchiveCore provides healthcare employers “digital fingerprints of authenticity” that instantly verify the certifications held by medical professionals so new hires can start work faster.

Axon Acuity

Tammy Kemp, CEO and Founder

2022 RAMP cohort

Axon Acuity uses artificial intelligence and analytic software to help clinicians match high-risk patients with the right nurse, the right location, and the right resources in near real-time. This ultimately improves patient care and increases operational efficiency.

BEAM Diagnostics, Inc.

Sarah Snider, CEO and Founder

2018 RAMP cohort

BEAM Diagnostics is a digital healthcare company focused on data-driven behavioral health assessments to improve patient care. The first of many planning applications, BEACON is a mobile tablet application that generates a quantitative measure of a patient’s alcohol misuse to a clinician in under four minutes.

Cairina, Inc.

Jenny Munson, Co-Founder

Spring 2023 RAMP cohort

Cairina offers technologies that noninvasively measure biologic fluid flow through clinically standard imaging protocols for personalized medicine applications with the goal of predicting where cancerous tumors will grow and spread.

CodeOne Training Solutions

Allison Shok, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder

Spring 2023 RAMP cohort

An American Heart Association training center, Code One Training Solutions uses technology to teach people to save lives through its BEACON CPR course as well as First Aid, EMT, and EMS continuing education classes, AED sales, and safety consulting.


Alex Hyler, Vice President and Chief Science Officer

2022 RAMP cohort

CytoRecovery is working to allow researchers to separate different kinds of cancer cells found in tumors, helping clinicians with disease understanding, therapy selections, and drug development.

Good Foods Group, LLC

Deborah Good, CEO

Fall 2023 RAMP cohort

Eating up to 6 grams of conjugated linoleic acid per day can help to maintain weight, build muscle, and lose fat. Good Foods Group plans to manufacture bars, shakes, chews, and coffee pods not currently available in the U.S. market that have 6 grams of CLA.


Tara Newberry, Founder

Fall 2023 RAMP Cohort

LymphaVibe provides wearable devices that support the at-home care of patients with lymphedema. Motors in these devices provide customized vibrations that replicate manual lymphatic drainage massages, allowing clinicians to prescribe personalized treatments to patients.

MicroHarmonics Corporation

Diane Kees, COO

2019 RAMP cohort

MicroHarmonics specializes in high-quality millimeter wave products that can be used for a variety of services on mobile and wireless networks. These include millimeter wave isolators operating from 25-400 gigahertz, millimeter wave circulators, and millimeter wave voltage variable attenuators, some of the most technologically advanced millimeter wave products available. 


Jessica Gilbertie, President, Chief Scientific Officer and Founder

2022 RAMP cohort

Qentoros is developing a biologic therapeutic to treat a variety of infectious or inflammatory conditions in animals and humans. The treatment is derived from horse blood platelets to treat chronic infection and encourage tissue healing.

RAMP is an affiliate of Verge, a strategic collaborative that includes the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. During the 12-week cohort program, startups receive $20,000 in non-equity funding, expert 1:1 mentoring, free office space with high-speed internet in downtown Roanoke’s Gill Building and more. 

Meet all the entrepreneurs in the Fall 2023 RAMP Cohort and learn more about their enterprises during Demo Day and Tech the Hall on Dec. 6 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the University Club of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. RSVP now.

RAMP Welcomes 5 Startups into Fall 2023 Cohort

From Fairlawn to Fairfax and from bioinformatics to bioeconomies, RAMP is pleased to welcome five startup companies into a Fall 2023 cohort that represents cutting edge health and life science ventures from across the Commonwealth.

“We’re thrilled that our program is attracting such a diverse array of innovative entrepreneurs from all over Virginia,” said Sarah Spotswood, Managing Director. “It’s a testament to the health and vibrancy of the Roanoke-Blacksburg technology ecosystem.”

RAMP will host a “Meet the Cohort,” open to the public, on October 12 at 5 p.m. at The Shenandoah Club in Roanoke.

