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Take Five with Dan St. Martin

Dan St. Martin has been President of Kollmorgen since September 2013. He joined Kollmorgen from Deere & Company where he was the Combine Product Line Director of Russia, Commonwealth of Independent States and had responsibility for Global Combine Strategy. Dan joined Deere in 2001 and progressed through various roles of increasing responsibility. From 2008-2011, he lived in Tianjin, China as General Manager of a 1,500 person Chinese joint venture. Prior to Deere, Dan worked as a Senior Consultant for Deloitte and Touché and Accenture. Dan has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Supply Chain Management from the University of Illinois and a Master’s of Business Administration from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.



RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Dan St. Martin: Kollmorgen is celebrating our 100th anniversary this year, and several regional resources have contributed to our success over this timeframe. These include the RBTC – which helps connect us to the technology talent and pulse of the environment we are creating together to advance this region and the activities within it. Virginia Tech is also clearly a lifeblood for Kollmorgen – where we employ several hundred alumni over the years and continue to collaborate closely with each day.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Dan St. Martin: This region is an ideal place for Kollmorgen – great technology talent and leading edge research, as well as an environment that is both beautiful and ideal to raise well rounded future leaders. Being remote to some of the larger cities is actually a strength for us here – as our employees self-select to live here as well as to focus on building a long-term career with us. We’ve been able to really invest in our employees and grow careers and experiences as a part of this.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Dan St. Martin: It would be to really invest in people and a shared vision first. If you start with this – you’ll have the key “secret sauce” to build a business that does great things. No one person can really do much without surrounding themselves with talented people that are passionate about the vision of the future that they can create with you. Seems like common sense – and it is!

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Dan St. Martin: One lesson I have learned is that focus paired with passion can really lead to high performance that translates to impact each day. Passion without that focus just leads to chaos and can really dis-engage a workforce. We’ve been working over the past several years at Kollmorgen to create focus in our business and drive improvements. We pick a few things and do them really well, rather than try to do too many things and only do them “ok”. We’re a high performance culture at Kollmorgen and our associates don’t like to do anything that’s not done extremely well. I’m really lucky to get to work with over 1,300+ talented associates that are our global team.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Dan St. Martin: I would love to see us continue to create a concentration of businesses and people who “do good by doing good”. What I mean by this is that I really want us to have success in our businesses – but by doing things for the greater good of our community, environment and advances of industry. We get to live our Kollmorgen vision each day of “Enabling Innovators to Make the World a Better Place” – and I hope the Roanoke-Blacksburg region becomes a hub to make advances happen around the world as well.

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Take Five with Dr. Vinod Chachra, Founder of VTLS Inc

Dr. Vinod Chachra, Ph.D. is the Founder of VTLS Inc. a library automation company that did business in 43 countries. Beginning in 1975, Chachra designed the original software that in 1980 became Virginia Tech Library System and in 1985 became VTLS Inc. All the products of VTLS Inc. were made in Blacksburg VA. VTLS Inc. was the first spinoff corporation from Virginia Tech (VT) and the first tenant of the VT-Corporate Research Center. Dr. Chachra ran the company from 1985 to 2014 as its President and CEO. In addition to the Blacksburg offices, the company had a global presence with offices in Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, Malaysia, India and Australia. The company was sold to III in 2014. He served as Vice President of Global Expansion of III.

Dr. Chachra has been active in the library profession for more than 30 years. He represented Virginia in the White House Conference on Library and Information Sciences in 1979, served on the legislative committee for library networking in Virginia, and is a former member of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services Task Force. He has worked with several countries in the design and implementation of their national bibliographic information resources and union catalogs.

Dr. Chachra is an internationally recognized lecturer and consultant in the field of information system planning. For several years he served as the Senior Consultant for NCHEMS (National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.) In this capacity he helped many US Institutions of Higher Education in the planning of their IT resources.

From 1972 to 1985, he successively assumed roles of Director of Software Development, Director of Computing and Information Systems, Vice Provost and then Vice President for Computing and Information Systems at Virginia Tech. He left the VP position at VT to start VTLS Inc.

