|Sam Steidle: Another innovation.|
Sam is the former founding director of Roanoke’s innovative Co-Lab and has recently become Virginia Western Community College’s Innovation Officer, a title so thoroughly spot-on that I can’t imagine who came up with it. It’s Sam’s very definition.
She’s been working with a new program at VWCC called RAMP (Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program), which concentrates on making small business work. Roanoke has a laudable history of supporting small, innovative businesses, but its workforce training has slipped in recent years and RAMP could play a role in getting it back where it needs to be.
The program will launch in January of 2017, but it’s already running, says Sam.
The program is set in the old—and oddly appropriate—Gill Memorial Hospital building as a centerpiece for the new downtown Health Sciences and Technology Innovation District. The program is a hybrid that is supported by Roanoke ($600,000 contribution for renovation of Gill); VWCC (classes and faculty), Roanoke-Blacksburg Tech Council (advisory board, mentor-ship and networking programs).
Says VWCC President Dr. Robert H. Sandel (who is also head of the Innovation Council), “We believe we can grow and keep our talent, whether it’s in information technology, advanced manufacturing, bio-sciences or other entrepreneurial efforts.”
Tech Council President Jonathan Whitt says, “Too many times, we have seen startups leave our region because they lacked what the accelerator program will offer—structured mentor-ships between entrepreneurs and experienced individuals in their field, access to funding that will get them beyond early stage, and business education specifically targeted to launching technology-based start-ups.”
Ramp’s initial focus will be on five tech/life science companies a year, focusing on a 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.
This program sounds promising, but I'm not sure it would work without Sam's involvement. With her at the point, I'm pretty certain its success is assured.