Cohort members are:

  • Oak Bioinformatics, LLC (Fairfax) develops software that helps researchers and consumers save time, effort and money in analyzing genomic variants. Consumers are able to know more about themselves with the help of the company’s DNA exploration software.
  • Performance Medical Technologies (Charlottesville) is a clinical data science and product development company focused on nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD+, a naturally reoccurring coenzyme that plays an essential role in metabolism, mitochondrial functioning, and overall cellular health. 
  • LymphaVibe (Roanoke) provides wearable solutions tailored for at-home care of patients with lymphedema. LymphaVibe’s device utilizes motors that provide targeted customized vibration mimicking the techniques used in manual lymphatic drainage massages and can be controlled through an app that offers customization options, enabling clinicians to prescribe personalized treatments to patients as needed. 
  • Good Foods Group, LLC (Dublin) seeks to manufacture functional foods – bars, shakes, chews and coffee pods – that contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a substance that helps individuals maintain weight, build muscle, and lose fat. CLA currently comes in large capsules that are hard to swallow, leading to low compliance and missing doses. 
  • MacroVation, LLC (Fairlawn) designs sustainable, innovative biomaterials in promotion of a green, circular bioeconomy, such as additives for commodity plastics that render them biodegradable after use, and 3D printable materials derived from seaweed for the manufacture of medical devices (syringes, laboratory equipment, prosthetic foams, etc.).

Since its founding in 2017, RAMP – the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program serving western and central Virginia – has accelerated 43 companies that collectively employ more than 600 people and sell products and services to all U.S. states and internationally. 

RAMP is an affiliate of Verge, a collaborative strategic alliance that includes the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council established to grow the region’s innovation economy. Jess Edwards, Verge’s Director of Innovation Studio for a new biotechnology incubator in Roanoke that launches in 2024, will lead the Fall Cohort as interim director of RAMP.

During the 12-week cohort program, startups receive $20,000 in non-equity funding, expert 1:1 mentoring, and free office space with high-speed internet in downtown Roanoke’s Gill Building. RAMP alumni also receive two years of free membership in the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council; one year of membership in Virginia BIO; three years of membership in the Shenandoah Club; membership in GAN for the lifetime of the company; discounted office space; and three additional years of ongoing support through Exit RAMP – a suite of ever-growing and developing coaching and support services.

The Fall Cohort will conclude with “Demo Day,” scheduled for December 6, when the entrepreneurs will present their companies to the region’s business leaders and investors.

Incubator vs. Accelerator: What’s the Difference?

The innovation ecosystem is on fire in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. With all the big ideas coming out of the area, it’s likely that you’ve heard the terms “incubator” and “accelerator” being thrown around in conversation. However, you may be wondering – what exactly is the difference between the two?

These types of programs do share similarities and both exist in the startup space. You’d be forgiven if you weren’t exactly sure what distinguishes one from the other. Luckily, their differences are pretty easy to spot, so let’s dive into what an incubator and an accelerator are and which might be right for you.

What is an Incubator?

All businesses start with an idea. The journey from idea to market is a long and complex one and founders can’t do it alone. Incubators are growth programs designed to support entrepreneurs in the very beginning stages of their journey—before they even have a product.

The main goal of an incubator is to turn a high-potential idea into an actual product or service. They help entrepreneurs flesh out a business plan, establish a network, and develop a minimally viable product (MVP). 

It’s rare for an incubator to invest capital funding at this stage, but they do provide other highly valuable resources to help a fledgling business get off the ground. Entrepreneurs in an incubator program will benefit from things like expert legal and business mentorship, access to co-working space to conduct business or research, a collaborative innovation community and opportunities to connect with future funders.  

Most companies spend at least a year participating in an incubator. If you’re an entrepreneur with a big idea, but still need help developing a business plan and product, then an incubator is the right choice for you. 

What is an Accelerator?

If an incubator is the first rung on the startup growth ladder, the accelerator is the next. Accelerators are growth programs designed for existing companies who have developed business models and a vetted MVP. Like incubators, accelerators also provide dedicated work facilities, legal services, and communities. Unlike incubators, accelerators come with investment funding. 

This funding, sometimes called seed funding or venture capital, supports an entrepreneur’s efforts to scale their business. Businesses receive funds in the form of grants or in exchange for a small percentage of equity in their business. 

Accelerators (as the name implies) typically have a shorter timeline than incubators and companies generally spend 3-6 months participating in the program. If your startup already has a solid business plan and product, but needs help scaling to the next level, then consider applying to an accelerator.

Regional Innovation Resources

How to Get Connected in the Regional Innovation Ecosystem

Incubators and accelerators are both powerful resources for turning big ideas into world-changing technology and products. At RBTC, we’re in the business of cultivating the region’s next generation innovation. 

We regularly host events that serve as a catalyst for innovation, inspiration, success, and leadership. Take RAMP’s Pitch & Polish events for example. Participants get valuable opportunities to pitch their business ideas to a team of regional mentors. The mentors then help them polish their presentation, provide feedback on their business model, and connect them with the resources they need to grow! 

