Burcham Named to List of Top 37 ‘Wonder Women’ by Virginia Business

Verge President, Erin Burcham, was recently named one of Virginia Business’s top 37 “Wonder Women” of 2023. According to Virginia Business, the “third annual cohort of awardees was chosen by our editors from a competitive field, with more than 320 nominations submitted this year. To qualify, nominees must be based in Virginia and hold C-suite or equivalent positions at their organizations. Deciding this year’s list, Virginia Business’ editorial staff considered factors such as overall professional accomplishments, civic engagement, mentoring and breaking glass ceilings.”

Check out why Virginia Business chose Burcham as a 2023 Wonder Woman here, or read the full article to see the list of all 37 Wonder Women of 2023.

Tech Trailblazer: Justin Yalung, Inorganic Ventures

Meet Tech-Trailblazer and local golfer, Justin Yalung from Inorganic Ventures!

Originally from Virginia Beach, Justin Yalung landed in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area around 10 years ago. Justin is the COO of Inorganic Ventures (IV) – a manufacturing company specializing in almost any inorganic CRM for ICP, ICP-MS, IC, atomic absorption, wet chemistry, and QC applications, delivering ultimate standards across multiple industries. To put it simply, IV makes the calibration solutions used in various kinds of chemistry labs for multiple purposes. We asked Justin some questions to get to know him better.

What do you love most about your work? 

With my professional roots beginning in finance, I’ve had the fortune of working across many industries including energy, software, biotechnology, and now chemistry. Being a specialty chemical and materials manufacturer with Inorganic Ventures, I get to expand the privilege of helping just about every corner of the world that perform sample testing including environmental, pharma, food and consumer safety, mining, and industrials, and now the ever-growing cannabis industry. I love serving people, so it’s incredibly fulfilling to provide opportunities for our team at IV while also helping make the world safer. 

What surprised you the most about Inorganic Ventures (work culture, technology capabilities, etc.)? 

I believe IV is the employer of choice in the New River Valley. We are a privately held company founded 36 years ago with a passion for science, helping people, and caring about each other. Our leadership team has intentionally built a collaborative culture focusing on the value and significance of every individual, relationships across departments, and the important work we do for our customers. We do this through a relentless pursuit to be better in all phases, whether it be in our transparency and communication with each other, or by challenging our processes so that we can be more efficient and provide more time to think, collaborate, and innovate. I’m proud of our facility and beautiful grounds here in the Falling Branch Corporate Park, the investments we continue to make in our core software platforms, and production equipment automation in the pursuit of getting better. 

Who is your top tech-trendsetter and why? 

For me, it’s the electric vehicle (EV) makers. Ford just came out with a truck that has the battery capacity to power a house for three days! The biggest trend right now is sustainable  energy and what you do with it. Imagine the future of how energy will be stored and utilized.If you think about it, the elements in battery solutions – lead, zinc,  lithium (etc.) – and their reactions are basic chemistry.  
Our core business supporting analytical chemistry came from the birth of the EPA regulation and the invention of emission and mass spectroscopy lab instruments in the 1970s. Since then, as safety regulations have grown, we’ve been attuned to our growing customer base in helping develop high purity solutions customized to their changing and complex needs. And today, of course, the world is not getting any less complex. I’m excited about our position in the near future as I aspire to have IV be the trendsetter in our industry. We plan to build off our expertise in pure materials and focus on expansion to other commercial applications that help solve world problems. 

If you could develop a technology that solves a problem in society, what would it be and why? 

It’s clear to me that IV has a role in the important future of energy. I would love for our chemists to be part of the novel approaches to electrochemical energy storage when it comes to EVs, residential and industrial batteries, and power grids. To take all the possibilities of chemistry before us and connecting the dots to creating the most efficient, secure, and sustainable solution would be world changing. We could have a modernized grid with more reliable distribution, better reserve power management (both at home and across localities) and continue to scale up the future of EVs. 

Tell us something about yourself people may be surprised to learn. 

It might not be surprising, but I am extremely passionate about my alma mater and our region with respect to economic development and its natural beauty. Therefore, over the past decade I have sought to volunteer my time and perspective on boards including the RBTC, Onward NRV, and the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and supporting the important work of the New River Land Trust. 
Additionally, I like to play golf in my spare time. I was twelve years old when I first watched Tiger Woods make his pro debut in 1996, and I’ve been playing ever since. I also like to spend time with my wife and kids, and I’m glad to have planted roots here to experience all the things we love within our region.  

Tech Trailblazer: Emily Cohen, PowerSchool

Meet Tech Trailblazer and outdoor survivalist Emily Cohen from PowerSchool.

Chicago native Emily Cohen and her husband moved to the Greater Roanoke Area from New Hampshire about 13 years ago. Emily is the Director of Sales Success for PowerSchool – a company providing K-12 education technology solutions that aid schools and districts with instruction management, assessment, analytics, and reporting (to only name a few). We asked Emily some questions to get to know her better.

What do you love most about your work? 

I love that my work is challenging. My role aligns with my strengths and opportunities to grow and develop new skills.  The impact of what we do is so substantial – with the majority of K-12 school districts in North America using PowerSchool solutions.

