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RAMP Wrap Party – January 4

You are invited to join us as we celebrate the conclusion of our first cohort with a RAMP Wrap Party! Drop by to congratulate the cohort and stick around to network with the companies. Help us wrap up our time with the first RAMP cohort in the New Year!

Date: Thursday, January 4, 2018

Time: 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Location: Gill Memorial Building | 709 S. Jefferson St in Downtown Roanoke

Additional Info: Free street parking is available after 5pm on Jefferson Street, Day Avenue, Bullitt Avenue, and First Street. Paid parking is also available in any of the various lots on Jefferson.

Please RSVP by Tuesday, January 2

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Ask the Cohort: Volatia

Volatia is a full-service language service company, providing on-site, over the telephone, and remote video interpretation and translation services in more than 280 languages. Volatia is led by Baraka Kasongo, recently recognized with the Regional Entrepreneur award at RBTC’s TechNite.


What motivated and inspired you to start your company? 

Baraka Kasongo: When my family moved to the United States, we experienced first-hand the language and cultural disparities that exist everywhere in health care, government, education, etc. Language and cultural disparities also exist in smaller situations like, parent-teacher conferences where the parents do not understand the messages being relayed, or when a student does not fully understand what is expected of them in the classroom. I remember taking classes where I did not understand anything but was later expected to take a test on the information. A few years after I learned how to communicate in English I noticed other people experiencing the same challenges and I decided that something needed to be done about it. I never actually planned to start a company and take on the challenge myself. Instead, I saw myself more as a coordinator of resources trying to put together a team that I could pass on to someone else. The challenge is that nobody wanted that kind of responsibility. What started as a volunteer effort, to try to put together local interpreters and translators that could help with the various language disparities, turned into a business model that is really thriving and growing at one of the fastest rates in the country.

What does success look like to you?

Baraka Kasongo: I succeed everyday, because success is not some futuristic goal I have. Success for me is doing the absolute best that I can each and everyday and taking care of people I work with. Success also includes, making sure that I do not neglect the things that are most important to me, which are my spirituality and family. As long as I have meaningful work and contribute to the happiness of the people I work with, I consider myself to have succeeded.

Tell me a little about your team.

Baraka Kasongo: I get excited when I talk about my team because I genuinely love them. They are all great people and each helps Volatia to run and operate smoothly. We have a large team since each of the 280 languages is technically its own division. We have thousands of interpreters across the country and that is how we are able to place people anywhere that they are needed.

What is the biggest challenge your company has had to face so far? How did you overcome it?

Baraka Kasongo: The biggest challenge is hiring the right people and putting them in the right position. As a small business owner, I am used to wearing many hats, which can be dangerous when I expect others to have the desire and ability to do the same. I have found that when an employee is not in a position where they can achieve their maximum performance it really affects every aspect of an organization. The old adage that every link in a chain needs to be strong and tight is very true in the small business world. I try to understand what people actually want out of work. As for overcoming this challenge, I have performance benchmarks so both the individual being hired and the individuals on the team have the opportunity to assess themselves and openly share with me if they think they’re in the right place. By doing so, I hope to create a culture that encourages people to be okay with failure and to be opening to requesting department transfer without fear of being terminated or let go.

Has your company done something exciting recently?

Baraka Kasongo: Absolutely, we do something exciting almost every day. Some of the innovations and new technologies that we have pioneered are truly second to none. We are excited to see where our company is going in the future. 

What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?

Baraka Kasongo: I would start by asking them to truly define what success, happiness, and fulfillment looks like to them. I would also advise them to spend time with people that have similar definitions in order to ensure it is what they want to do. Running and leading a small business is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it comes with sacrifices. I think one of the reasons businesses fail is because people do not take the time to understand what they are getting themselves into, and they fail to calculate the cost of running a business from familial, spiritual, and personal perspectives. I would ask them to reanalyze what they are truly pursuing and if they are still happy with it, and then I would encourage them to put their full heart into it and it watch it succeed despite the challenges.

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Ask the Cohort: Flex Metrics

Flex Metrics by SoftSolutions is led by Jay Foster. The company has been providing real-time production visibility technology for print, packaging, and manufacturing industries for almost 20 years.


What are you working on now/next?

Jay Foster: We are focused upon multi-site, enterprise reporting. This is one of the first significant benefits of the RAMP program in terms of prioritizing our product roadmap. We have realized that our most significant value is provided to large manufacturing firms, many of which have multiple sites. We are now pursuing a Cloud-based Enterprise reporting module to provide real-time visibility across different plant locations.