In 1992, he was invited to be a member of the ALA delegation to Romania and to serve on the ALA International Relations Committee’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina subcommittee. In 1994, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) elected Dr. Chachra to serve on its Board of Directors. In 2007, Dr. Chachra chaired the NISO Working Group on RFID in U. S. Libraries, and he represented the USA in international meetings regarding RFID standards.

During his career, Dr. Chachra has received many honors, including the Distinguished Information Sciences Award from Data Processing Management Association, the CAUSE Award for Exemplary Leadership, and the Blacksburg Jaycees Man of the Year Award. He was inducted into the VT Faculty Entrepreneur Hall of Fame (2012), the RBTC Technology Hall of Fame (2013) and Academy of Engineering Excellence (2015).

Dr. Chachra has written two books, a chapter in a third book, and numerous journal articles. He earned his Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at Virginia Tech. He taught graduate classes in Engineering and Computer Science.



RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Vinod Chachra: VTLS, the company I founded with Virginia Tech (VT) in 1985, was, the first spinoff company from Virginia Tech. So VT, through VTIP was a major key player in the success of the company. At that time the Commonwealth of Virginia had no laws or regulations governing Intellectual Property (IP) produced at Virginia Universities. Virginia Tech played a key role in helping the legislature develop and articulate the policies that govern intellectual property rights in Virginia. This opened the doors for many other businesses that were based on IP.

Our employees came from Engineering, Computer Science and IT programs from VT and Radford University. Without this resource, it would be impossible to serve the global community we worked with. VTLS provided products and services in 43 countries from the Roanoke Blacksburg region.

The regional economic development agencies were extremely helpful in supporting us our export efforts and helping us participate in international trade missions organized by the State.

VTLS was the very first tenant at the VT Corporate Research Center. Both the CRC and the RBTC helped create a strong and vibrant environment for employees to learn and grow. Their recognition programs, mentoring programs and informal exchanges helped create a vibrant in which to live and work. As a result we were able to enjoy unprecedented retention rates for our IT staff.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Vinod Chachra: There are four important factors that make this region attractive.

First, the enormous talent pool available from the many Universities in the region. VT, RU and NRCC all play an important role in providing trained potential employees for us. We regularly participated in job fairs and campus visits. We sponsored student internships and other on the job training activities.

Second, the advanced Research and Development activities of Virginia Tech help the growth of businesses on the cutting edge of technology.

Third, quality of life is enhanced by the scenic beauty of the region and the outdoor activities it offers.

Fourth, over time, there are greater opportunities for cultural activities both in Roanoke and in Blacksburg. The Moss Center of the Arts in Blacksburg offers tremendous opportunities for young professionals. The sports activities in the region are a great draw for the young at heart among us.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Vinod Chachra: I would say one word or acronym — VIVA.
Viva, long live to your company. May it live long!

As an acronym –
V is for vision which brings direction and focus to the business
I is for integrity which is an essential building block for a long and honorable future
V is for value which brings customers coming back and
A is for action that keeps employees and customers moving and motivated.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Vinod Chachra: Open door policy – it is amazing what you learn from employees and customers alike. Remember that most of employees take great pride in doing a good job and if they are not then it is a problem of incomplete expectations, inadequate training or wrong information. The same is true of customers – they selected your products because they thought you provided the greatest value or best services. So, our day to day business is governed by focusing on keeping employees happy and customers satisfied.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Vinod Chachra: The Roanoke Blacksburg region needs better transportation systems – more flights from Roanoke Blacksburg Regional airport; train connection to Washington DC; truck lanes for interstate 81. These problems are being discussed but our region needs faster solutions. The Broadband Internet Service remains inadequate, inaccessible and expensive. Once this area was the envy of the nation but today (except for VT and CRC) we are underserved and falling behind. Access to capital, though improving, remains a great barrier to entrepreneurial success. Retention of educated young professionals remains an issue as many still prefer to graduate and leave rather than stay here. Job availability is low and growth rate in jobs is also slow.

