The Roanoker - July/August 2017 - 70
EDUCATION | EVOLUTION IN THE VALLEY
The brand new Regional Acceleration and Mentoring
Program showed it was dead serious when it recently
went outside its normal channels and appointed Blacksburg's Mary Miller, 66, to direct its initial course.
Miller, owner of Interactive Design and Development, a successful software company, has been head of
the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council, and her
involvement in business in the region has been impressive. She's a member of the Virginia Tech College of
Engineering Academy of Engineering Excellence and
knows just about everybody who's anybody in the region. She has a reputation for being a mentor and she
sees RAMP as eventually becoming a regional program.
RAMP is not a new idea, though it is new for this area.
"We take a company with a product and accelerate
its development," says Miller. "Incubators [like the new
one in Vinton] are a great place to start, but once they
hatch, they need the tools to accelerate. The model plays
out" the business plan. "The Roanoke Valley is late to
the table; there are hundreds of [RAMP-style programs
nationally]. ... We have what we need here to get to the
next level. We have all the players. We have the schools.
Everybody is all in."
The immediate challenge, Miller says, is "to pick the
right companies the first time out of the gate."
Samantha Steidle of Virginia Western Community
70 | JULY/AUGUST 2017
College, who helped initiate the program, says the Roanoke Valley model is "still evolving. We want to grow it
to what it needs to be, let it grow organically."
The RAMP facility on Jefferson Street downtown has
a number of offices, three to five of them on the third
floor reserved for the business-the best of the region's
start-ups-who qualify for the program.
"We're going for quality," says Steidle.
The program intends to "create mentorships, venture
capital networks and educational programs surrounding them. I taught this concept at Virginia Western as
the Stanford model," says Steidle. The program comes
under the VWCC workforce development umbrella.
"Colleges are constantly trying to figure out how to
collaborate and not compete," she says. "If they are not
aligned, who hurts is the student."
The program offers an eight-week course centering
on "turning ideas, research and technology into a product or process customers will need, want and pay for."
ROANOKE HIGHER EDUCATION CENTER
When Tom McKeon, the only director the Roanoke
Higher Education Center had known in its 17 years of
operation, retired late last year there was little doubt about
Kay Dunkley, a ball of intellectual energy, becoming his
successor, Jan. 1. It was a natural, fluid move to the executive desk of the organization that is home for 14 VirginiaTHEROANOKER.COM