The Roanoker - May/June 2020 - 95

RAMP director Mary Miller (founder of the
Blacksburg tech company Interactive Design and
Development) says, " In addition to our 16-week
RAMP-in-Residence e program, we sponsor pitch
clinics across the region every other month. The idea
is to have a 'go to' place to find help. The RAMP-in
Residence program is focused on helping early-stage
technology companies get the help they need to grow. "
The Advancement Foundation in Vinton has a
similar mission, but with startups. Annette Patterson,
who founded the foundation and its Gauntlet
competition for investment, says the Gauntlet
" is a really good tool to attract and retain talented
entrepreneurs. " It has grown from 15 competitors
in 2014 to 170 from 15 localities, 18% of them in
technology this year. It featured 150 mentors and 50
speakers in 2020 and is Virginia's largest business
program and competition, according to Patterson.

The Players

Regional Tech Hub

Each of the proprietary products was developed for
specific target markets, says Feldman. " Companies have
been laser focused on their addressable markets and each is
riding a market wave. " In the 1990s, says Meridium founder
Bonz Hart, " We had the raw material (students), and over
time the local universities changed their curriculum to
become more relevant to the software industry. " It paid
significantly.
Tracy Wilkins, co-founder in 1989 of TECHLAB, says,
" We are totally focused on our relatively untouched niche
[microbiology of the intestinal tract]. Other companies
produce a range of products in all sorts of areas, but we
are very focused. " The company now has 150 employees in
Radford and at the CRC.
Says Feldman, " The region is small-about half a billion
dollars isn't big-but we are competing for the best talent
with the major technology players. " In the most recent
reporting period, R&D funding in this region was at
$521 million and " we want to get to $600 million or $750
million " shortly.
The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute will employ
430 people in 30 research teams, Feldman notes, and
those employees are often coming from Harvard, Stanford
and from overseas. It is " a big engine that will influence
technology growth in the region. "
Feldman compares this region to several others with
major research universities (rated R-1, containing 131
research universities): Charlottesville/UVA; Lafayette,
Indiana/Purdue; and Chapel Hill/UNC.
The question front-liners are asking, says Feldman, is:
" What innovations are out there that we can use? " The
answer is vital to the future of the region. I

A good bit of money is funneled through the
Advancement Foundation, chunks both large and small.
" Over the years, " says Patterson, " our focus has been on
high-growth industry, and technology is one of them. "
Ianello, who founded, grew and sold two technology
businesses, has a clear view: " It is critical that all the
available resources in the region collectively contribute
to helping grow our base of technology and biomedical
companies in the region. Unfortunately, this region
doesn't have large, well-endowed foundations ...
However, we do have a number of regional players that
collectively can contribute time, money, experience,
and leadership. "
PhD student Samantha Steidle, former executive
director of Roanoke's CoLab, says, " Ten years ago, a
tech entrepreneur had two or three pathways, but today
has far more options. Tech entrepreneurs have a more
inclusive and collaborative community designed with
the entrepreneur front and center. "
Greg Feldman insists that " we'll never displace
the Silicon Valley, but we can be a regional hub " for
technology. Virginia Tech is a clear national and
international leading light and Michael Friedlander,
executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research
Institute, has attracted significant talent to VTC.
VIPA is expected, at the state level, to support a
" collaborative, consistent and consolidated approach ...
in identifying its entrepreneurial strengths, including
the identification of talents and resources that make
the Commonwealth a unique place to grow new
innovation-based businesses. "

TheRoanoker.com

Some of the important players based here include:
*	

*	

*	

*	
*	

BlockOne, an international cryptocurrency
superstar company co-founded by Virginia Tech
grad Dan Larimer, which has reportedly raised
$3 billion. BlockOne has its own 33,000-squarefoot building in the CRC.
GE Digital, formerly Meridium, is an asset
management predictive software used by oil
refineries. GE paid nearly $495 million for the
company, which employed 500 people.
Power School, formerly Interactive
Achievement, is educational technology testing
software.
Torc, is a driverless truck company founded by
Virginia Tech graduates.
The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute,
which is building a new $50 million building and
bringing in hundreds of high-end employees.

MAY/JUNE 2020

95


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The Roanoker - May/June 2020

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