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Take Five with Henry Bass, President of Automation Creations

Henry Bass is the founder and president of Automation Creations, Inc. a 20-person custom software development firm in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. He is an entrepreneur, a Reserve Army officer, and a civic volunteer for FIRST Robotics, Boy Scouts, and the Technology Council Workforce Development Committee. He holds Masters degrees from Virginia Tech (Mechanical Engineering, ‘96) and Washington University in St Louis (MBA, ’89), as well as certifications in software development and systems engineering. His 20 year old company, Automation Creations, specializes in custom web-based applications, with a number of successful spin-offs and Fortune 500 customers. Henry was a 2010 recipient of the NCTC NEWVY award, and a finalist for the RBTC Regional Leadership awards in 2015 and 2016. He is active on the Board of Directors for the RBTC and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, as well as the New River Robotics Association.


 

RBTC:  What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Henry Bass: Without a doubt, the technology infrastructure of both the Corporate Research Center, and the RBTC have been huge for us. Years ago, Microsoft predicted that businesses would only need Internet access and a nearby airport to succeed. It’s more than that, as we can see from studying successful technology regions. It takes a community of passionate experts who are willing to help you make the connections you need to succeed. I have found an abundance of like-minded people here who just want to help, and I believe that makes this region thrive. We help each other first, without asking, “what’s in it for me?” I would also add that it has been extremely helpful to have a great local bank: The National Bank of Blacksburg in our case.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Henry Bass: When I had completed active duty after the first Gulf war, my wife and I both wanted to get advanced degrees in Virginia. Lisa obtained a degree in teaching, and I in engineering. Virginia Tech was always featured doing cool things in Mechanical Engineering magazine, and our other criteria was that the community had to be small enough to not need a traffic helicopter, but big enough to have a Radio Shack. OK, both of those are obsolete now, but you get the idea. This region fits the bill ideally, and I believe, the size of the community has an inverse relationship with the friendliness of the community, essentially setting the condition for community support discussed in the previous question.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Henry Bass: I absolutely concur with previous authors: get connected! Seek out other opinions of your startup idea. Beware of being so in love with your idea that you overlook the faults and hurdles you face, so listen when others try to warn you. But also, don’t dismiss your own willingness to overcome those obstacles. There may be some pretty good reasons why no one else has done what you thought of, or maybe there have been a few mistakes in past attempts you can learn from and improve upon.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Henry Bass: In 2006, the VT Knowledge Works environment introduced me to the idea of meeting with other CEOs in a confidential environment to share best practices, challenges, ideas, and the types of things you just can’t share with employees. This once a month, half-day step back from my business gives me a strategic focus that I was lacking. We push each other to achieve new goals and add value to our companies. I’m now a certified moderator for LX Council, and I draw a great deal of inspiration from each meeting. Whether it’s the RBTC CEO forum or a peer networking group, this is a very important leadership element for a business owner.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Henry Bass: I believe we will continue to see the Roanoke and New River regions knitting together into a continuous fabric. Over the next 5 years, I expect two things: first, that not only will new passenger rail transportation improve our professional services with Northern Virginia and points north. But secondly, our developing workforce will build interesting companies right here, which capitalize on our rich quality of life, our educational assets, and our lack of traffic helicopters!

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Take Five with Steve Critchfield, President of MOVA Technologies

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area.


In 1984 Steve Critchfield started a small tele-communication company that grew into what was to become Tele-Works in 1986. When it was sold in 2014, it provided electronic payments, such as utility payments and parking tickets, to local governments in 38 states, and three Canadian provinces. In addition, Steve started a small real estate development company and established over 50 rental properties at Rocky Acres, 10 miles from Virginia Tech in Ellett Valley. He has also helped young entrepreneurs start over 5 other companies – 4 of which have been successfully sold to larger companies. Steve’s philanthropic partnership with Virginia Tech has established the Steger Poetry Prize, the largest creative writing/poetry award of any university in both the US and Europe and
the Aaron Slack Memorial Diversity and Social Justice Fund which provides scholarships to deserving students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and funding to support programs and activities in the college which promote diversity and social justice.

Through his own contributions and other funds raised, he established the City Manager and Finance Program within the Virginia Tech Center for Public Administration and Policy. Partnering with the Virginia Local Government Management Association, the program offers graduate-level training in local government management that both prepares pre-career students for capable public service at the local level and enhances the capacities of existing local government employees who aspire to be town, city, or county managers or assistant/deputy managers, or finance officers.
The program has now graduated over 200 students, and was recently awarded the top program by the International City Managers Association.

