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!

ELITE Grant Grows Tech Talent for the Region

In the past three years, 62 students at 17 different companies completed internships thanks to $94,000 in funding from GO Virginia. The effort was facilitated by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council as part of the ELITE (Experiential Learning in Technology Employment) Grant.

Employers in Pulaski, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Blacksburg, and other communities built their talent pipelines while strengthening the regional technology ecosystem thanks to funding that supported intern employment. The grant also included a partnership with Exelaration, a software development company with a nationally recognized internship program, who supported the connection and mentor oversight of 19 interns to multiple employers.   

“The ELITE Grant enabled more regional businesses to be competitive when working with regional technology students,” said Erin Burcham, President of Verge and Executive Director of RBTC. “After graduating from the region’s world-class universities, those joining the workforce often leave the area in search of nationally known employers. By introducing talented students to local companies and allowing them to foster a connection to the community, they are more likely to remain in the area upon graduation. That’s a win for the students and the local economy.”

The ELITE Grant, which concluded at the end of September, underscores the importance of solving the region’s technology challenges both in the near- and long-term. It is especially critical when addressing the local technology deficit companies face. In addition to offering wage support, the grant supported training and professional development activities to further students’ career readiness.

“Getting to know a plethora of knowledgeable individuals in the field has given me a leg up on my road to success,” said Jimmy Ortiz, an intern at Cloudfit Software. “The projects they put us on give us real-world experience, which gives us a giant boost in our careers. I would love to work for CloudFit someday, not only because of the experiences but because the environment here has been exquisite.”

intern working with employer

ELITE supported creating hubs of innovation and activity around talent development and retention. Hundreds of students benefited from activities that were a result of collaboration from higher education institutions, employers, economic development organizations, and RBTC including:

  • Onboard ROA from Get2KnowNoke, a summer professional development program for student interns, young professionals, and remote workers to learn more about the Roanoke area while furthering career-related skills and possibilities.
  • Onward NRV Experience, a summer employer internship program to help students grow professionally while experiencing the benefits of living and working in the New River Valley. Grant funding supported 21 interns in this program.
  • Student Pitch Competition with nearly 200 students showcasing innovative ideas to create positive change with mentorship and judging provided by industry leaders. Sponsors contributed $16,000 in prize money to support aspiring entrepreneurs.
  • Generative AI increased students’ knowledge on the topic and connected them with an employer in the region that is leveraging this technology to serve its customers.
  • Biotech Takeover allowed students and young professionals to engage with biotech leaders through various presentations and networking to learn about exciting opportunities occurring here in the region.
  • Innovative Problem Identification and Solving connected students, entrepreneurs and other professionals to learn about tools and techniques for successfully identifying core problems and enhancing solution-focused decision making.
  • Multiple professional development events, educational workshops, and networking opportunities were offered in collaboration with Virginia Tech, Radford University, Virginia Western Community College, New River Community College, Sweet Briar College, and Roanoke College.

“The innovation occurring in this region is remarkable,” said stated Jason Clayton, RBTC Tech Talent Strategist. “Outstanding institutions of higher learning, a culture of regional partners collaborating to support technology and biotechnology efforts, a plethora of thought leaders, and a priority of attracting and retaining quality talent are strengths of Region 2.

“Support for meeting technology talent gaps in the region, like what was afforded by GO Virginia’s ELITE Grant, play a tremendous role in further leveraging the assets we have to reach talent goals and strengthen the innovation economy.”

Learn more and get access to the new “Guide for Professionally Managed Talent Development Experiences,” made possible by the ELITE Grant. Explore, engage, network, learn, and contribute to the excitement occurring in the regional technology ecosystem by attending an upcoming event.

Jason Clayton Joins RBTC as Technology Talent Strategist

Jason Clayton recently joined the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council as Technology Talent Strategist. 

Jason brings over 20 years of experience in talent and leadership development expertise to the Roanoke-Blacksburg innovation ecosystem. 

“We couldn’t be more excited to bring Jason on board,” said RBTC Executive Director Erin Burcham. “He’s a dynamic team member who is eager to collaborate and support our members with identifying and attracting top-notch talent.”

“I’m inspired by RBTC’s work and the innovation that’s coming out of this region. Some of my most fulfilling efforts have been collaborating with others on various GO Virginia projects related to talent, so I can’t wait to contribute to nurturing growth in the region through these and a myriad of other collaborative efforts,” Jason said.