What is the biggest challenge your company has had to face so far? How did you overcome it?

Jay Foster: Always the biggest challenge is related to people. Having the right people at the right time is always and obstacle. One way to overcome that is by networking, and knowing people in the community has been a huge help as well. The Roanoke community’s ability to find good people has been foundational.

What does success look like to you?

Jay Foster: That’s a good question. Happy customers are by far the number one measure of success for the company. If our customers are happy then I am happy. Number two is win-win relationships. This happens when our customers are gaining more financially from working with us and it is profitable for us to work with our customers as well.

What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?

Jay Foster: Be careful and proceed with caution. Make sure to understand what your customers need and make sure they are willing and able to pay for it.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about applying to RAMP?

Jay Foster: I think it is a great idea. If you are really ready to grow your business then it will make a big difference. It is important that business owners understand that it is not an incubator, but rather an accelerator.

So you’re working with a mentor, tell me about that experience.

Jay Foster: It has been very good. It is always beneficial to get advice from someone who has been there. We have a very good mentor that gives excellent insights. He sees things we do not see because we are too close to it.

What feedback do you have about the classes RAMP offers?

Jay Foster: I think it provides a good common framework to communicate these core concepts of a business model and formula for scaling up.

Do you have any additional thoughts that you would like to share?

Jay Foster: I am glad that Roanoke is doing this and I am really glad that Virginia Western stepped up to make it happen, specifically Dr. Sandel.

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Ask the Cohort: DESA

DESA is a health care analytics and Telehealth company led by Jonathan Briganti, Dr. Anne Brown, Brian Elliott and David Trinkle, MD. They are developing a way for assessments, that are normally done inside a doctor’s office, to be done remotely on a digital medium in order to add data and communication for doctors and physicians to better support the diagnosis of health issues such as dementia, depression, anxiety, etc.


What is the biggest challenge your company has had to face so far? How did you overcome it?

Jonathan Briganti: Our biggest challenge would be that we are not business-centered people. We all came from the science world where we know how to get grants for academic trials that run for several years on end but do not move very fast. When we transitioned to the business world we had to figure out how to adjust to the fast pace style. We had to learn about Patent Protection, forming LLC’s, getting office space, and forming connections. It is an entirely different side of life that we never really considered entering until we had this idea. Once we entered the business world, we had to move very quickly and the RAMP program has been very helpful with moving us in the right direction.

What are you hoping to get out of RAMP?

Dr. Anne Brown: We are hoping to get a more robust business plan and conceptual model for actually selling our product to multiple venues like, larger hospital systems, nursing home systems, school systems, etc. In order to do that we are hoping to get more guidance in what kind of models we need to set up for each of those.

Jonathan Briganti: I think connections are a very big thing as well. We have been very fortunate to have Victor Ianello as a mentor and to have been introduced to some very influential people in the area. It is great having those people that can open doors and help us get our name out there further than we thought was possible.

What do you like about the Roanoke area? Why do you want to be here and grow your company here?

Dr. Anne Brown: I grew up in Roanoke, went to Roanoke College for my undergrad, and attended Virginia Tech for graduate school. I think the area has a lot of potential for growth and many aspects that make the quality of life high. I think it is a great place for us, especially with the ability to tap into undergraduates at Virginia Tech as we grow and need more individuals in the engineering STEM fields. I think there is a great talent pool at Virginia Tech. From what I understand, students also enjoy the area due to the accessibility of nature in a metropolitan setting that still provides an affordability of living.  There is also a lot of movement and growth in the health care field through the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership.

Jonathan Briganti: I have really seen a big push from business owners, especially the ones involved in RAMP, for start ups to grow and succeed. We have had nothing but positive connections in Roanoke. Everyone wants to help us and see us succeed. Everyone we have connected with in Roanoke has been very thoughtful and helpful.

What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?

Jonathan Briganti: If you have an idea, go for it. When this idea began, I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech and never thought I would have my own office a year later. We never thought the idea we had for a hackathon last April would last more than that weekend. We all joke that this has been the longest weekend of our lives. If you see a need in the world there is no reason you cannot be the one to solve that issue. Never decide not to pursue a particular field because you think you do not know enough about it, because you can learn.

Has your company done something exciting recently?  

Dr. Anne Brown: We are still exploring all the many channels and usability of this kind of app platform. Pretty much on almost a daily or weekly basis we learn about a different area that is interested or think they could use this kind of product in a certain way. Finding those things out though various market surveys is very interesting and exciting.

