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.