Steve’s lastest venture is Mova Technologies, an emerging technology company whose purpose is to “commercialize the patented method and apparatus for capturing particulate matter while utilizing panel-bed filtration technology… [resulting in reduced] maintenance and operating filtration costs associated with burning coal at coal-fired power plants while improving overall emission quality.”


 

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Steve Critchfield: There were no true resources when I started my first company, Tele-Works, Inc., in October 1986. I began my own advisory board made up of business people, various Virginia Tech people, banks, and members of the telecommunications community around the country. Throughout the years of business, I continued to use an advisory board, which included other CEO’s.  I hope the RBTC will make it much easier to begin my new company, Mova Technologies, INC, through the many resources that they have made available to local technology startups.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Steve Critchfield: Personally, it is a good fit because I prefer to live in this area. This region has so much natural beauty and is less crowded than other areas in the state. It is also great to have access to like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off of and glean experience from. Though it is often referred to as the Roanoke-Blacksburg region, it really extends from Botetourt County to Pulaski County. The New River and Roanoke Valleys offer enough space for a new company to grow and flourish. There is a lot of great energy here, which also stems directly from the universities. Business owners should utilize these sources for potential employees from the idea generation to actual deployment and human resources.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would in be?

Steve Critchfield: Network! There are people that can help you with problems because they’ve already handled the same issues before. Utilize specific networking. If you have banking issues, speak with a banker. Many people starting new businesses seek me out, and I tell them to get plugged in with the RBTC, and start reaching out to folks who have gone before them, seek guidance.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Steve Critchfield: Do not make decisions too quickly. Learn to gather information, listen to people, and if possible, take a few days to make a decision. Creating a good Board of Directors is also important. Build it out of smart people who are willing to challenge you. Don’t take offense to their changes; they are challenging your business idea, not you personally. Lastly, do not let your ego get in the way.  If you are not ready for a Board, set up an advisory board always seek input from others then make your decision.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Steve Critchfield: I would consider myself to be a “regionalist”. I grew up in Northern Virginia, which was/is a region, but I love this area. I hope to see the region become one unit working together instead of cities and towns. I know that the jurisdictions will stay the same, but I don’t want to feel the separation. I want to see the cities, towns, and counties keeping their individualities but working as one. I have jokingly, but with some seriousness, told people that I would like to re-name or nickname I-81 (from 581 to the Blacksburg bypass) the “Roanoke-Blacksburg Connector. ?I hope to see this region continue to pull together to bring higher paying jobs to this area. I want the Roanoke-Blacksburg region to become louder, stronger, and to attract more businesses, and people to our region, so that graduates who want to stay are able to.

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Take Five with Mary Miller, President of IDD

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area.


Mary Miller, Ph.D. is president and founder of Interactive Design and Development, Inc. (IDD), an award-winning information technology firm in Blacksburg. Under her leadership and guidance, IDD has created multimedia products, web design and development, interactive touch screen kiosks, and custom information technology solutions for a wide range of organizations, including many Fortune 500 companies. She has served on many boards and advisory committees, including Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering’s Committee of 100, the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Advisory Board and the Dean’s Advisory Council, the Advisory Board for the Department of Computer Science, and the Virginia 4-H Foundation’s Board. She was inducted into Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Academy of Excellence, joining an elite group of 97 individuals out of 55,000 living engineering alumni and was named the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumna. She was presented with the Business Woman of the Year Award in 2014, the RBTC Hall of Fame award in 2015 and has served as past President of the RBTC.

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Mary Miller: Peer support has been a large part of my success. Connectivity has made this region strong and it is full of generous business leaders. I would say our human capital resources are the most valuable resources we have.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Mary Miller: Quality of life is a large factor. Lifestyle is important to me, as well as the people I employ. The more leisurely atmosphere of this region allows working parents to still have time with their families. Virginia Tech is also a great resource because we live in a region of “thinkers and doers” and all of these resources are accessible us. It is wonderful region to live and work.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Mary Miller: Get connected. Trying to go-it alone is a mistake. There are no roadblocks to keep you from getting connected in this region. Ask questions and listen. You can even learn from people that aren’t in your specific field. Growing a business has many more similarities than differences. It is easy to get connected in this region.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Mary Miller: Get a banker, not just a bank, but also a banker. Start building a relationship with a banker, before you need their support. One thing I’ve learned over 25 years in business, is that you can’t stay in business if you run out of money. If you own a business you need a banker. I personally think community banks are the way to go, because they are vested in the communities they serve.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Mary Miller: Transportation in and out of the region has always been a challenge, and even though we are making progress, there is more to do. I am pleased to see we will soon have increased access to rail. I frequently take the train from Lynchburg to DC. It will be fabulous to have the train come to Christiansburg, but we have more to do. Our daily flights from the region are limited and expensive. I know many creative, capable people are working on these issues and I am confident that we will continue to improve on the transportation front.

