Roanoke RAMP program aims to foster technology startups

Roanoke (WSLS 10) - On Wednesday, Roanoke City kicked off renovations to the Gill Memorial Building. It's part of a nearly $1.5 million dollar investment, which includes a $600,000 state grant, aimed at helping technology businesses grow. Organizers said the RAMP business accelerator could help foster growth of startup companies and attract high-paying jobs to the Roanoke Valley.

"To help high potential technology companies that have already launched really get to the next level of business development," Jonathan Witt, CEO of Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council.

Witt said RAMP, or Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program, is a collaborative effort between Roanoke City, Virginia Western Community College and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Organizers are focused on ways to meet the specific needs of technology startups after seeing other business leave the region.

"A company called "LawnStarter" they went to a program called TechStar in Austin [Texas], said Witt. "They received a mentorship and access to capital they needed and they didn't come back. Not to say they wont come back one day but that is an example of a company that we've seen go through an accelerator program somewhere else. Why shouldn't they be doing that here?"

The purpose of the program is to foster up to five businesses who apply, and are accepted to, the program and encourage their rapid growth. Organizers said it's meant to complement, not compete, with existing spaces such as CoLab which provides an inclusive working space for entrepreneurs.

"The CoLab currently has 150 members and that is fantastic," said Samantha Steidle, Innovation Officer with Virginia Western Community College. "When those members rise to the surface and are ready to work with mentors and venture capitalists we need to fill that need so we retain them here in Roanoke."

Roanoke's RAMP will be one of an estimated 200 accelerator projects in the United States. City leaders hope to see the investment pay off for the region.

"These jobs typically pay twice the wage of a non-technology job" said Witt. "So you are looking at job creation where it is $70,000 a year salaries up. There is a trickle down effect of that kind of impact in your community."

The RAMP accelerator business program is expected to officially begin in January of 2017.