Interested in growing your network and your next big idea? Check out our upcoming startup focused events and to get started. 

Advancing Oncology InnoVAtion QuickFire Challenge Open to Roanoke-Blacksburg Companies

The DC QuickFire Challenge previously helped The Tiny Cargo Company accelerate their business and connected them with national mentors and resources. Current challenge is open to oncology innovators and includes grant funding, a one-year VTCRC residency with a lab bench, and access to the global Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS network. 

Do you have an idea that could transform patient outcomes in oncology? Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, in collaboration with Carilion Clinic Innovation, Verge Alliance (with support from City of Roanoke), and Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center recently launched the Advancing Oncology InnoVAtion QuickFire Challenge; applications are open now until August 11.

The innovator(s) with the best potential solution can receive grant funding from a total pool of $300,000, Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center residency for one year, which includes one lab bench and workstation, access to the global Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (JLABS) network, and mentorship from experts across The Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies (Johnson & Johnson).

This QuickFire Challenge hopes to build on the promise of previous challenge awardees who have also originated from the Roanoke region. In 2021, The Tiny Cargo Company was awarded the Washington, DC Health Innovation QuickFire Challenge, receiving grant funding and one year of residency at JLABS @ Washington, DC. Founded by Dr. Rob Gourdie and currently led by Dr. Spencer Marsh, The Tiny Cargo Company developed a novel drug delivery system based on non-immunogenic bovine milk-derived exosomes for protected oral or IV based delivery of potent therapeutics.

About Tiny Cargo: Tackling Acute Radiation Syndrome

The Tiny Cargo Company seeks to solve a dire and unmet need – a systemic treatment for exposure to high-dose ionizing radiation resulting in Acute Radiation Syndrome. There is currently no treatment for exposure to high doses (>6 Gy) of ionizing radiation that can occur as a result of radio-nuclear attack or accident. 

Tiny Cargo’s orally administered therapeutic, XoLacta, consists of milk exosomes loaded with a potent radioprotective peptide. Their technology makes oral administration possible as the exosomes Tiny Cargo has developed are capable of bypassing the gut-blood barrier in moments, and also of bypassing other critical barriers such as the blood-brain barrier. 

Their technology has achieved proof-of-concept for in vivo efficacy; they are continuing to validate the effectiveness of their therapy in ongoing studies. They’re currently developing large-scale production systems and methods for storage at ambient temperatures to increase the usability and availability of their groundbreaking XoLacta product. 

Perhaps most exciting, Tiny Cargo is seeking to adapt their exosomal technology to deliver therapies for a wide range of diseases including ischemic heart disease, gastrointestinal radiation disease, glioblastoma multiforme and neurological pathologies. 

From Local to National: Tiny Cargo’s Startup Journey

The Tiny Cargo Company began its startup journey in earnest in 2020, when Dr. Spencer Marsh (Chief Scientific Officer) joined the company and applied for incubation in RAMP. During this time, the company expanded operations to build out the business plan, marketing plan, corporate structure, and identify its optimal use case. The Tiny Cargo team was mentored by world-class experts in business development including Mike Abbott and Lisa Garcia, NSF ICORPS trained mentors. 

After graduating from RAMP, Tiny Cargo was selected as an awardee of the Washington, DC Health Innovation QuickFire Challenge, earning $50,000 in grant funding, one year of residency at JLABS @ Washington, DC, and expert mentorship. 

The team honed their investment pitches and identified appropriate experts to bring on board as consultants and advisors, had the opportunity to pitch to experts from the FDA and other government organizations, enabling advanced networking and outreach, and successfully received a National Science Foundation award.

“Without support from RAMP and incubation within JLABS, we assuredly would not have been successful in being awarded our first SBIR grant. Only one year later, we are now on pace to be awarded a $2M Phase II SBIR grant in the next 6 months; a true testament to the value of the local ecosystem,” Marsh said. 

Addressing Challenges: How RAMP and JLABS Impacted the Tiny Cargo Trajectory

As a scientist, the list of challenges in creating a startup can be long but with the right support, it’s not insurmountable. The research and technology are a critical first steps, but only one portion of creating a business.

“With no background in business development, market research, customer discovery, or even basic knowledge of how to build a business, we had a lot to learn- the only background we had was in developing and conducting world-class research,” Marsh said.  