I have always been proud that the RBTC works across the region without regard to planning districts or town limits, and that is a real benefit to the region. We are maturing as an organization; with increased ability to support established companies and entrepreneurs alike. Progress is occurring at a faster pace and I believe the region is well positioned to leap forward. Regional success is more visible to the outside world, and our success is not in one sector. With our blend of companies aligned with university assets good things are going to continue to happen.
The region itself has a draw, and we hit both ends of the scale. New businesses are developing and we are ranked high on the list of best places to retire. I think a region that can support diverse needs wins. I strongly believe that the next five years are going to be exciting to watch. And, the next fifty years are going to be an excellent adventure for our region. I love this region.

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Take Five with Marty Muscatello, CEO of FoxGuard Solutions and Qualtrax

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area.


Marty Muscatello is the CEO of Foxguard Solutions and Qualtrax. He joined CCS-Inc. (the holding company for FoxGuard and Qualtrax, Inc. ) in 2003, serving as President until May 2005, when he was named President and Chief Executive Officer. Since joining CCS, Mr. Muscatello has led the company to significant growth, tripling company revenues and the employee base. Mr. Muscatello is not only dedicated to growing CCS, but to business growth in Southwest Virginia and throughout the State.  He serves on the Executive Committee for the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC).  He also has served on the Service Exports Committee for the Virginia International Trade Alliance (VITAL) and has also been very active in forming the Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network (RBIN) to promote the Roanoke-Blacksburg region for future growth.


 

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Marty Muscatello: Regionally, our company has enjoyed the mentorship from multiple individuals in the area that have been willing to share their wisdom. Business leaders, Professors and leadership at Virginia Tech, local Government leaders have all been a part of mentoring our organization to its success. The RBTC plays a big role in helping our organization to move forward as well. Our region also has a strong support community of good attorney and business advisors that are willing to assist in educating companies such as ours as we grow. We have also utilized the VEDP to educate our organization on exporting outside of the United States. The VALET program is an excellent program that offers tremendous advice for exporting products and services to other countries.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Marty Muscatello: The RBTC is a great fit for our organization. By utilizing the forums such as Product Manager and Business Development forums, many of our employees get involved and learn what other companies are doing to solve day to day problems. Many great ideas come out of these forums. Also, several of our leadership team members utilize the Roundtable peer groups that offer excellent peer to peer discussions on a monthly basis. The monthly breakfast meetings and other annual events allow many of our employees to get to know many people within other technology companies in the region. All of these things make the RBTC a very good fit for our company.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Marty Muscatello: Reach out to others in the community that can help you. There are so many people within our community willing to help in many ways but you first need to ask.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Marty Muscatello: There are no shortcuts. At the end of the day, to start and grow your own business requires a great deal of hard work and tenacity. You must find ways to continue to inject energy and strength into the organization. Over time, we can all get stale, even the best of the best. Identifying ways to refresh, ignite and rejuvenate is vital to the continued growth of an organization.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Marty Muscatello: The region has a fantastic opportunity to grow over the next many years. There is tremendous energy with the work of the RBIN, Economic Development organizations, multiple local Governments, multiple Academic entities, and a number of individuals that want to help promote growth within this region. We can create a region that attracts technology companies and the talent associated with these companies if we continue to search and find ways for all of the entities above to work together and drive forward. Virginia Tech takes a strong leadership role here but businesses, other academic institutions and Government entities must step up as well.

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Take Five with James Rancourt, Founder and CEO, Polymer Solutions

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area.