Jonathan Briganti: We just finished a beta version of the app so we are able to get focus testers out. The app is not connected with medical records at all, but for the first time we are having people use our app. It is exciting to have it in the hands of individuals out there and get their feedback.

So you’re working with a mentor, tell me about that experience.

Dr. Anne Brown: It is a wonderful experience. We need mentorship and we are fully open to that kind of guidance. I think it would be silly for us to not take the advice of someone who has been there before and has learned from experience, especially when it can help us get over different bumps along the road.

Jonathan Briganti: Coming into this we knew that there are a million things we should do in order for our business to succeed. It has been helpful to talk to someone who is so connected in the community and have them tell us that there are a million things that we can do, but these three things are the most important things to do right now. It has really allowed us to focus down and make a stronger business.

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Ask the Cohort: Autonomous Flight Technologies, Inc.

Autonomous Flight Technologies, Inc. (AFT) focuses on the advancement of small commercial aircraft related to the UAV/UAS industry. AFT, led by Josh May, is licensed to use drones for commercial purposes.


What motivated and inspired you to start your company?

Josh May: My father and I had a retail business that we started from scratch, but during those years I always had a fascination for flight. I loved to experiment and design aircraft that fly autonomously. Paul Stoutamire, a long time friend, was already doing some flying. He introduced me to Chris Moody as well. Together, we decided that we should join forces. We got an exemption from the FAA that allowed us to fly legally for commercial purposes. We were one of the first companies in Virginia to do so. It has just taken off since. One of the things we pride ourselves on, as a business, is that we are always on the top of the curve of the technology in the UAS industry. We see that the biggest impact we can have on the United States is in the engineering market so that is where we focus, as a data company for engineers.

What is the biggest challenge your company has had to face so far? How did you overcome it?

Josh May: As with any business, the number one challenge is always the actual logistics of starting the business because it cost money to do so. I’ve personally spent a lot of money that I was saving for retirement, to start this business, and it’s a huge risk. When you are starting a business you are taking that money and throwing it on a craps table and gambling whether or not it is going to pay off. Fortunately, before this I had a business of building aircraft that kind of morphed into Autonomous Flight Technologies. In my previous business I tested my hypothesis, that there was a need for UAV and drones in this country. I knew it was going to be the next tech bubble and it is here now. The hardest part of the business so far was fighting our way to being recognized as the leading drone service provider in Virginia and sustaining it financially. We want to scale as smart as possible and not make the common mistakes that can kill a company. One of the great things about being here working with RAMP is having access to mentorship and connections. Our mentor has scaled many multi-million dollar businesses and having that influence is worth its weight in gold.

What do you like about the Roanoke area? Why do you want to be here and grow your company here?

Josh May: I love Roanoke, especially Roanoke City. I grew up in Salem and it is a great place too. My wife and I ended up buying a house in Roanoke and lived there for about 14 years before moving back to Salem. We love Roanoke and it has come a long way, both in the technology field as well as socially, since we first moved there. Now there is a festival every weekend and something is always going on. Personally, my wife and I miss a lot about Roanoke. We definitely call Roanoke home for our business. Autonomous Flight Technologies is here to stay.

What advice would you give to those interested in starting a business?

Josh May: At first, be prepared to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You have to dive in 100% and you can’t just do it as a hobby. If you are coming to RAMP be prepared to work, because they are going to put your business model to the test. Fortunately for us we have been in business for a few years and we have tested our business model. Paul, Chris, and I explored just about every single way that you can use a UAS aircraft legally in this country. We have narrowed down our business model to where we know that it makes sense for the direction that UAS is going in the United States right now. As the market changes, we stay on top of it. We started in cinematography and it led us to the engineering side and who knows where that will lead us next. It’s just a matter of sticking with it.

Has your company done something exciting recently?

Josh May: Yes, every time we do a new job it is exciting. One of the greatest things about what we do is we find ourselves in situations or places that we would never have had access to. I’m excited every time I come to work. I know this is a cliché and everyone’s heard it a thousand times, but when you’re doing what you love you never work a day in your life. That is just a fact and I love doing what we are doing. I love coming to work, the business side of things, seeing it prosper, and doing the work itself. I would say that no matter how large we get and how high we climb you are going to find all of us founders still involved in some capacity in some of these jobs.