With the support of the local RAMP incubator and subsequently the JLABS @ Washington, DC and BLUE KNIGHTÔprograms, Tiny Cargo was able to find its footing and establish itself as a major player on the international level. The team surrounded themselves with experts from the business world and found it invaluable to their growth. It facilitated their growth, helped mitigate challenges and allowed for quick solutions to major issues.  

“The support from other business leaders, RAMP mentors, and the JLABS team through the QuickFire Challenge has been a critical element of The Tiny Cargo Company’s growth. Their example shows that the Roanoke-Blacksburg region has the people and network to support biotech and tech startups, thanks to mentors who have been there,” said Verge President, Erin Burcham.

Joining the Innovation Ecosystem: How to Get Involved

“As I tell every entrepreneur in the region, the best thing you can possibly do for yourself as you’re starting out is to join RAMP. The RAMP program is the perfect resource for any biotechnology company. 

“From there, I would highly recommend joining the Johnson & Johnson Innovation  JLABS  program; Sally Allain, Head of JLABS @ Washington, DC is an invaluable resource, along with the expert mentors provided through Johnson & Johnson,” Marsh said.

The QuickFire Challenge is open to innovators from around the globe aiming to transform patient outcomes in oncology in adult populations with potential applications in pediatric oncology. 

“Roanoke is fast becoming a hub for biotechnology and life sciences,” said Marc Nelson, Director of Economic Development for the City of Roanoke. “The strong partnerships we’ve fostered globally will present invaluable opportunities to businesses from across a range of sectors for years to come. The City of Roanoke is proud of our investment in such an innovative and exciting partnership.”

“These types of efforts are exciting opportunities for our clinician scientists at Carilion. Collaborations with strong local partners and notable international ones will support the growth of the biotechnology sector in Roanoke and Blacksburg, ultimately improving access to high-quality care in our region,” said Don Halliwill, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Carilion. “In the near future, Carilion will expand oncology care through a new, world-class Cancer Center, and this challenge serves to improve both the physical health and the economic health of our community.” 

The deadline to apply for the Advancing Oncology InnoVAtion QuickFire Challenge is August 11, 2023. Find more information about the program along and apply online on the Johnson & Johnson website

RAMP Welcomes New Cohort

Five new startups are part of the latest RAMP cohort. Each company is part of a 12-week program to help them grow their startup companies in the Roanoke Region with access to mentors, capital, and business resources.

Here’s a look at each company:

Fermi Energy, Inc.

Founded by a team of battery scientists and engineers at Virginia Tech, Fermi Energy is developing fundamentally disruptive cathode technologies to help create the U.S. supply chain of battery manufacturing. 

Team: Feng Lin & Zhengrui Xu


Dot Solutions, LLC

Dot Solutions LLC, aka Dot Drives, is an internet-based donor engagement software application that was specifically designed for a startup to mid-sized nonprofit. 

Team: Sal Ferlise & Emily Sweet


Enabled Engineering

Based in Blacksburg, Enabled Engineering develops innovative manufacturing technologies for extreme applications, such as fabricating materials in nuclear reactors and enhanced electrical and thermal conductivity materials. 

Team: Kumar Kandasamy



Qentoros is developing a biologic therapeutic to treat a variety of infectious and/or inflammatory conditions in animals and humans. The biologic is based on blood products and has demonstrated efficacy in treating a number of veterinary patient conditions that did not improve with normal antibiotic treatment.

Team: Michael Miller & Jessica Gilbertie


Kenkashi Microbes

Kenkashi Microbes delivers a full range of microbial benefits, from compost boosts to direct microbial and micronutrient application for plant health and resiliency.

Team: Cassie Wilson & Jason Anderson


Every member of a Ramp cohort has access to a program that includes:

  • 1:1 expert mentoring as well as access to content mentors covering the world of business knowledge
  • Free office space with hi-speed internet access
  • Access to angel and VC investors through our Demo Day presentations
  • $20,000 in equity-free funding
  • Free membership in the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council
  • Three additional years of ongoing support

Learn more about RAMP.

RAMP Wrap Party – January 4

You are invited to join us as we celebrate the conclusion of our first cohort with a RAMP Wrap Party! Drop by to congratulate the cohort and stick around to network with the companies. Help us wrap up our time with the first RAMP cohort in the New Year!

Date: Thursday, January 4, 2018

Time: 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Location: Gill Memorial Building | 709 S. Jefferson St in Downtown Roanoke

Additional Info: Free street parking is available after 5pm on Jefferson Street, Day Avenue, Bullitt Avenue, and First Street. Paid parking is also available in any of the various lots on Jefferson.

