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

Join the STAT 23 Summer Program

Are you a teacher looking to expand your knowledge of biotechnology, not only for yourself but for your students? Then you won’t want to miss this new professional development opportunity from the Virginia Western STEM department.


Teachers are a powerful part of our region’s biotechnology ecosystem. To continue to strengthen the bridge between Virginia Western Community College and our K-12 partners, the Virginia Western STEM department is continuing our professional development STEM Academy for Teachers (STAT) series this summer. 

The on-campus program is designed to advance your knowledge of biotechnology, help you incorporate biotechnology into your STEM curriculum, and introduce your students (at any grade level) to vast biotechnology career opportunities.

During STAT 23, we will offer several biotechnology courses, mathematics courses, and an information technology course over a range of dates from June 12th to July 31st.

Thanks to tuition assistance provided by Virginia Career Works, these professional development courses are available at no cost for teachers.


Contact Heather Lindberg at for more information.

From VWCC to the UK: Local researcher to present COVID Findings at the World Congress for Undergraduate Research

Two Virginia Western biotechnology courses and a 10-week internship turned into a life changing journey for one Fincastle native. 

A biology major at the University of Virginia, Skylar Gay’s journey into biotechnology started at Virginia Western Community College as a dually enrolled high school student. Under the guidance of Dr. Heather Lindberg, Skylar took part in VWCC’s SEA-PHAGES program that captured her imagination and sparked an interest in biology and biotechnology. In Dr. Lindberg’s lab, Skylar gained hands-on experience in lab research and gene sequencing.  

“Dean Amy White and Dr. Heather Lindberg are important mentors for me,” Skylar said, “Before studying at VWCC, I planned a career in musical theater. That will always be a passion for me, but my experiences have affirmed my desire to focus on epidemiology. VWCC uncovered a passion that I didn’t even know I had!”

In 2020, while searching for available opportunities during the COVID lockdowns, Skylar discovered the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Through NSF-REU she applied for a 10-week remote internship at the University of Georgia in the lab of Dr. Jonathan Arnold. Using the skills she learned at VWCC, Skylar researched COVID transmission rates using genetic data and statistical analysis. 

To assist with her statistical and genomic analysis, Skylar developed software in the R programing language which is used primarily for statistical computing and graphics. Her software, which she named transRate© is the first computational method to estimate transmission rates using a cladistic approach for genomic data.

Her 10-week internship turned into a 2.5-year research project when she was invited to continue her research under Dr. Arnold’s guidance. While there, Skylar traced COVID variants to a common ancestor, gleaning insights about transmission and mutation.  In reconstructing the phylogenetic tree and applying timepoints to her data, she learned which populations had high transmission rates and discovered that transmission was much higher within populations than between populations. 

Skylar is preparing to present her new technology and her research findings at the World Congress on Undergraduate Research at the University of Warwick in Birmingham, UK in April. In addition, she is the first author on a scholarly article set to be published later this year in a scientific journal in collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Arnold, Dr. Liang Liu, and Dr. Jialin Yang.

“I would not be where I am today without my experiences at Virginia Western Community College,” Skylar said. “I experiences I had there shaped my understanding of research and prepared me for later studies.” 

Skylar plans to add a second major in public health to her biology degree and hopes to continue her research at a Ph.D. program where she is interested in combining bioinformatics with wet lab techniques.  Her goal is to influence policy makers in creating legislation that protects public health in the event of another epidemic or pandemic by modeling the transmission of viruses within and between populations. 

Launch Your Paid STEM Internship Program with Funding from GO Virginia

Are you a growing STEM company looking for fresh talent? Then you won’t want to miss a new opportunity from VA Bio-Connect designed to kick-start your internship program!

STEM2VA Summer Internship Program

VA Bio-Connect, a collaborative project of Virginia Bio, has launched STEM2VA a Virginia Statewide Lifescience Internship Program. Through STEM2VA biotech and healthcare employers can select one or more undergraduate or graduate students for a 10-week, full time summer internship at your company. Employers will receive matching funding from GO Virginia to help support the internship summer stipend. 

Stipends are important for attracting competitive students, but funding internships can be difficult. The new STEM2VA program is intended to fill the gap. Participating companies commit to compensating interns at least $2,500 over the course of the internship and Virginia Bio will match with an additional $2,500. Interns will earn $5,000 while gaining critical experience and providing meaningful contributions to your company.

How to Participate in STEM2VA

Employer registration is simple and takes only about a minute to complete! Fill out the four-question employer registration form to get started. Registered employers will be provided with a review portal link to begin reviewing and interviewing competitive student applications. Indicating interest now will not commit you to accepting a student if you are not able to identify a candidate with the appropriate qualifications.

