It was a woman who lured Jay Foster back home to Roanoke in the 1990s from Silicon Valley where he’d founded his own electronics design engineering company.
Foster would eventually marry that woman, but what has kept the FlexMetrics CEO rooted since then to Southwest Virginia?
The region’s quality of life.
Proximity to his alma mater Virginia Tech.
The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council.
Mentors willing to help.
“All definitely contributed to this being a great place to start and grow a company.”
Founded in 1997 while Foster was finishing his MBA at Virginia Tech, FlexMetrics today employs 12 inside the downtown Roanoke building that houses RAMP, the regional business accelerator for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Flex is “a FitBit for a manufacturing line,” Foster explains, that strives to improve a factory’s productivity. By collecting “shop floor to top floor” data — such as the ideal speed to run a line, key performance indicators of the work crew and maintenance team, time and materials wasted during product changes, etc. — Flex maximizes a factory’s performance and can yield data on whether a company should invest in additional personnel or capital improvements”.
“Last year we celebrated passing 1,000 production lines for our customers, who are mostly in the U.S. but also Canada, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Germany,” Foster said.
Born in Roanoke and raised in the New River Valley, Foster served as the fourth president of RBTC in the early 2000s: “That experience was one of the best experiences to that point in my life.”
As bullish as he remains about the Roanoke-Blacksburg community, Foster does suggest four interrelated ideas for improvement:
- Renewed work on attracting more talent — aka “the creative class” — to the region. “That continues to be a challenge; the lack of talent is a constraint.”
- Better air transportation with more direct connections from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.
- Deeper connections between Virginia Tech and Roanoke. “We need to continue to see more Hokie Stone in the Roanoke Valley. The medical school is very important, and it’s absolutely fascinating to think about that resource. I don’t know how many people really appreciate how important VTC will be to our region’s economic growth in the years ahead.
- “The region and our identity are evolving. We need to be more intentional about who we are as a single region — that critical mass that we need to establish between the Roanoke and New River valleys. Having that larger footprint just brings more opportunity.”
A self-described “intense” and “driven” CEO, Foster is excited about FlexMetrics’ future growth, especially as his current customers seek to incorporate Flex on more of their manufacturing lines.
“What is most rewarding to me is seeing our customers get value from their investment in Flex,” he says. “It’s not about that high growth but more about quality over quantity. We want to see the adoption of Flex by current customers with 100 percent penetration, because that’s a signal of Flex delivering value. That means a lot to me.”