What surprised you the most about PowerSchool (work culture, software capabilities, etc.)? 

I joined PowerSchool through an acquisition. I would not have sought out such a large business or work at a center of excellence before PowerSchool. There is a rally cry that we build our objectives around, and this year it’s “Together We Grow.” It’s a wonderful representation of how we work. 

Who is your top tech trendsetter and why? 

Bobbi Kurshan! She is my aunt through marriage and was a long-time Roanoke resident. Bobbi’s a Virginia Tech graduate and former faculty member. She’s been working to build innovative ed tech products and investing in ed tech start-ups since the early ‘90s. Recently, she has been doing advising at the University of Pennsylvania and has a book coming out this winter titled InnovateHERS – Why Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurial Women Rise to the Top.  

Bobbi has been an inspiration and mentor to me over the last 15 years, and my greatest influencer over making the transition to start working in ed tech nearly a decade ago in 2012. 

If you could develop software or technology that solves a problem in society, what would it be and why? 

That’s an impossible question to answer, as technology can be the answer to so many things! As a former teacher, I learned that the software tools that PowerSchool has developed are game changing. By simplifying the process and providing meaningful data through integrations, teachers are able to spend more time and energy focusing on the task at hand, which is educating the next generation. 

Tell us something about yourself people may be surprised to learn. 

I developed many of my leadership and public speaking skills as an outdoor education instructor and trainer in college. I taught classes for college credits in rock climbing, backpacking, kayak rolling, outdoor survival, and more. I also led backcountry canoeing and hiking trips during breaks and on weekends. Our motto was “Learn to Teach. Teach to Learn.” This probably also helps explain how I developed such an “informal” approach to my leadership. 

Tech Trailblazer: Amanda Smith, Qualtrax

Franklin County native and current Roanoke resident, Amanda Smith, has worked in the tech industry for over five years. She’s currently a Product Owner for Qualtrax – a compliance management software company that helps industries prep for audits through custom workflows. Her role centers around communicating between clients and her team of engineers to make various software customizations possible. We asked Amanda some questions to get to know her better:

What do you love most about your work?

There’s a lot I love about working in Product Management, but the problem-solving aspect is what excites me the most. There are layers of critical thinking that go into every product decision. Data and feedback from many different outlets must be combed through before I start to weigh opportunities against each other, and the goals with those opportunities can be vastly different.

First, I figure out how to compare risk mitigation needs against revenue-generating opportunities. I take into consideration how much will have to be invested into accomplishing each individual need. It starts with finding puzzle pieces scattered all over the house. This involves a lot of engagement with internal and external stakeholders, which is another fulfilling part of my role.

As an extrovert with a background in customer service, engaging with people to find solutions to their problems keeps me super energized. Every day is a new challenge and another opportunity to improve the experience for those invested in my organization and product.

What surprised you the most about Qualtrax (work culture, software capabilities, etc.)?

When I started at Qualtrax, I was very impressed with how much emphasis was put on understanding why our work is so important. Everyone has so much passion for providing a tool that helps organizations do good in the world. This attitude hasn’t changed in the 3+ years I’ve been at Qualtrax! When Sales bring in new deals, they take the time to educate the whole company on who the customer is, the impact they have on society, and how Qualtrax is going to help them grow that impact.

In our quarterly kickoffs, there’s always a customer spotlight segment. Along with those more in-depth customer profiles, we all share stories that further highlight the contributions of our customers through our company Slack channel. One customer we worked with had several parts they developed built into the Perseverance Rover that was sent to Mars! It’s been really inspiring to see how the organizations we serve have positively impacted progress during the global pandemic.

I also learned over time that Qualtrax makes a point to be more than a vendor for our customers. I think most software companies make it a priority to give back, but Qualtrax goes above and beyond with small acts of kindness. Things like sending retirement gifts to customers and personally checking in with companies that may have been impacted by natural disasters or other hardships.

Who is your top tech-trendsetter(s) and why?

I recently learned about Dr. Fei-Fei Li, who co-founded AI4ALL. The vision of the non-profit is to increase diversity and inclusion in all aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI). There are programs for high school and college students, as well as resources for teachers to help educate on AI and the need for diversity considerations.

I’m passionate about the benefits of having more diverse perspectives reflected in all tech teams, so I found her work and the mission of AI4ALL very inspiring. Dr. Li has stated her goal to be to democratize AI “in a way that everybody benefits. Not just a few, or a selected group”.

I think the importance of inclusion and accessibility is greater than some of the advances we’re making in new technologies, like AI.

Tell us something about yourself people may be surprised to learn.

I had no intention of working in software or the tech industry! I went to school for Health Sciences, with the goal of going into Physical Therapy.

When I took a break after undergrad, I got a job doing customer support for Interactive Achievement – an education software company in Roanoke. I fell in love with the culture of the tech industry. It was very much a “work hard, play hard” environment. Everything was fast-paced and challenging in a really good way, and there were always fun things happening. I am so grateful to have stumbled into a career that I enjoy so much! During Amanda’s free time, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and touring Roanoke’s local breweries to try the latest IPA’s. Amanda is also an active member of WoTech: a networking group that celebrates women and diversity in our region’s growing tech community.