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:


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

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:


Media coverage:

RAMP Business Accelerator to Foster Growth of Region’s High-potential Startups (Press Release)

Propelling high-potential startups to expand and create jobs is the goal of RAMP, a new technology business accelerator program set to launch in early 2017 in downtown Roanoke.

Entrepreneurs who seek to scale up their companies will apply to participate in RAMP, which stands for “Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program”. The program will be housed in the historic Gill Memorial Hospital building at 709 S. Jefferson St., along the recently announced downtown Health Sciences and Technology Innovation District.
Support for RAMP comes from a broad public/private partnership that draws on leaders in higher education, government, and the region’s growing technology community. RAMP founding partners include:

  • 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, whose members lead the RAMP Advisory Board and will develop the accelerator’s mentorship and networking initiatives;

“The breadth of this partnership demonstrates that many people recognize the need for a business accelerator in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western Community College and a Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network (RBIN) director. “We believe we can grow and keep our talent, whether it’s in information technology, advanced manufacturing, biosciences or other entrepreneurial efforts.”

While the region has seen business incubators and similar efforts to foster startups, RAMP stands apart because it is “an intentional and highly focused program,” said Jonathan Whitt, President and CEO of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC). “Too many times, we have seen startups leave our region because they lacked what the 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 launching technology-based start-ups.”

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

“RAMP represents the next logical step in the enhancement of the Roanoke-Blacksburg entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Marc Nelson, special projects coordinator for Roanoke’s Department of Economic Development and a RAMP Advisory Board member said. “The City and the EDA recognize the benefits of assisting the region’s established educators and entrepreneurs in their efforts to help emerging companies realize their goals and further grow that ecosystem.”

RAMP expects to play a different but complementary role in that entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, the CoLab, with more than 140 members, functions as an inclusive co-working space in Roanoke appropriate for entry-level entrepreneurs. RAMP, by contrast, will select companies through a competitive application process open to the region’s technology entrepreneurs, serving up to five high-growth enterprises that have demonstrated they have developed a minimum viable product to serve a large market opportunity…


Ceremony to kick off renovations to the Gill Memorial Building took place Wednesday, June 29.
For more information visit:

RBTC Announces TechNite 2016: People’s Choice Award Finalists

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Each year The People’s Choice Award gives the TechNite audience the opportunity to learn more about up and coming companies in the Roanoke – Blacksburg region and vote for their favorite. The highest votes receives the People’s Choice Award.

If you are attending TechNite 2016 you will have the ability to vote live at the event – all three companies will be present with exhibits and can meet with them during the networking reception.

Congratulations to this year’s People Choice Award Nominees: Follow My Vote, GoJourni, We Evolve Us. Learn more about each company below:

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Company Name: Follow My Vote
At Follow My Vote, we are a team of innovators with the mission of using blockchain technology to revolutionize today’s obsolete and vulnerable voting systems.

Follow My Vote began originally as a polling system designed to ensure that elected representatives were truly voting in the interests of their constituents. However, Follow My Vote soon entered into a joint venture with BitShares; effectively shifting its focus to the development of a verifiable online voting platform secured with the BitShares blockchain technology. In order to ensure the success of the venture, Follow My Vote moved from their previous location with NuSpark into a shared space in Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center.

Since then, Follow My Vote has focused on product and business development and has forged ties with election officials and voting organizations around the globe. In late 2014, Follow My Vote joined the California Association of Voting Officials (CAVO), an organization which has been a critical proponent of the open-source voting movement for over a decade. Follow My Vote also completed a proof of concept, which has been successfully demonstrated at several events.

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Company Name: GoJourni
GoJourni exists to show people it is possible to alter one’s reality. We bring people together who are geographically separated, reconfigure mental models, and allow you to pick your own adventure through traversing 360° video in virtual reality. We believe you are the creator of your own universe and wish to engender a sense of wonder, amazement, and excitement towards life.

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Company Name: We Evolve Us
We are a team of developers, designers, engineers, and content creators. is what we spend our time building. The platform itself is made up of 3 main components:

  • A cloud platform for project management and organization. There are similar tools in the corporate world that have been around for a long time, but for some reason no one has offered these services to the general public.
  • A social sharing site for raising awareness about great ideas being built. We break everything down into locations you can quickly jump between to see what’s happening in your local city or across the entire globe.
  • A crowd-sourcing site for finding the things you need to implement your ideas. We want to help encourage the sharing economy that’s emerging and help take it to the next level. Crowd-souring not just funding for your ideas, but also the people with specific knowledge, skills, or tools you need.


CEO Insights: Company Exits – Sowing Seeds for Future Growth

CEO Insights is a new series on the RBTC blog that features technology and business perspectives from the RBTC President and CEO, Jonathan Whitt.

When we think of saying goodbye, we usually don’t want to say that to the locally-owned companies that leave our community. A recent Roanoke Times editorial mentions Heyo and Interactive Achievement as two such examples. However, the recent “exits” of these high-tech start-ups demonstrates the workings of a healthy, growth-oriented entrepreneurial ecosystem in our community. They are not our first either, in fact there have been several others over the past few years. Let me explain why that’s a good sign for our community.

