Roanoke’s startup accelerator program, RAMP, gave its first cohort of burgeoning businesses a boost last year with free training, mentorship and office space.
Now, as it gets ready for the second cycle with $500,000 in fresh funding, program organizers say they’re going to start making investments in each participating company.
RAMP, or Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program, won’t be taking any ownership from the startups it helps. But leaders have set aside $100,000 to split between the roughly five companies that will be selected next month for the accelerator’s second cohort.
Program Director Mary Miller said details are still being worked out, but she thinks the cash will help the startups with everything from travel to legal fees.
This type of investment is common for more established accelerators in technology hubs like California’s Silicon Valley. So she hopes it will help RAMP recruit and keep top talent in Southwest Virginia.
The investments will be funded by private and corporate donations. But Miller said it wouldn’t have been possible without a $244,300 state grant RAMP recently received through the GO Virginia initiative.
“In the first cohort we had no money to help these companies at all,” Miller said. “Now that we have this Go Virginia money we’re going to have some money to invest in the companies and offer them support in this process.”
The program has been accepting applications for its next wave of startups since January. The application deadline is tomorrow, and then organizers will select somewhere around five teams to take up residence in May inside RAMP’s office on downtown Roanoke’s South Jefferson Street.
Just like last year, the companies will each receive an office, startup courses taught by Virginia Western Community College, a dedicated mentor, and — now —some cash to help get off the ground.
The GO Virginia money, along with matching local funds, gives the accelerator around $500,000 to stick around for at least two more years.
Miller said wants to see the program grow during that time.
She said one of the most beneficial parts of RAMP has been the connections its startups have made with local mentors.
Next year, she hopes to make that available beyond just the handful of companies selected to participate in the accelerator.
Miller, who launched her own tech company, IDD, in 1991, says there are plenty of accomplished entrepreneurs in the area helping the next generation of startups. But it’s all unofficial, and sometimes the relationships just don’t come together.
That’s why RAMP will be creating a network to make it easier for mentors and mentees to find each other. Miller will be reaching out to entrepreneurs, surveying what kind of time commitment they can make and helping with introductions.
“This is a generous, accomplished region,” Miller said. “And those generous, accomplished people want to give back.”
Millers said these mentoring relationships and the boost the accelerator offers startups won’t produce overnight success. She said it’s all about slow and measured growth, as the program aims to boost the region’s technology community.
Miller pointed out that each of the six startups from the first RAMP cohort is still in business. Five of the businesses have moved out of the RAMP building and secured their own office spaces, and the remaining is planning to move out soon. Two of the companies are talking to investors about funding to help speed up growth.
That’s what success looks like, Miller said.
“I think we need to have a long view,” she added. “I want to give the little success the energy and the time and the room to grow. I think it’s a five year story.”