Please RSVP by Tuesday, January 2

RAMP Helps Promising Startups Focus on the Business Side of Doing Business

RAMP held its first “Demo Day” at Virginia Western Community College last week, with each business given a few minutes to share what it’s been doing. The event drew about 120 people from the business community, a mix of professionals involved with RAMP, economic development officials and potential investors from around the state.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do that presentation three months ago,” Briganti said afterward, crediting RAMP with helping him hone his business skills and ability to pitch.

“We learned how to stop being just scientists,” he said. “RAMP made us stronger as a business.”

RAMP is unlike other startup programs in the region. It’s a business accelerator designed to provide startups with resources to help them grow and stay in the region. It’s different from incubators, which work with startups in earlier development stages, and co-working spaces, which provide easy-to-access space for startups. RAMP looked for businesses that already had an established plan and were on the cusp of something bigger. The six companies selected for the first cohort were a mixed bag of entrepreneurs. Briganti was the youngest company president to participate. Other participants had been running their business for years. Each had different goals and different needs.

Read the full article at The Roanoke Times website >

Ask the Cohort: Volatia

Volatia is a full-service language service company, providing on-site, over the telephone, and remote video interpretation and translation services in more than 280 languages. Volatia is led by Baraka Kasongo, recently recognized with the Regional Entrepreneur award at RBTC’s TechNite.

What motivated and inspired you to start your company? 

Baraka Kasongo: When my family moved to the United States, we experienced first-hand the language and cultural disparities that exist everywhere in health care, government, education, etc. Language and cultural disparities also exist in smaller situations like, parent-teacher conferences where the parents do not understand the messages being relayed, or when a student does not fully understand what is expected of them in the classroom. I remember taking classes where I did not understand anything but was later expected to take a test on the information. A few years after I learned how to communicate in English I noticed other people experiencing the same challenges and I decided that something needed to be done about it. I never actually planned to start a company and take on the challenge myself. Instead, I saw myself more as a coordinator of resources trying to put together a team that I could pass on to someone else. The challenge is that nobody wanted that kind of responsibility. What started as a volunteer effort, to try to put together local interpreters and translators that could help with the various language disparities, turned into a business model that is really thriving and growing at one of the fastest rates in the country.

What does success look like to you?

Baraka Kasongo: I succeed everyday, because success is not some futuristic goal I have. Success for me is doing the absolute best that I can each and everyday and taking care of people I work with. Success also includes, making sure that I do not neglect the things that are most important to me, which are my spirituality and family. As long as I have meaningful work and contribute to the happiness of the people I work with, I consider myself to have succeeded.

Tell me a little about your team.

Baraka Kasongo: I get excited when I talk about my team because I genuinely love them. They are all great people and each helps Volatia to run and operate smoothly. We have a large team since each of the 280 languages is technically its own division. We have thousands of interpreters across the country and that is how we are able to place people anywhere that they are needed.

What is the biggest challenge your company has had to face so far? How did you overcome it?

Baraka Kasongo: The biggest challenge is hiring the right people and putting them in the right position. As a small business owner, I am used to wearing many hats, which can be dangerous when I expect others to have the desire and ability to do the same. I have found that when an employee is not in a position where they can achieve their maximum performance it really affects every aspect of an organization. The old adage that every link in a chain needs to be strong and tight is very true in the small business world. I try to understand what people actually want out of work. As for overcoming this challenge, I have performance benchmarks so both the individual being hired and the individuals on the team have the opportunity to assess themselves and openly share with me if they think they’re in the right place. By doing so, I hope to create a culture that encourages people to be okay with failure and to be opening to requesting department transfer without fear of being terminated or let go.

Has your company done something exciting recently?

Baraka Kasongo: Absolutely, we do something exciting almost every day. Some of the innovations and new technologies that we have pioneered are truly second to none. We are excited to see where our company is going in the future. 

What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?

Baraka Kasongo: I would start by asking them to truly define what success, happiness, and fulfillment looks like to them. I would also advise them to spend time with people that have similar definitions in order to ensure it is what they want to do. Running and leading a small business is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it comes with sacrifices. I think one of the reasons businesses fail is because people do not take the time to understand what they are getting themselves into, and they fail to calculate the cost of running a business from familial, spiritual, and personal perspectives. I would ask them to reanalyze what they are truly pursuing and if they are still happy with it, and then I would encourage them to put their full heart into it and it watch it succeed despite the challenges.