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.”
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, said Jonathan Whitt, President and CEO of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. 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 will operate from the top floor of the three-story Gill building, which was constructed as an ear, nose and throat clinic by civic leader Dr. Elbyrne Gill in 1930. Virginia Western Community College will offer business education courses open to the public on the second floor.
Marc Nelson, special projects coordinator for Roanoke’s Department of Economic Development and a RAMP Advisory Board member, said the renovation project has a target completion date of December 2016. Support for the effort also comes from the city’s Economic Development Authority, which has pledged $100,000 over four years.