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In July 2020, three established regional organizations strategically unified to support the Roanoke-Blacksburg technology and life science sectors. The collaborative alliance known as VERGE, consists of the Valleys Innovation Council (VIC), Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC), and The Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP) (currently three of the four cohorts in RAMP’s program are located in the research park). The alliance promotes each organization’s strengths and resources to support and expand the region’s innovation and economy. Erin Burcham, who became the RBTC Executive Director earlier this year, explained how each organization’s features and programs support VERGE’s overall vision for regional success and innovation.

“We brought all of the support elements of the technology sector together. We are really focused on helping to align resources, technology, and expand networks to our member companies,” Burcham said.

The RBTC is a member-driven association that strives to advance the growth of the Roanoke – Blacksburg technology community. The RBTC seeks to grow regional talent, opportunities, and business expertise through collaboration, education, mentoring, and professional development. The RBTC is a dynamic organization with members ranging from emerging entrepreneurs to some of the largest regional technology companies. The RBTC offers resources in four key areas: talent development and recruitment, entrepreneur development, marketing and communications, and member engagement.

“We are elevating the technology ecosystem across the state. We want to ensure that our members have access to the right resources and networks. We are an advocate for the region and the sector, by helping companies and individuals navigate the challenges that may be hindering their growth,” Burcham said.

The Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP), is the region’s essential start-up resource. Founded in 2017, RAMP supports start-ups and entrepreneurs of every level, through mentoring, networking, and a 12-week, biannual cohort program. As of 2020, RAMP has successfully supported 24 startup businesses, and has recently accepted four Roanoke-Blacksburg based entrepreneurs for its fall 2021 technology cohort.

“Dr. Mary Miller, the director of RAMP, has run multiple start-ups and understands it firsthand. She gets to know the inner workings of the companies and really understands their barriers and potential roadblocks,” Burcham stated.

Valley Innovation Council (VIC) is a nonprofit organization established to connect, communicate, and collaborate with regional stakeholders to support the Roanoke-Blacksburg economy. VIC focuses on funding opportunities that can support the overall growth and expansion of talent, resources, and opportunities throughout the region’s technology and life sciences community.

“Currently, VIC is writing multiple large grants to elevate our regional technology ecosystem. Each grant has a different primary focus, but they all support the growth of technology and biotech.” Burcham said.

As Burcham proceeds as RBTC’s Executive Director, she hopes to continue building relationships with the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and other regional partners to expand the growth of local technology, especially in the biotech industry. Burcham also plans to help elevate projects across the region, with both infrastructure and talent initiatives.

“I really want to dig in and see what the challenges and barriers for growth are, and then help move the region move forward in those areas. I also want to find creative and tactical ways to keep talent in the region,” Burcham stated.

VERGE, the catalyst for growing the Roanoke-Blacksburg ecosystem, supports businesses and individuals of every level through numerous opportunities and resources. VERGE and its alliance organizations, RBTC, VIC, and RAMP, will only continue to expand as they work together to promote collaboration, talent, education, and funding across the region to create a sustainable and innovative economy.

Erin ends by saying… “It is important to Verge to be located in the VTCRC. The location gives us an opportunity to be close to the RBTC membership, RAMP companies and VIC partners. Our team also works closely with the research park team on strategies to elevate our technology and biotech sectors through grants, professional development, and networking programs.”

Written by Becca Halm