We recently talked with James Rancourt, Founder and CEO of Polymer Solutions. James “Jim” Rancourt is a Massachusetts native who received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Lowell. After gaining industry experience he relocated to Blacksburg, Virginia where he earned his Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry from Virginia Tech. He finished his Ph.D. while simultaneously starting Polymer Solutions Incorporated (PSI) in 1987.

Jim has grown PSI through complimenting his passion for helping others with his love of analytical chemistry. He has built a team of brilliant scientists and support staff which, coupled with the practice of great science, has resulted in PSI becoming the premier independent testing lab for plastics, polymers, rubbery, and metallic materials.

PSI serves companies in a broad range of market segments including the Medical, Pharmaceutical, Packaging, and Consumer Product industries. PSI’s clients range from the largest companies to small and promising innovative startups. Jim is recognized as an authority in his field and is frequently called on to provide expert testimony for a myriad of litigated matters involving manufacturing defects, design defects, misappropriation of trade secrets, failure analysis investigations, and patent infringement. He has given over 55 presentations, holds 7 United States patents, and has been published over 60 times.

Jim was also recently inducted into the Virginia Tech Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. You can read an in-depth article about Jim’s background, recent award, and Polymer Solutions here. When Jim isn’t busy at Polymer Solutions he enjoys running, biking, and spending time with his family – especially his grandchildren!



RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

 James Rancourt: Four regional resources come to mind immediately.

First, a great banking relationship with National Bank of Blacksburg.  NBB has been supportive of Polymer Solutions throughout our various growth phases; from being house-based, to being located in several leased facilities within Blacksburg, and most recently with the financing of the construction of our state-of-the-art laboratory facility in Falling Branch Corporate Park in Christiansburg.  With NBB and our other banking partners I have always operated on the basis of full disclosure, preemptively letting them know how the business was doing.  Through the years I have heard horror stories from many businesses regarding their banking relationships.  I view banks as a critical supplier to my business.

Second, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Polymer Solution’s first real home.  We were a very early tenant in the VTCRC and located our first laboratory and office in the third building of the VTCRC.  The VTCRC provided critical resources and we immediately had real business neighbors.  The VTCRC also has always had great cycling and running opportunities, a trail through the woods, and was a great place for my children to visit and explore.

Third is the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council.  The RBTC has contributed to our success over the years by providing programs with relevant content, peers with specialized experience, and events for networking.  It has always been pretty easy to get experienced insights from one of the other members.

Fourth, the Montgomery County Economic Development Authority and the Town of Christiansburg have contributed to the success of Polymer Solutions.  From my perspective, both organizations are refreshingly relevant and tangibly “pro business.”  The EDA and the Town of Christiansburg were vital to the success of my recent construction project, created no obstacles to our progress, and offered valuable assistance and prompt responses to my many questions.

Of course, there are many other organizations and resources who have contributed to our success in addition to these specifically named.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be? 

James Rancourt: I think it is critical for an entrepreneur to step out of their business for periods of time as a part of their growth strategy.  “Stepping out” can be for an hour or two a week, or a few days a month.  I believe this needs to be planned because the demands on entrepreneurial endeavors is consuming of all resources; time, energy, finances, and potentially even relationships.  It can be addicting and even a bit of maladaptively fulfilling to “work all the time.”  Participating in RBTC events was my first proactive step toward getting outside of my business for some new insights and perspectives, to meet people, and to find out what else was going on in the world.  I tell people that I waited far too long to take this simple first step.  There is an appropriate time to have one’s “nose to the grind stone” but I have learned it should not be all the time.  With regard to “stepping out of the business” I took this to a bit of an extreme this past year by embarking on a CEO sabbatical.  I was completely detached from work for 50 days; not running or looking at financial reports, not dealing with timesheets and other administrative functions, not checking emails, and not interacting with clients.  It was a huge break from the daily grind, offered bigger than usual growth opportunities for several of my key staff, and transformed how I now work in my nearly 30 year old company.  Right here, right now, I challenge the reader to plan periods of time to step out of the business for an hour our two a week or a few days a month.  If you have been running a business for more than 10 years with virtually no break, consider a sabbatical as a way to gain new energy, focus, and insights.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations? 

