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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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IdeaFest: Danville Business Pitch Competition – March 31

IdeaFest is a fun, fast-paced Business Pitch Competition with $10,000 in prize money.

Twenty entrepreneurs will take the stage to pitch an original business idea to a panel of business experts and an audience of other entrepreneurs, small business owners, potential investors, students, and business and community leaders. You have 2 minutes to pitch your idea followed by 3 minutes of Q&A with a panel of expert judges.

Prizes
The top three competitors, as selected by the judges, will be awarded $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place, and $1,500 for third place. The live audience will vote to select the winner of the $500 Audience Choice Award. All competitors will gain access to free business consulting and prototype development through The Launch Place.

Judges
The competition is judged by a panel of business development and startup experts representing startup communities throughout Virginia and North Carolina.

Competition Guidelines:
Entry and Registration
Space is limited to 20 pitches, which will be selected from the pool of registrants by the IdeaFest Organizing Committee. Late applications will not be considered. Applicants will be notified two weeks prior to the competition if you are selected to pitch.

Anyone who has an entrepreneurial idea for a startup company who would like to pitch to a panel of judges for the purposes of receiving feedback, potential prize money, and/or possible seed funding may register.

  • Submissions may be entered as individuals or teams.
  • The maximum number of team members for a single pitch is limited to 5 persons.
  • Each individual or team pitching may enter one idea or concept.
  • Pitch competitors may participate on multiple teams.
  • Only the pitching individual or the pitching members of a team may pitch to the panel of judges or answer questions from the judges and/or audience.
  • You will be notified ahead of time if you are or not selected to pitch.

If you are not selected to pitch, you are still encouraged to attend IdeaFest. You’ll still have the opportunity to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and learn about the business development resources available in the Danville region.

Eligibility
Ideas and concepts pitched must be in the initial stages of development. Individuals or teams must disclose any funding already received at the time of registration. There is an allowance for an idea or concept to be already funded before this competition by personal or family funds, small amounts of seed capital from outside investors, or modest amounts of funding stemming from institutional or research grants. In no case may an idea of concept be funded from any source more than $25,000.

The pitched idea or concept must be the original work of the individual or team pitching it.

Ideas and concepts deemed by the IdeaFest Organizing Committee to be fake, insincere, offensive, immoral, or unethical may be screened and disqualified.

The IdeaFest Organizing Committee has the sole discretion to disqualify and/or remove any individual or teams for any reason that it deems appropriate before and/or during the pitch competition for violation of these rules. All decisions regarding an individual’s or team’s removal and/or disqualification from the pitch competition are final.

Read More >>>

 

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Union Innovation Challenge – April 6

The Union Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for students and faculty from all colleges and departments to develop an innovative idea for a sports & fitness product, service and/or technology.

The Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in partnership with Union Bank & Trust, invites submissions to the 2017 Union Innovation Challenge on April 6th in Lane Stadium. Union created this competition to inspire enterprising minds to submit innovative proposals for a chance to win cash funding, as well as significant start-up services from Union. The deadline to submit is March 3, 2017.

Potential proposals may span the spectrum of fitness and sports industries, including:

  •      Equipment
  •      Fan Engagement
  •      Stadium Experience
  •      Security/Safety
  •      Services
  •      Training
  •      Food & Nutrition
  •      Wearables
  •      Wellness Applications & Technologies

The top five proposals will pitch their proposals before a panel of esteemed judges in Lane Stadium. The winning teams will be named during an evening ceremony featuring university faculty and alumni, Union and community leadership. The event will celebrate student innovation and the growing culture of entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech.

 

READ MORE >>>

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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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Virginia Velocity Tour: Discovering Virginia’s Top Startups

In the past two decades, accelerated innovation, demographic shifts, and globalization have transformed our nation’s economy and redefined opportunity in the American workplace. Virginia has the opportunity to stay in front of these trends by supporting entrepreneurs that will drive innovation and produce jobs in energy, health, agriculture, and other sectors that will thrive in the 21st century.

This September, the Virginia Velocity Tour will travel the Commonwealth to shine a spotlight on the entrepreneurs building Virginia’s 21st century economy. It’s a jam-packed week of tours, talks, and pitch competitions with over $100,000 in prizes. Help recruit, celebrate, and support Virginia’s top startups!

The tour is planned in partnership with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe; the Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade; Virginia Velocity; Village Capital; and local partners across the Commonwealth.

Start-ups:  Application deadline is August 18!

Applications are now open to early-stage entrepreneurs from across the Commonwealth (see minimum eligibility requirements below). A total of 30-40 selected finalists will be selected to participate in one day of the Virginia Velocity Tour – not necessarily in the region where they are based.

From September 19-23, the Virginia Velocity Tour bus will travel to five regions across the Commonwealth and celebrate an industry that the region is proud of:

  • 9/19: Roanoke/Blacksburg – STEM/Energy
  • 9/20: Richmond – Products/E-Commerce
  • 9/21: Hampton Roads – Biotechnology/Health
  • 9/22: Northern Virginia – Cybersecurity/GovTech
  • 9/23: Charlottesville – Agriculture/Food

At each stop, we will invite 5-8 finalists from across the Commonwealth to participate in the day’s events, based on the industry they work in. Over the course of each day, the finalists will engage with local businesses; network with the region’s civic and business leaders; and participate in a public pitch competition, where one finalist will win a $25,000 equity-free grant prize.

Note that your startup does not need to be based in a particular region to participate in that region’s events.

Learn More at: VirginiaVelocityTour.org

 

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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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