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PCHS Robotics Attract Notice, Seed Money

An emergent robotics program continues to take shape at Pulaski County High School, and now others beyond the county are beginning to take notice. Two weeks ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited a cyber security class at PCHS to watch students maneuver their robots through obstacles using computer code.

Last week, Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC) presented a $500 check to the high school’s robotics program that was provided by Pulaski’s MOVA Technologies. RBTC Director Robert McAden called it “seed money” to help get the high school’s robotics team going. “As a graduate of Pulaski County Schools and a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, I understand the importance of innovation. In modern America, if you are not innovating and fostering new ideas and growth, you are moving backwards,” says Tyler Clontz, public information officer for MOVA Technologies in downtown Pulaski.McAden says RBTC’s “footprint” has always included both the Roanoke and New River valleys: “We are recognized as the premier organization bringing the two regions together.”

He says RBTC’s desire to cover the NRV isn’t new but the organization is “being more intentional in reaching out to areas in both the New River and Roanoke valleys beyond the major metropolitan areas. We have recently hosted events in Pulaski, Salem, and Botetourt and plan to continue to look for ways to reach other areas within our footprint.”

RBTC was founded in 1998 as the New Century Technology Council at the same time similar bodies were formed
across the state. It was eventually renamed the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council.

“I hope this seed money will be the start of a great new program in Pulaski County schools,” said Steve Critchfield, president of MOVA. As Clontz explains, “Our company MOVA is centered on an innovative technology that would not exist if it weren’t for the opportunities to learn and grow that have been given to many people. For
this reason, we are glad to contribute and help create more opportunities for our future innovators by supporting the Robotics Club for Pulaski County schools.”

(Source: The Southwest Times – Sept. 2017 – PDF)

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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 >

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Virginia Tech and Carilion form $15 million venture capital fund

Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic have formed a new $15 million venture capital fund designed to catapult the startups taking root around Blacksburg and Roanoke’s so-called innovation corridor.

About 60 percent of the investments will be in the life sciences industry and most will be based in Virginia. If they’re in another state, the companies must have some tie to the university or Carilion, fund managers James Ramey and Scott Horner said.

The managers are adamant that the VTC Innovation Fund is not about charity or pure economic development. They say their top priority will be showing a return on investment, but the organizers believe the fund can help boost the local startup ecosystem at the same time.

The fund plans to open an office inside RAMP, Roanoke’s new business accelerator.

“When we looked at our grand vision going forward, we see that the innovation ecosystem has a few holes in it,” Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands said. “One is in the venture capital area. It’s not the only one, but it’s one we identified that we could do something about.”


READ THE FULL STORY AT THE ROANOKE TIMES WEBSITE

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Roanoke Takes First Place On List of Top Cities For Recent Graduates, GoodCall

Consumer data firm GoodCall has compiled a list of the top cities for recent graduates, based on a varied array of data metrics. Roanoke, Virginia took first place on the list as the top city for recent graduates entering the workforce. From GoodCall:

“New grads might find it harder to land that first job if they aren’t willing to consider moving to a new place. But moving blindly, without considering how well the new city will fit with one’s lifestyle and preferences, could lead to months or years of unhappiness.

GoodCall analysts crunched data from 589 cities and towns across the country to determine the best places for new graduates. Most of the cities at the top – more than half of the top 30 – were mid-sized, with less than 100,000 people. While the best places were generally scattered across the country, there were few Northeastern cities at the top.

Factors considered include affordability, relative salary, entry-level jobs available, and local amenities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines housing costs as affordable when they account for less than 30% of family income, and all but one of the cities in the top 10 are better than that.

New grads likely will fare better in locations where their new degree is valued, so analysts considered each city’s overall median salary and compared that with the median salary for those with a bachelor’s degree. And, of course, going where companies are hiring is a smart move.

But a lot of new grads make the mistake of taking a well-paying job in a place that turns out to be a tiny town with no nightlife, arts scene, or dining options. So the GoodCall list also takes into account the number of amenities per capita.

ROANOKE, VIRGINIA

At the top of the GoodCall list was Roanoke, Va. The town of nearly 100,000 people in the beautiful Roanoke Valley ranked fairly highly for its amenities and the number of available entry-level jobs. There were 16.6 jobs posted on Indeed.com per 1,000 people in the area. People with bachelor’s degrees tend to fare well in Roanoke, making about $42,900, or 48% more than the area’s median salary. And the area’s arts and culture scene is strong, with more than 350 amenities. Roanoke has several performing arts and events centers, which draw an array of local, regional and national performers, as well as breweries and wineries, shopping, and dining.”

