Elliot McAllister entered RAMP four months ago without much more than a prototype and an idea for a business that would 3D print custom lab testing devices.
He graduated Wednesday with a finished product, pending patents and three customers lined up. The first order for his company, Skyphos Technologies, will ship later this week.
It was a steeper acceleration than McAllister had expected, but RAMP Director Mary Miller said that’s what the program is all about.
McAllister was connected with mentors at Luna Innovations during the intensive program. He learned how to discover customers and gauge their interest in his product, which allows scientists to more quickly develop tools they use to run experiments in the lab. He met patent lawyers, investors and has set a goal of raising $500,000 to fund the business through the next two years.
And possibly more importantly to RAMP — or Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program — he’s started making plans to continue growing his company in Roanoke’s burgeoning innovation corridor around Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.
Skyphos still has a long way to go, but Miller said the startup’s experience is an example of the kind of head-start RAMP hopes to give young companies.
Wednesday’s event was the second demo day for the program, which is powered by resources from state grants, the city of Roanoke, Virginia Western Community College, the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council and private donors.
“This second cohort is going to move faster than the first cohort did,” Miller said. “I don’t know if we’ve gotten better or we’ve brought in people that were at a different level.”
Skyphos was just one of seven companies that showed off their ideas on Virginia Western’s campus Wednesday, boasting varying degrees of success.
For each, the presentation was the culmination of months of intensive work, all boiled down into a single 10-minute pitch.
Sarah Snider, CEO of BEAM Diagnostics, said her startup received a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop software used at checkups to more accurately predict alcohol misuse.
Constructability3D has found a group of test customers to try out its 3D modeling technology to help high-end home builders find design errors before breaking ground.
Mark Lainoff entered the program with an idea for software to conduct patient satisfaction surveys at doctors’ offices, called healthEscores. But he said it didn’t take long to realize it was a flawed concept. The competition was stiff and regulatory hurdles were almost impossible to clear.
RAMP helped Lainoff fail fast, he said. The CEO-hopeful ditched the idea, saved years of work and about $100,000 he was planning to put toward the project.
“Had it not been for this program, I would have had no backing, no guidance and just pushing down my own path building something that nobody wanted,” Lainoff said. “And I would have been totally in the hole.”
The startups are allowed to stay in RAMP’s office until May, but this week’s event wrapped up the more formal part of the accelerator program.
“We’re hoping that angels, or CIT [Center for Innovative Technology] or other investors will be interested in something they see,” Miller said. “We hope they’ll get some investment.”
Six startups graduated from the program after the first demo day last year. Miller said all those companies are still alive and some have gone on to raise financing from investors.
Flex Metrics has seen sales double since it graduated last year, according to founder Jay Foster.
None of the startups in the first cohort have gone gangbusters yet, but Miller, a seasoned entrepreneur herself, recommended keeping an eye on them down the road.
“They’ve come a long way,” she added.