Propelling high-potential startups to expand and create jobs is the goal of RAMP, a new technology business accelerator program set to launch in early 2017 in downtown Roanoke.
Entrepreneurs who seek to scale up their companies will apply to participate in RAMP, which stands for “Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program”. The program will be housed in the historic Gill Memorial Hospital building at 709 S. Jefferson St., along the recently announced downtown Health Sciences and Technology Innovation District.
Support for RAMP comes from a broad public/private partnership that draws on leaders in higher education, government, and the region’s growing technology community. RAMP founding partners include:
- The City of Roanoke, which won a $600,000 state grant approved by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to renovate the Gill building as an accelerator;
- Virginia Western Community College, which will provide business education classes and faculty support;
- The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, whose members lead the RAMP Advisory Board and will develop the accelerator’s mentorship and networking initiatives;
“The breadth of this partnership demonstrates that many people recognize the need for a business accelerator in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western Community College and a Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network (RBIN) director. “We believe we can grow and keep our talent, whether it’s in information technology, advanced manufacturing, biosciences or other entrepreneurial efforts.”
While the region has seen business incubators and similar efforts to foster startups, RAMP stands apart because it is “an intentional and highly focused program,” said Jonathan Whitt, President and CEO of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC). “Too many times, we have seen startups leave our region because they lacked what the accelerator program will offer – structured mentorships between entrepreneurs and experienced individuals in their field, access to funding that will get them beyond early stage, and business education specifically targeted to launching technology-based start-ups.”
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 per year, Whitt said. Companies accepted into RAMP will work closely with multiple mentors during an intensive three- to four-month “boot camp for founders” designed to focus on building, testing, improving, validating product-market fit, and launching their product for the market.
“RAMP represents the next logical step in the enhancement of the Roanoke-Blacksburg entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Marc Nelson, special projects coordinator for Roanoke’s Department of Economic Development and a RAMP Advisory Board member said. “The City and the EDA recognize the benefits of assisting the region’s established educators and entrepreneurs in their efforts to help emerging companies realize their goals and further grow that ecosystem.”
RAMP expects to play a different but complementary role in that entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, the CoLab, with more than 140 members, functions as an inclusive co-working space in Roanoke appropriate for entry-level entrepreneurs. RAMP, by contrast, will select companies through a competitive application process open to the region’s technology entrepreneurs, serving up to five high-growth enterprises that have demonstrated they have developed a minimum viable product to serve a large market opportunity…