The employer registration deadline is February 10, 2023. The ten-week internship experience will run from June 5, 2023 – August 11, 2023.

This is an excellent opportunity to retain Virginia talent, train the upcoming workforce, and identify potential future hires. Connect with a talented, diverse, statewide workforce pipeline and create broader awareness of your presence in Virginia through STEM2VA.

Contact or with any questions. 

FIRST Lego League Coaches Workshop – July 30 & August 5

FIRST Lego League is a worldwide robotics competition for 3rd-9th graders using Lego EV3 robots. Kids solve programming and building challenges, present research to a panel of judges in a creative format regarding this year’s hydrodynamic theme, perform a team-based impromptu challenge, and share their design process while celebrating science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare!

The RBTC hosts a tournament the 2nd week of November for our region. If you think you might like to help start a team or join a team, and want to find out more, the Tuxedo Pandas and the Science Museum of Western Virginia will host two free information and hands-on clinics. We even have some equipment and funds available to get new teams going!

Questions about the event? Contact Krystian Jones.


Sunday, July 30, 2017
Saturday, August 5, 2017


WHERE:Science Museum of Western Virginia (One Market Square SE, Roanoke, VA 24011-1429




RBTC Launches Resources to Connect STEM Community

The Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council is pleased to launch two new email lists to continue to build awareness and support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities in the Roanoke-Blacksburg and SW VA Region.  These two important new mail lists are related, but different in their purpose:

  • [STEM-Discuss] – The RBTC STEM Forum open discussion list (to connect and ask questions).
  • [STEM-Announce]  – The RBTC STEM Forum announcements (read only) email list.

The [STEM-Discuss] mail list is a simple, free, open mail list that anyone can join to connect with regional STEM experts, ask questions and get help.    Simple and quick way that STEM educators, experts and parents can all connect and share.  Sign up here:

The [STEM-Announce] is a little more than just a mail list.  It is a STEM event announcement submission system, a calendar of STEM events, and a email list all in one.   You can think of [STEM-Announce] as an announcements (read only) mail list, but it takes community STEM event submissions from the community event webapp and mirrors these events in a SWVA STEM Events google calendar that you can also subscribe to.

If this seems too complicated, just sign-up on the [STEM-Announce] mail list and you’re good.  However, if you’re a gadget geek and prefer calendar events to remind you of what’s going on, you may want to only subscribe to the google calendar view.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to join or add anything to your deives, you can always just pop in and view all upcoming and previous STEM events by clicking on the either the google calendar link or the email list’s “Archives” link to see what’s going on around town.

In the Community: VWCC Women in STEM Mentoring Program

At a national level, economic projections indicate that by 2018 the U.S. will be saturated with millions of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs – many of them left unfilled. Even now, the percentage of women in STEM careers is dramatically less then men in these fields. Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) in Roanoke is a forerunner in a national movement seeking to reverse this trend and help more young women get a firm footing on a path to a successful STEM career.

The VWCC Women in STEM initiative includes the Mentoring Program, a campus club, a speaker series, a campus workgroup with faculty and staff, and relationships with business partners. The initiative is focused on:

  • Providing a supportive environment for women’s STEM education
  • Assisting women in educational resources
  • Helping facilitate career networking opportunities for women

The mentors that are paired up with students through the Women in STEM Mentoring Program are local women involved in STEM related fields.  We are proud to say many of these mentors are RBTC members. Keep up the great work ladies!

Check out the videos below to learn more about this excellent initiative and view or download this resource (PDF):


Volunteers Needed for FIRST Robotics Competition in Blacksburg – March 12-13

Volunteers – especially referees – are needed for assistance with one of the Premier STEM programs in Virginia! FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is recognized as the premier high school engineering challenge. Teams of students, working closely with teachers and volunteer mentors, have six weeks to conceptualize, design, build, program, modify and test a robot to participate in a competition that changes each year.

This year’s big FIRST Robotics tournament will be held for Blacksburg the weekend of March 12-13.  Come volunteer for this great STEM event and enjoy seeing what 36 different high schools have created!

To Volunteer:
Register online as a volunteer here:
Then FIRST does a background check for some of the positions, not all.
You’ll apply for an event:

  • Select FRC – FIRST Robotics Competition
  • Select USA
  • Specify Zip code of 24060

You should find the event “FRC | CHS District – Southwest Virginia Event | Blacksburg  VA | Mar 11, 2016 – Mar 13, 2016”

Select that event, then you’ll see a questionnaire about preferred positions.  Some positions require online training, and they’ll send you links for that once they’ve sorted out who will actually fill what position. Thank you for volunteering your time to help promote the technology base in our Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council!

Questions? Email: Gordie Zeigler,