 

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RAMP Business Accelerator Anchor Tenant Opportunity Available

The RAMP business accelerator is offering an exclusive ground-?oor opportunity to any established, stable company looking for space within a vibrant, entrepreneurial atmosphere.
More than just of?ce space, the Gill Memorial Building will be the home of RAMP: The Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Accelerator, which will offer mentoring opportunities, connections to investor funding, networking and education. The goal of RAMP is to accelerate the success of high potential companies, and keep them in the Roanoke-Blacksburg Region.

Benefits and features:

  • 1904 Usable and 2377 Rentable Square Feet.
  • Outstanding and visible downtown location.
  • First ?oor convenience.
  • First ?oor of?ces can be secured from common areas.
  • Monthly and hourly parking is available in the lot at Jefferson and Elm and other nearby lots.
  • Open ?oor plan – can be adapted to tenant’s needs.
  • Networking Opportunities with Successful Technology Entrepreneurs.
  • Education, Networking and Funding contacts.
  • Access to high-speed low latency Broadband network (up to 100 Gbps available).
  • Be a part of the region’s growing Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.
  • Access to programming of RBTC (Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council) and VWCC’s Workforce Solutions Division.

Interested in learning more? Download the flyer here and see property details and pricing: here.

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RAMP Business Accelerator Launches Crowdfunding Drive to Support Region’s Startups

The RAMP business accelerator has launched a crowdfunding drive to support its goal of growing high-potential startups in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. The campaign, launched Oct. 28 through the Tilt platform, aims to raise $25,000 to help outfit team rooms occupied by the startups accepted in the RAMP program.

This is the first fundraising drive by RAMP, which will be located in the renovated Gill Memorial Building at 709 S. Jefferson St. in downtown Roanoke. Renovations are currently under way, with the building expected to open in early 2017. The first class of RAMP startup companies is expected to start in mid-2017.

RAMP, which stands for Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program, is led by a volunteer advisory board whose members are drawn from the founding partners:

  • The City of Roanoke, which won a $600,000 state grant approved by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to renovate the Gill building as an accelerator;
  • Virginia Western Community College, which will provide business education classes and faculty support;
  • The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, which will hire RAMP’s executive director and develop the accelerator’s mentorship and networking initiatives.

RAMP’s programming will be based on best practices garnered from existing successful business accelerators. It will initially focus on accelerating three to five technology- or life science-focused companies in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare each per year. Entrepreneurs accepted into RAMP will work closely with multiple mentors during an intensive three- to four-month “boot camp for founders” designed to focus on building, testing, improving, validating product-market fit, and launching their product for the market.

To donate to the RAMP Tilt campaign, go to: RAMPTilt.com

To learn more about RAMP, go to: RAMPrb.tech

Download the press release.

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Roanoke Times: Local Entrepreneurs Ready to Bet on Startup Funding

Jon Hagmaier launched a Roanoke tech company, watched it grow for 10 years and then sell for more than he ever imagined — and now he is getting ready to reinvest part of his windfall in the next generation of entrepreneurs.

He says he doesn’t want to do it alone. And there are clear signs he won’t be.

He’s part of a growing movement among the region’s business elites who are taking big bets on small companies, and in the process reigniting the region’s stagnant startup financing market.

Hagmaier is launching his investment firm, called Common Wealth Growth Group, at the same time as at least four other local projects are getting off the ground.

A group recently packed a conference room at Roanoke’s Center in the Square on a July afternoon for an invite-only meeting to organize their next steps. The group of about 25 active investors and startup founders shared their thoughts and laid out a regional vision. They talked about the fact that the area hasn’t been able to provide enough access to capital, according to several investors who participated.

These investment groups are considered the lifeblood of startup ecosystems, as almost every company needs some sort of financial backing. Startups, especially in the tech industry, can take years to generate revenue. If a startup can’t find funding in its hometown during those critical first steps, it will often leave — or die…

Read the full article at the Roanoke Times website

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Virginia Tech Eyeing Pharmaceutical Giants for Roanoke ‘Innovation District’

The Roanoke Times recently featured comments by Michael Friedlander, PhD, from our latest Tech and Toast:

“Virginia Tech is talking to large pharmaceutical firms about cooperating with the university on research projects and opening offices inside Roanoke’s new health care innovation district.

Michael Friedlander, founder of Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and a driving force behind the city’s growing health care industry, said that sort of partnership is only a concept, but affirmed that conversations are underway.

City Manager Chris Morrill said Roanoke currently doesn’t have a major pharmaceutical company. Landing one would be the kind of payoff that city and university officials promised when they unveiled grand plans for a new health care hub in March.