James Rancourt: In my business I have tried to focus on excellence, not perfection. This became easier to do as I saw the results of this change in mindset. It is much easier to delegate tasks and business functions when the expectation of performance is topped out at excellence.  In business, the amount of time and money available to advance projects is usually in the realm of an excellent solution more so than a perfect solution.  It is a risk to most businesses for a mindset of perfection to prevail.  Of course, the level of excellence needs to be balanced with risk.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

James Rancourt: I moved to Blacksburg in 1983 “for a few years” to attend graduate school at Virginia Tech.  As I was nearing the completion of my degree I did the normal round of interviews across the country.  There was no other place that I visited that had the characteristics that I had come to appreciate in our region.  A significant factor in me starting Polymer Solutions was simply to stay in this area.  The Roanoke-Blacksburg region had specific characteristics that were a good fit for my company.  In the early years, the ability to collaborate with researchers at Virginia Tech and to purchase analytical services were critical to the success of my company.  The VTCRC created a great environment for my business by providing a lot of critical infrastructure that at the time I did not have the time, money, or skill to have implemented on my own.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

James Rancourt: I would like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region to find its unique and collective “voice.”  If we do a great job understanding all of the aspects about the Roanoke-Blacksburg region that are unique to this region, all the strengths and weakness, the natural environment, the collection of businesses, and the people who make up this region, our region should prosper.  If we do this really well, perhaps the Roanoke-Blacksburg region will be a leader and set trends that others will want to emulate.

The other characteristic of the Roanoke-Blacksburg region is the level of connectedness.  There are significant differences between Roanoke and Blacksburg.  A clear understanding of the “features and benefits” of both communities may foster a stronger message to others.

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Take Five with Kevin Bloomfield, Managing Partner, Bloomfield Partners

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area.


We recently talked with Kevin Bloomfield, Managing Partner with Bloomfield Partners, LLC, a boutique family investment firm. Kevin also co-founded and previously served as President & CEO of NetVentures Corporation (NVC). His software company built a fast-growing, disruptive cloud-based Operations & Fund Accounting platform for progressive non-profit organizations. Headquartered in Roanoke, VA, the company’s flagship platform was used by over 400 facilities and handled over $2 billion dollars of financial transactions.

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?
Kevin: Easy question. I consistently point to my network of regional advisors which had the greatest impact on my success. My personal network, which included professionals, mentors, experts, and peers, rallied around me, supported me, and shared their experiences with me; their guidance was invaluable to my success. Having started a cloud-based software company in Roanoke, VA without any specific domain expertise was quite a challenge. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not have been nearly as successful without this regional support structure. Everywhere I went people were truly interested in the success of my company. I believe our shared commitment to each other is unique to our region. This willingness to support others enables a greater chance of success for young companies that reside in our region.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?
Kevin: While in many ways we struggled with the same talent recruitment issues that many of our regional peers faced, I believe that we also greatly benefited from the organic talent that is present in the region. There is something different about people who choose to live in the Roanoke/Blacksburg region. While many people chased their dreams to San Francisco, Austin, NY, etc., those that chose to stay in the region often proved to be more valuable team members. In fact, the talent that we recruited from within the region was more valuable to our success than those that we brought in from outside the area. Did we try to recruit nationally? Sure. But nine times out of ten those relationships didn’t prove to be as successful as our team members who were organically committed to the area.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?
Kevin: While it is true that hard work, guts, instincts, and a little luck are some of the keys to success, I mentor many young entrepreneurs about the value building your personal network. To many of today’s entrepreneurs this simply means building up how their Linked-In connections, or increasing the size of their Facebook or Twitter following. To me, these have little value. Rather, I preach about real, personal, intimate relationships that can provide frank feedback and guidance. Our region includes a plethora of disparate resources who enjoy lending a hand or giving advice to an aspiring entrepreneur. The successful entrepreneurs realize the value of these relationships and are constantly focused on increasing their network.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?
Kevin: Never stray from your core values. Honesty, integrity, and a commitment to treat team members, clients, and your competitors the way you expect to be treated will pay enormous dividends in the long run.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?
Kevin: I have no doubt that the next five years will bring meaningful growth and prosperity to our region. In my opinion, the main drivers of this growth will come from the regional innovation and entrepreneurial seeds that are now being sowed. The amount of excitement, effort, focus, and resources that are being thoughtfully poured into these areas are going to be our main catalyst for moving our region forward. This is an exciting time to be in the region and I’m thrilled with where we are and where we are heading.

