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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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Take Five with Mary Miller, President of IDD

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.


Mary Miller, Ph.D. is president and founder of Interactive Design and Development, Inc. (IDD), an award-winning information technology firm in Blacksburg. Under her leadership and guidance, IDD has created multimedia products, web design and development, interactive touch screen kiosks, and custom information technology solutions for a wide range of organizations, including many Fortune 500 companies. She has served on many boards and advisory committees, including Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering’s Committee of 100, the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Advisory Board and the Dean’s Advisory Council, the Advisory Board for the Department of Computer Science, and the Virginia 4-H Foundation’s Board. She was inducted into Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Academy of Excellence, joining an elite group of 97 individuals out of 55,000 living engineering alumni and was named the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumna. She was presented with the Business Woman of the Year Award in 2014, the RBTC Hall of Fame award in 2015 and has served as past President of the RBTC.

RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?

Mary Miller: Peer support has been a large part of my success. Connectivity has made this region strong and it is full of generous business leaders. I would say our human capital resources are the most valuable resources we have.

RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?

Mary Miller: Quality of life is a large factor. Lifestyle is important to me, as well as the people I employ. The more leisurely atmosphere of this region allows working parents to still have time with their families. Virginia Tech is also a great resource because we live in a region of “thinkers and doers” and all of these resources are accessible us. It is wonderful region to live and work.

RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

Mary Miller: Get connected. Trying to go-it alone is a mistake. There are no roadblocks to keep you from getting connected in this region. Ask questions and listen. You can even learn from people that aren’t in your specific field. Growing a business has many more similarities than differences. It is easy to get connected in this region.

RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?

Mary Miller: Get a banker, not just a bank, but also a banker. Start building a relationship with a banker, before you need their support. One thing I’ve learned over 25 years in business, is that you can’t stay in business if you run out of money. If you own a business you need a banker. I personally think community banks are the way to go, because they are vested in the communities they serve.

RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?

Mary Miller: Transportation in and out of the region has always been a challenge, and even though we are making progress, there is more to do. I am pleased to see we will soon have increased access to rail. I frequently take the train from Lynchburg to DC. It will be fabulous to have the train come to Christiansburg, but we have more to do. Our daily flights from the region are limited and expensive. I know many creative, capable people are working on these issues and I am confident that we will continue to improve on the transportation front.

I have always been proud that the RBTC works across the region without regard to planning districts or town limits, and that is a real benefit to the region. We are maturing as an organization; with increased ability to support established companies and entrepreneurs alike. Progress is occurring at a faster pace and I believe the region is well positioned to leap forward. Regional success is more visible to the outside world, and our success is not in one sector. With our blend of companies aligned with university assets good things are going to continue to happen.
The region itself has a draw, and we hit both ends of the scale. New businesses are developing and we are ranked high on the list of best places to retire. I think a region that can support diverse needs wins. I strongly believe that the next five years are going to be exciting to watch. And, the next fifty years are going to be an excellent adventure for our region. I love this region.

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In the Community: VWCC Women in STEM Mentoring Program

At a national level, economic projections indicate that by 2018 the U.S. will be saturated with millions of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs – many of them left unfilled. Even now, the percentage of women in STEM careers is dramatically less then men in these fields. Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) in Roanoke is a forerunner in a national movement seeking to reverse this trend and help more young women get a firm footing on a path to a successful STEM career.

The VWCC Women in STEM initiative includes the Mentoring Program, a campus club, a speaker series, a campus workgroup with faculty and staff, and relationships with business partners. The initiative is focused on:

  • Providing a supportive environment for women’s STEM education
  • Assisting women in educational resources
  • Helping facilitate career networking opportunities for women

The mentors that are paired up with students through the Women in STEM Mentoring Program are local women involved in STEM related fields.  We are proud to say many of these mentors are RBTC members. Keep up the great work ladies!

Check out the videos below to learn more about this excellent initiative and view or download this resource (PDF):

 

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