“That would be huge,” Morrill said. “It moves us closer to being that health science center on the east coast that we want to be.”

Speaking to a crowd of entrepreneurs at a Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council event on Thursday at The Inn at Virginia Tech, Friedlander said the university is in the middle of “at least three very active explorations” with the goals of partnering with pharmaceutical groups and convincing them to come to Roanoke.

Friedlander demurred when pressed after the event for details on these potential candidates, simply reassuring that “they’re big.”

“We’re having those kinds of conversations,” he said. “We’ll see where they go.”

While far from concrete, Roanoke’s pharmaceutical ambitions underscore the lofty goals attached to the so-called health sciences and technology innovation district.

But Friedlander’s vision for the hub, about a mile long and generally following South Jefferson Street between the Roanoke Public Library and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, is a lot bigger than one pharmaceutical company.

He said the goal is to have more startups spin out of Tech’s research labs. He wants more investors taking bets on local entrepreneurs, and more established companies opening offices in Tech’s backyard.

Friedlander said he’s not just pursuing drug researchers, but also medical device inventors, coders working on software and anyone else in health sciences and technology .

His hope, he said, is that companies will see the “intellectual value” of dropping their own researchers in the middle of a dense ecosystem, surrounded by others in the field.”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: ROANOKE.com

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RAMP: An Exciting Step Forward For Our Region’s Technology-focused Entrepreneurs

(The following remarks were given by Jonathan Whitt, President and CEO of the RBTC on Wednesday, June 29 at the ceremony to kick off renovations to the Gill Memorial Building where RAMP will be housed.)

Today is an exciting step forward for our region’s technology-focused entrepreneurs. Propelling high-potential companies to expand and create jobs in our community is the goal of RAMP, a new technology business accelerator program that is set to launch here in early 2017.

Entrepreneurs who seek to scale up their companies will apply to participate in RAMP, which stands for ‘Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program’.

RAMP stands apart to assist our region’s high potential startup companies because it is an intentional and highly focused program. Too many times, we have seen startups leave our region because they lacked what this accelerator program will offer – structured mentorships between entrepreneurs and experienced individuals in their field, access to funding that will get them beyond early stage, and business education specifically targeted to scaling technology-based start-ups.

The program’s model is based on best practices garnered from existing successful business accelerators, and will initially focus on accelerating three to five technology- focused companies per year.

Companies accepted into RAMP will work closely with multiple mentors during an intensive three- to four-month “boot camp for founders” designed to focus on building, testing, improving, validating product-market fit, and launching their product for the market. Experience is always the best teacher, and RAMP’s mentors will provide invaluable insights based on their experiences.

RAMP will operate from the top floor of this building. Virginia Western Community College will offer business education courses on the second floor where the RBTC will also maintain its Roanoke office. The first floor is now available for lease to an anchor tenant that we hope will complement the efforts of this exciting project.

As with any project like this one, there are too many people to thank but I would like to mention a few. Chris Morrill and Dr. Bobby Sandel – I would like to thank you for your personal entrepreneurial leadership – this would never have gotten off the ground without you.

I would also like to thank Greg Feldmann with Skyline Capital Strategies LLC, chair of the RAMP Advisory Board for his leadership and the members of the RAMP board:

  • Robert McAden – Rackspace and Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council Board Chairman
  • Kevin Bloomfield – Bloomfield Partners and Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network Co-Chairman
  • Wayne Bowers – Roanoke Department of Economic Development
  • Sam English – Attention Point
  • Ken Ferris – Brookewood Management Advisors and Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council Advisory Board Member
  • Jay Foster – SoftSolutions
  • Hal Irvin – Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute
  • Marc Nelson – Roanoke Department of Economic Development
  • Bart Smith – Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center
  • Samantha Steidle – Virginia Western Community College
  • and Carole Tarrant – Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation

And, on behalf of the RAMP team, I would like to thank Balzer Architects and Lionberger Construction for your part in the renovation of this building and for your help with today’s event.

In addition to the renovation of this building, there is still much work to do in weeks and months ahead to get ready for the launch of RAMP. We welcome support from our community to assist in the development of programs and services to be offered here. I invite anyone that has an interest in this project to contact me (or any of our advisory board members), we’d be happy to speak with you.

Lastly, I would like to thank each of you for coming out today as we commemorate this special occasion. Our community is a special place, we have an amazing future ahead of us, and this project is but one example. Thank you again for coming out today and we’ll celebrate the opening of RAMP in January.

For more info visit: http://www.ramprb.tech/

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