See the full list at the GoodCall website >>>

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Roanoke Times: Local Entrepreneurs Ready to Bet on Startup Funding

Jon Hagmaier launched a Roanoke tech company, watched it grow for 10 years and then sell for more than he ever imagined — and now he is getting ready to reinvest part of his windfall in the next generation of entrepreneurs.

He says he doesn’t want to do it alone. And there are clear signs he won’t be.

He’s part of a growing movement among the region’s business elites who are taking big bets on small companies, and in the process reigniting the region’s stagnant startup financing market.

Hagmaier is launching his investment firm, called Common Wealth Growth Group, at the same time as at least four other local projects are getting off the ground.

A group recently packed a conference room at Roanoke’s Center in the Square on a July afternoon for an invite-only meeting to organize their next steps. The group of about 25 active investors and startup founders shared their thoughts and laid out a regional vision. They talked about the fact that the area hasn’t been able to provide enough access to capital, according to several investors who participated.

These investment groups are considered the lifeblood of startup ecosystems, as almost every company needs some sort of financial backing. Startups, especially in the tech industry, can take years to generate revenue. If a startup can’t find funding in its hometown during those critical first steps, it will often leave — or die…

Read the full article at the Roanoke Times website

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Virginia Tech Eyeing Pharmaceutical Giants for Roanoke ‘Innovation District’

The Roanoke Times recently featured comments by Michael Friedlander, PhD, from our latest Tech and Toast:

“Virginia Tech is talking to large pharmaceutical firms about cooperating with the university on research projects and opening offices inside Roanoke’s new health care innovation district.

Michael Friedlander, founder of Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and a driving force behind the city’s growing health care industry, said that sort of partnership is only a concept, but affirmed that conversations are underway.

City Manager Chris Morrill said Roanoke currently doesn’t have a major pharmaceutical company. Landing one would be the kind of payoff that city and university officials promised when they unveiled grand plans for a new health care hub in March.

“That would be huge,” Morrill said. “It moves us closer to being that health science center on the east coast that we want to be.”

Speaking to a crowd of entrepreneurs at a Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council event on Thursday at The Inn at Virginia Tech, Friedlander said the university is in the middle of “at least three very active explorations” with the goals of partnering with pharmaceutical groups and convincing them to come to Roanoke.

Friedlander demurred when pressed after the event for details on these potential candidates, simply reassuring that “they’re big.”

“We’re having those kinds of conversations,” he said. “We’ll see where they go.”

While far from concrete, Roanoke’s pharmaceutical ambitions underscore the lofty goals attached to the so-called health sciences and technology innovation district.

But Friedlander’s vision for the hub, about a mile long and generally following South Jefferson Street between the Roanoke Public Library and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, is a lot bigger than one pharmaceutical company.

He said the goal is to have more startups spin out of Tech’s research labs. He wants more investors taking bets on local entrepreneurs, and more established companies opening offices in Tech’s backyard.

Friedlander said he’s not just pursuing drug researchers, but also medical device inventors, coders working on software and anyone else in health sciences and technology .

His hope, he said, is that companies will see the “intellectual value” of dropping their own researchers in the middle of a dense ecosystem, surrounded by others in the field.”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: ROANOKE.com

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Unmanned Vehicle Chapter Being Formed to Promote Region

The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council is pleased to be a sponsor of the currently forming Western Virginia chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). This important initiative was recently mentioned in the Roanoke Times:

Some Southwest Virginians involved in technology, engineering and science research say the region could be the next hotspot not only for the development of drones, but for any vehicle that doesn’t require a human pilot.

To try to take advantage of that, a group is on the way to soon starting a regional chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Assuming all the paperwork gets OK’d with no issues, the group is planning a chapter launch event for March.

AUVSI is a global nonprofit that advocates and promotes unmanned systems and the robotics community. The regional chapter would do much of the same work on a local level, said Nanci Hardwick, CEO of Christiansburg engineering company Aeroprobe, who is helping to form the chapter. That would include promoting the unmanned industry to the public, trying to bring more jobs in the field to the region and tapping into the local startup and college communities to help grow the work on unmanned vehicles, she said.

“Everyone who has participated in this conversation agrees … We are a region full of assets and would be a desirable place for companies to relocate,” Hardwick said.

Noting the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Hardwick said Southwest Virginia is already home to some key groups in the realm of unmanned systems.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

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