Jason plans to use his higher education experience in career and talent development to work with various collaborative partners. His goals include attracting and retaining tech and biotech talent for the region to bolster the impressive innovation happening here. 

Prior to joining RBTC, Jason helped develop internship and work-based learning initiatives at multiple universities throughout the Southeast and upper Midwest, spanning both private and public institutions. A first-generation college graduate, Jason holds degrees from Eastern Michigan University and Clemson University. 

When not leveraging his skills on behalf of his passion to help people flourish and achieve their goals, Jason enjoys spending time with his family and exploring the outdoors and the arts scene in the New River Valley.

Member Spotlight: DISH Network

The RBTC Membership ranges from solo tech entrepreneurs to the region’s largest companies. Our members are constantly inspiring us with their drive and creativity. We love it when we get to sit down with them to hear about their forward-thinking cultures and projects. 

We recently touched base with employees at RBTC member DISH in Christiansburg, VA to talk about what it’s like to work for a national company with a large local presence. DISH began as a communications technology startup in the 1980s and expanded to a household name. It pioneers not only the flagship DISH brand, but also serves at the parent company for well-known brands like Sling and Boost Mobile. 

Empowering Employees 

DISH firmly believes that their greatest asset is their people, which is why they pour energy and resources into cultivating an inclusive environment and fostering the development and promotion of all. DISH has long had a reputation for having a supportive, inclusive culture and being a great place to work. The Christiansburg location is no exception!

Anna Dantzler

Anna Dantzler, Data Analyst, has been with DISH Christiansburg for 19 years. She started as a customer service representative before moving through the ranks to her current position. 

“What has really stood out to me has been how DISH invests in its people,” she says. With the help of DISH’s tuition reimbursement program, she’s earned an associate degree and is on track to finish a bachelor’s of business administration management this spring. As part of her degree, she recently took a class on the best practices for training and development. 

 “I could clearly remember DISH demonstrating each best practice,” she said. “Currently, I’m taking an internal leadership class DISH offers salaried employees to help prepare me for future roles because my management recognizes my potential for growth.” 

Culture of Collaboration

DISH places a strong emphasis on cooperation, teamwork, and the ability to see eye-to-eye. It’s clear that the culture of collaboration is strong at DISH. They believe that some of the best ideas come from hallway conversations, happy hours, and celebrations, so they go out of their way to host events that bring teams together. 

Mary Duncan

Data Analyst Mary Duncan started with DISH Christiansburg just under a year ago. She was brought on board to curate and analyze data using SQL and Tableau. Her favorite thing about working for DISH is, “100% the people. We have a ton of knowledge on our team both in skill sets and company operations. Teammates are always enthusiastic to share information and teach. The leadership team is encouraging and supportive. Everyone on the team wants their coworkers to succeed and they’re always willing to provide tools to help me get where I need to go. The experience has been wonderful and I’m grateful to be a part of this organization!

Leaders in Innovation

DISH sets itself apart by prioritizing innovation. For 40 years, they’ve been guided by character-driven, user-focused principles that keep them nimble and on the leading edge of developing technologies. 

Todd Jackson

Longtime employee Todd Jackson has spent 22 years at the Christiansburg DISH location and currently serves in business operations and data analytics. He loves the opportunities to challenge himself and learn new things. “Now that DISH has entered into the Wireless industry, there is tons of data to explore and NEW questions to answer.” He’s proud to work at DISH because they’ve “always been innovative and disruptive in the industry. We’re taking on a new challenge by entering wireless and I’m excited to see us excel once again in a new industry.”

Business Operations Manager Bryan Newton cites his coworkers and technology as his favorite aspects of the job. In his 21 years with the company he has, “been lucky enough to work with a great group of people. The technology is also great. DISH had one of the first DVR’s available for Pay TV and is now in the middle of building the country’s first greenfield 5G network. It’s exciting to be part of it!” 

Access to Opportunity

Whether they’ve been there ten months or two decades, one thing all the employees agree on is that DISH Christiansburg is an amazing place to work. “There are TONS of opportunities at DISH and our Christiansburg location,” Todd Jackson said. “It’s thought of as a call center but that’s not the case. Christiansburg is a corporate office that has opportunities including (but not limited to!) data analytics, software engineering, IT, program managers, customer journey analysts, product owners, and product stability.”  