A prime example of this is the story of ITT, which was a pioneer in fiber optics and spawned the creation of Optical Cable Corporation. Then there’s also Innotech, which led to Pixel Optics (and a few other companies), not to mention New River Pharmaceuticals, which was followed by Intrexon. When these companies “went public” (via IPOs) their exits seeded the next generation of entrepreneurs and the entrance of new prosperous locally-owned technology companies, which in turn strengthened our community.

All companies have lifecycles and if successful, it may include selling to a larger company. These company exits cultivate an innovative environment in the region that attracts smart entrepreneurs. It also cultivates an ecosystem that continually refreshes an infrastructure to support creativity and risk taking. Ultimately, this leads to more successful companies. This environment creates profitable, diverse businesses, quality jobs, and the building of local wealth for both entrepreneurs and investors. An entrepreneurial economy strengthens the community with tax revenues, philanthropy, new business leaders, and investments into other businesses.

Consider these facts when thinking about the recent press about job losses. Most jobs in our region (84%) are from “homegrown” or “resident” businesses and the number of these jobs have dramatically increased over time. Since 2009, “non-resident” companies (out-of-state headquartered), have lost 9,000 jobs compared to a growth of 37,000 from our resident businesses.

Privco’s 2014 Private Tech Company M&A Research Report states that the number of tech companies worth acquiring is the ultimate barometer that a city is a top-notch tech hub. Another example of a local high-growth technology company that started as a homegrown business is grew dramatically and was acquired by Rackspace in 2007, which shifted it into the non-resident category, but it was able to grow its customer and revenue base significantly, opening a new building in 2014. Rackspace has expanded from 73 to more than125 employees since 2009 and continues to do well, and it certainly bucks the trend of non-resident businesses losing jobs.

In the March 2015 Kauffman Report (private educational foundation), one of the four indicators used to measure the vibrancy of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is connectivity. Entrepreneurs thrive in a community where they’re able to obtain knowledge and assistance from a variety of sources. But it’s the connectivity between these organizations that help build a strong entrepreneurial network. These “dealmaker” organizations serve as mediators in the formation of new firms. Locally, the connectivity between the RBTC, economic and workforce development organizations, higher education institutions, and other business organizations supports this type of activity. More importantly, observing connectivity over time, the Kauffman Report states that one way connectivity manifests itself is through spinoffs. “The entrepreneurial ‘genealogy’ of a given region, as measured by links between entrepreneurs and existing companies, is an important indicator of sustained vibrancy.” In Silicon Valley, generations of spinoffs have helped periods of business renewal. Closer to home, as well as in secondary technology markets like Austin, Boulder, and Seattle, exits of companies provide the fertile ground for new companies and job creation.

In a Progressive Policy Institute memo: “Innovation by Acquisition-New Dynamics of High-Tech Competition,” the dynamic described is similar to what we’ve seen in our region. “An increase in start-up activity potentially leads to an increase in the number of successful startups – companies whose innovative products and services find a large enough market to warrant going public or being acquired. That gives us a feedback loop – a higher rate of acquisition accelerates the rate of startups and innovation, while an increase in the rate of startups and innovation forces large companies to speed up their rate of acquisition.” Historical trends show that innovations derived from acquisitions are positively correlated with employment growth. “Successful acquisitions are both a cause of and a consequence of rapid innovation, and innovation spurs economic growth and job creation.”

It can be said with confidence that technology acquisitions, like those seen in our community, encourage innovation and are usually associated with gains in economic growth and job creation. This cycle of constant innovation, acquisitions, reinvestment, and new company start-ups leads to a sustainable economic growth pattern for our region and one that we need to continue to champion and celebrate.

Take Five: Adam Ernest, CEO, Follow My Vote

Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders.

We recently talked with Adam Ernest, co-founder and CEO of Follow My Vote. Focused on improving the integrity standards of voting systems used in elections worldwide, Follow My Vote develops end-2-end verifiable online voting software with the goal of empowering individuals to communicate effectively and to implement non-coercive solutions to societal problems.

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?
Adam: NuSpark, a startup space located in Blacksburg dedicated to helping aspiring entrepreneurs turn ideas into businesses, was truly instrumental to our success at Follow My Vote. They gave us dedicated office space and a place to call home when we needed it most.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?
Adam: Upon graduating from Virginia Tech, it had always been my dream to return to Blacksburg and start a business, allowing me to recruit top talent from my alma mater and give back to the surrounding community in any way that I can.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?
Adam: Be a visionary leader. Be passionate about what you do and surround yourself with people that share your passion and belief in your vision for the future of your business.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?
Adam: A good manager should focus on what’s really important. I have found it best to focus less on what time your employees get to work in the morning and more on whether or not they get the job done before they leave the office for the night.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?
Adam: I think we all should strive to support local businesses, as opposed to large corporations, even if it is not always most cost effective to do so. What I would really like to see is for us to become much more of a self-sustaining community, especially when it comes to energy and food production.