Technology Peeps Through
Meredith Hundley is blunt about the intention: “These are productive collisions. We’re trying to bump into each other.”
“We” includes a litany of organizations whose primary goal is to invigorate the region’s business and technology climate. Among them:
- Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center (CRC), a 32-year-old technology park that has grown exponentially, has 36 buildings on 210 acres and 200 companies employing 3,300 people.
- Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program (RAMP), mentoring and some funding for developing businesses.
- The Advancement Foundation, Innovation Mill, The Gauntlet, The Hive are Vinton-based interlocked mentors/funders for startups.
- Valleys Innovation Council (VIC), the latest and most successful iteration of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network, helping create an innovation ecosystem.
- The Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority legislation had passed and will now await the governor’s signature. Its intent is to “support the entire life cycle of innovation from transitional research, to entrepreneurship, to pre-seed and seed stage funding, acceleration, growth and commercialization …” The program is expected to “assist … in identifying entrepreneurial strengths, including the identification of talents and resources …”
- Small Business Development Councils (SBDC) help startups find their footing.
- CoLab, business and co-working space in the Raleigh Court area of Roanoke.
- Area colleges have become leaders in working with the business community, especially the community colleges.
- GoVA, a state fund for innovation that has been consolidated and dispensed regionally by business influencers.
- Hundley is chief program officer for the Valleys Innovation Council (VIC), an outcropping of several false-start predecessors and one that seems to have finally gotten it right.
She uses Torc, a Blacksburg company with 120 employees whose genesis dates to 2005, as the best example. Several Virginia Tech graduate students competed on an international stage in an Intelligent Ground Vehicle competition, which they swept, ultimately winning a $1 million grant, leading to Torc’s founding.
Torc, from Day 1, has been an international leader in self-driving truck technology and although Daimler had 1,000 workers in Stuttgart, Germany, working on that, it bought a majority stake in Torc in March of 2019 in order to find success in that area, says Greg Feldman, director of VIC.
Torc, Hundley says, “is the poster child for what we’re trying to do. … It is our regional unicorn.”
Hundley says the ultimate goal is to “work together because we have a shared purpose. It creates a smooth pathway to a sturdy, solid technology component of the region’s economy, one that is staying abreast of national trends. If we do the ecosystem right, we create more stories like Torc.”
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