This week Engine is traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. For more updates follow #RiseofRest on Twitter.
We’re back on the road again, this time traveling through the Southeast, visiting some of America’s oldest cities where entrepreneurs from across the region are creating new ventures. We kicked off the tour in Richmond, Virginia, a town steeped in history, but with passion and promise for innovation. The sense of the new is palpable on the city’s streets where restaurants, independent retail shops, and theaters are popping up or undergoing renovations after years of vacancy. But perhaps Richmond’s greatest advantage in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is the tight knit community that has galvanized around the startup economy. It’s one of these places where everyone seems to know and support one another.
The day began with a conversation among Steve Case, Richmond’s entrepreneurial leaders as well as three Virginia governors, two of whom are now Senators, and Richmond’s mayor. Governor Terry McAuliffe and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine remarked on the tremendous growth of the state’s economy over the past few decades and the vast opportunities that lie ahead, for Richmond in particular.
We witnessed some of that opportunity and innovation in the making during a startup tour around this city. We met a number of companies that have grown out of the early stage accelerator Lighthouse Labs. Nudge is a software service that integrates data from health tracking devices. Blue Ocean Brain offers a micro-learning platform within companies to stimulate creativity and critical thinking. Maxx Potential facilitates technical workforce development by matching apprentices with companies in need of tech talent. Their program selectively identifies candidates and provides them with both coaching and on the job training, building a tech workforce that’s 100% on-shore. We also visited the headquarters of Evatran, whose slim and sleek device - a charging pad called Plugless Power - wirelessly charges electric vehicles.
At the center of Richmond’s startup ecosystem is the team behind New Richmond Ventures, a group with a mission to make their city a “world-class ecosystem of entrepreneurial talent, patient capital, and innovative start-ups.” By leading local capital investment, developing mentors, and forging relationships among businesses in the region, NRV is one of the Richmond startup community’s biggest assets.
The day’s final events included a pitch competition featuring eight local startups with a range of products and ideas: from a plant-based protein powder in hundreds of stores (also employing regional chickpea farmers) to a software that streamlines the 1099 tax return process for independently contracted employees. Ultimately, Wealthforge, which creates online tools to simplify raising capital for both startups and investors (as well as those platforms enabled by the 2012 passage of the JOBS Act) took home the $100,000 prize.
Today’s greatest takeaway about Virginia’s capital city? It might just be one of the startup world’s best kept secrets. With community, talent, leadership, and broad-based political support, Richmond is certainly on the rise.