STEM-H business accelerator receives money to help start-up businesses

By Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – A first of its kind business accelerator in our area has received a $50,000 grant donation.

Woods Rogers law firm pledged the money to support the accelerator in $10,000 installments over a five-year period.

That money, added in with $600,000 in state funding will help launch five start-ups with a focus in STEM-H (Science, technology, engineering, math and health) starting in June of 2017.

The mechatronics lab at Virginia Western Community College is just one of many programs in the region that is training the next generation for careers in STEM-H.

That, coupled with cutting-edge research from VTCRI makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region a leader in STEM-H training.

Robert McAden, the board chair of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, said the new accelerator program, RAMP (Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program), is about taking that training and teaching young entrepreneurs how to monetize their skills.

"If we can keep those graduates here in our region than it provides more opportunities," McAden said.

RAMP's mission is to propel high-potential startups to expand and create jobs in the STEM-H sector.

"It is an honor to be part of RAMP from Day One," said Dan Summerlin, President of Woods Rogers. "We firmly believe that entrepreneurs and start-up companies are a vital part of the economic future of Roanoke and of Virginia as well. Woods Rogers and its Emerging Growth practice group are committed to helping this initiative succeed. We look forward to being an active contributor of counsel and ideas to RAMP's participants."

Already, the program has turned a once vacant Roanoke City building into office space for the five start-up's who are accepted to the program.

The old Gill Memorial Hospital building located at 709 Jefferson Street in downtown Roanoke has been renovated thanks to RAMP's partners in the initiative, including the city of Roanoke which secured $600,000 in state funding. The building was once owned by Carilion, then sold to the city. The city has since leased the space to the Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization associated with Virginia Western Community College.

The upper floors will be dedicated to RAMP. The first floor is still open for lease to other interested parties.

Those start-ups accepted to RAMP will not only work there free of charge, but will have free mentorship and a chance to earn start-up capital needed to expand their product.

"We are looking for people who are coach-able, people who we think that our mentors and the programs that we offer through RAMP will actually be able to do some good and be able to help them accelerate their growth," McAden said.

RAMP participants will benefit from a mentoring program, networking opportunities, business education and access to capital. The inaugural program includes an intensive "boot camp" that culminates in a $5,000 prize for the accelerator company offering the best jobs-creation strategy.

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 in the first cohort. Companies accepted into RAMP will work closely with multiple mentors to focus on building, testing, improving, validating product-market fit, and launching their product for the market.

Those technology professionals accepted must be willing to consider keeping their businesses in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region.

Fourd Kemper with Woods Rogers Law firm who donated $50,000 through the emerging growth group to RAMP will be one of those mentors.

"We are willing to put our money where our mouth is and support great efforts like this," Kemper said. "Again, we think it will help start-up companies succeed, stay in the area, employ great people and that's great for everybody."

Kemper said it's about starting good candidates on the right path.

"We feel like we can help them be successful by helping them do everything right along the way. If we can help them be successful, then we all will be successful," Kemper said.

Kemper and McAden both say that RAMP is still looking for other sponsors, mentors and donors for the program.

RAMP is accepting applicants for its first participant teams through March 15.  To be considered for RAMP, applicants must:

  • Agree to locate their company, rent-free, inside the accelerator for a six-month residency;
  • Have a minimum viable product, preferably with sales traction;
  • Work full-time on their startup during the program;
  • Have a product or service employing workers in the STEM-H field, with scalability potential;
  • Be willing to consider operating their company in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region after graduation.

Learn more at www.ramprb.tech.

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