“Absolutely apply [to work here]!,” Mary Duncan said. “I really can’t speak highly enough about the culture.” 

The corporate offices at DISH Christiansburg offer a fantastic culture of collaboration and opportunities to work on the cutting edge of communication technology. If you’re looking to break into the Roanoke-Blacksburg innovation ecosystem, DISH Christiansburg is a great place to consider. Visit their website for information about DISH and their available opportunities at their corporate offices in Christiansburg.

Verge Hires Innovation Studio Director

Verge is pleased to announce the hiring of Jess Edwards as Director of Innovation Studio for the new biotechnology incubator in Roanoke. 

With robust experience in entrepreneurial ecosystem building, Edwards was previously the Principal of the Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem in Southern Virginia, where her work focused on implementing rural entrepreneurship and innovation primarily focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion with a hyper local lens. 

“We are excited to announce the launch of a new innovation studio and programming for early-stage biotech companies. With support from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Roanoke, we are positioning the region to be a hub for life science companies to grow and thrive here,” said Erin Burcham, President of Verge and Executive Director of RBTC.

In her role, Edwards will be responsible for helping to create and expand acceleration programming that incorporates wrap-around services for companies to help them grow in the region. She will serve as an “ecosystem navigator” to connect local entrepreneurs to highly customized resources and help facilitate introductions to national and global networks. She’s also the regional coordinator and point of contact for the Johnson & Johnson Quick Fire Challenge, the first virtual accelerator collaboration with JLABS. 

Prior to working in Virginia, Edwards held the position of director of outreach and engagement for the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, where her work focused on cultivating strategic partnerships, developing innovative programming and creating a statewide leadership summit to accelerate Alaska’s ocean (blue) economy development. Additionally, Edwards held positions to build and launch innovative coworking spaces for TRYP by Wyndham Dubai and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Inc. 

A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Edwards holds a bachelor’s degree in political science. She is a WNY BETA finalist for “Best Buffalo Community Tech Contribution of the Year,” a recipient of “Buffalo 30 Under 30” award, and a “10 Extraordinary Minds Award in Sales, Marketing & Revenue Optimization” HSMAI Middle East awardee. She has served as a panelist or guest speaker at events all over the world, including the Nigeria Social Media Summit, the Dubai Lynx – International Festival of Creativity and MaRS Toronto. 

Her work focuses on strategically implementing innovative concepts to advance entrepreneurial ecosystems. 

Learn more about the Roanoke biotechnology incubator project.

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. 

Help Us Build a Regional Internship Ecosystem (Survey)

A solid academic foundation is crucial, but new grads become professional powerhouses as they do hands-on work.  Internships are often the first professional experiences workers have. These relationships are designed to be mutually beneficial: students gain real-world experience while companies fill important gaps and gain fresh perspectives. 

One of the challenges both students and businesses face is making the right connections. Students can find it hard to know exactly what opportunities are available, while businesses remain in the dark about the tremendous talent available to them.

At RBTC, we’re in the business of making connections. Matching regional companies with top-notch talent is one of our missions, and we’re rolling out an initiative that will do just that.

Building a Regional Internship Ecosystem

RBTC is taking the guesswork out of internships by surveying all intern programs within our membership. The data we collect will allow us to match talent more effectively with need. To build our opportunity map, we’ve created a short survey for companies to report their existing internship programs and get the word out about their available opportunities.

The initiative is spearheaded by RBTC Technology Talent Strategist, Katie Conner: “The survey will allow member companies to gain more visibility for their existing internship programs through strengthened awareness by the top talent coming out of our region’s post-secondary institutions.”

Creating Valuable Connections

The survey pulls triple-duty. First, it will help remove the advertising burden from companies by serving as a prime resource for talent acquisition. Second, students will benefit from having a comprehensive inventory of available opportunities. Lastly, the regional ecosystem will grow now and into the future as we nurture and retain new local talent.

“There are so many opportunities in the region, and they are growing by the day,” Conner said. “The data from this survey is going to strengthen our innovation ecosystem by giving us a robust sense of firsthand experiences that support professional and personal growth and will allow us to capitalize on and retain talent through enhanced strategies.” 

Take the Survey Today

Get the word out about opportunities at your company and connect with bright new talent. The survey is brief — it takes only about 3 minutes to complete. Your contribution is an important part of building valuable connections in the Roanoke-Blacksburg technology community.