The third cohort of entrepreneurs that has taken up residence inside the Gill Memorial Building includes a former Microsoft coder, a behavior analyst, a longtime banking executive and a scientist who just won a $750,000 NASA grant.
They represent some of the founders behind six startups chosen from the 20 that applied to participate in downtown Roanoke’s RAMP business accelerator.
The budding entrepreneurs were just getting to know each other as they wandered the office recently in search of their logos stuck to office doors. That’s where they’ll spend the next few months in a fast-paced program designed to take their companies to the next level — while also putting down deep roots in the region.
The startups will receive training from Virginia Western Community College, office space owned by the city of Roanoke and mentoring organized by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. At the end, they’ll have a platform to pitch their ideas to investors at the annual demo day event.
As an added bonus, four of the startups selected through a competitive application process received $20,000 in equity-free funding to help build their companies. The other two slots come with no funding and are instead paid for by corporate sponsors.
“They [the founders] were instantly seeing the benefit of working together, even if you’re in different markets,” RAMP director Mary Miller said. “It’s hard to find your collaborators when you’re home every day trying to make something happen.”
All but one of this year’s participants already have a product ready to go, and half are generating revenue. Miller said that’s because the accelerator continues to draw more and more mature ventures, which lines up with the program’s long-term goals.
“These companies have all gotten started on their own, and now they’re saying, ‘How do we grow this?’ ” Miller said. “We want to accelerate the companies that are really ready to accelerate. We want to identify them and give them help at critical times so they can grow and stay in the region.”
The 2019 RAMP cohort:
Fincastle-based Micro Harmonics has been around for about 10 years but recently received a $750,000 NASA grant to develop components for high-frequency communication systems. Micro Harmonics COO Diane Kees said the devices can be used for everything from aerospace applications to autonomous vehicles and 5G cellular networks. The company has already sold components around the world, but it’s hoping the RAMP accelerator will help teach a bunch of scientists more about running a growing business.
This software company has been selling a ticketing platform to high school athletic departments across the country for three years, but CEO Russell Hertzberg said the business is now ready to grow new revenue streams. The platform is used by schools in 36 states and counts the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association among its clients. Hertzberg said you can’t add excessive fees onto high school football tickets, so the company is hoping to develop new ways to turn a profit selling advertisements.
Point 93 is building tools to allow consumers to trade their data in exchange for discounts from retailers. Shoppers decide what data they’re willing to share, the maximum price they would pay for a specific item and how long they can wait to complete the purchase. Retailers then decide to either reject or accept the offer. Point 93 co-founder Laura Godfrey said they’re still developing the technology and working on pilot tests with a series of unnamed global retail chains.
PS & PNM
Prescription Soil and Plant Nutrient Management builds custom lawn-care plans for casual gardeners. Customers mail in soil samples, PS & PNM conducts lab tests and then sends back a personalized plan for what the yard needs. One garden may require lime, while another needs a specific amount of a certain fertilizer at a certain time of year. Soil tests are nothing new, said Wally Newton, the startup’s CFO and a longtime banking executive. “The uniqueness here is this is one that a person that doesn’t have a degree in chemistry can understand.”
Former Microsoft coder Philip Tompkins has been working on this startup for about five years. It provides a suite of software tools to help youth sports organizations run leagues and tournaments. The platform manages player registrations, payments, facility scheduling and practice calendars and notifies parents of cancellations. The idea is to create a central place where administrators can organize the entire club. When Adapify launched with its first test customer, more than $500,000 in transactions moved through the app in six months. “We were like, ‘Wow. There might be something here,’” Tompkins said.
This startup wants to educate businesses, government agencies and health care providers about how they can better serve people with cognitive disabilities such as Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. CEO Lauren-Lee Askew has been a behavior analyst working with children with special needs for 20 years. She said subtle changes can make a big difference, like using stop signs instead of “Do Not Enter” to communicate with those who can’t read. FAVE hopes to develop digital training courses, as well as in-person seminars.