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Take Five: Adam Ernest, CEO, Follow My Vote

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders.


We recently talked with Adam Ernest, co-founder and CEO of Follow My Vote. Focused on improving the integrity standards of voting systems used in elections worldwide, Follow My Vote develops end-2-end verifiable online voting software with the goal of empowering individuals to communicate effectively and to implement non-coercive solutions to societal problems.

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?
Adam: NuSpark, a startup space located in Blacksburg dedicated to helping aspiring entrepreneurs turn ideas into businesses, was truly instrumental to our success at Follow My Vote. They gave us dedicated office space and a place to call home when we needed it most.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?
Adam: Upon graduating from Virginia Tech, it had always been my dream to return to Blacksburg and start a business, allowing me to recruit top talent from my alma mater and give back to the surrounding community in any way that I can.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?
Adam: Be a visionary leader. Be passionate about what you do and surround yourself with people that share your passion and belief in your vision for the future of your business.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?
Adam: A good manager should focus on what’s really important. I have found it best to focus less on what time your employees get to work in the morning and more on whether or not they get the job done before they leave the office for the night.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?
Adam: I think we all should strive to support local businesses, as opposed to large corporations, even if it is not always most cost effective to do so. What I would really like to see is for us to become much more of a self-sustaining community, especially when it comes to energy and food production.

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Take Five: Alexander Obenauer, Co-founder & CEO, Mindsense

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders.


 

We recently talked with Alexander Obenauer, co-founder and CEO of Mindsense.

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Alexander: The biggest one is mentorship. I have received incredible help and support from many mentors in the area – most that are too busy to spend any time with me but yet still find a way every time I ask. I’m incredibly grateful for a lot of different people that have mentored me over the years. They have shown me new perspectives, opened me up to new resources, and shared with me their experiences. Their advice has been regularly pivotal for Mindsense.

Most of my mentors I originally met through the RBTC. The RBTC itself is another big one. Without the RBTC, we are siloed as a young software company in a rural area. Before we joined the RBTC, we were always very aware of how, as an up-and-coming consumer apps developer, we were a bit disconnected from the rest of our world. Most companies like ours exist solely in major tech hubs. But when we joined the RBTC, that all changed. We were able to find and learn with others that work on similar things or face similar problems. We no longer feel alone, as a team or as individuals, but rather a part of a large, vibrant, innovative community.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Alexander: It’s all in the culture. This region has a big advantage for me over traditional tech hubs because the people here are authentic, supportive, and innovative. This is why companies in Silicon Valley are starting to look at our region as a possible solution to their employee retention problem. People here understand the importance of human relationships, and ones that are authentic and non-transactional.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Alexander: I always try to avoid giving advice, because my experiences are limited, so I doubt I can devise any universal truths from only my perspective. But I know one thing that often sets our company apart is our focus on people. We center ourselves around, and think through every detail for, the people that use our software, our team members, and our community members, in that order. Everything we design is user-centered, and I don’t mean that lightly; that’s what makes our software so much better than the competition. We always ensure we’re improving the lives of our team members, when it comes to little things like how we handle vacation time (it’s unlimited) to big things like making sure we foster an environment that, as our lead software developer Jeb Schiefer recently put it, gets people excited to come to work in the morning and fulfilled when they leave work in the evening. Finally, we don’t want Mindsense to be just a name on a building; we want to be an active part of our community. We ensure that in many ways we, as individuals and as a team, give back and take an active role in our local community.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Alexander: To trust my gut. We’ve taken a lot of advice from some of the top companies in our industry, but when that advice goes against our intuitions, we almost always regret taking it. This is something that I’m still learning; I’m still trying to figure out where the line is in the sand.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Alexander: Over the next 5 years I would love to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region earn a much brighter spotlight nationally as an authentic, innovative tech hub. I would love to see its talent pool increase dramatically, and become a region that many seek to live and work in. But at the same time, I hope that it continues to express the values that, for me at least, make it a very unique and attractive place in which to live and grow a company.

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