With the novel coronavirus rapidly spreading across the globe, companies and governments in Greater Richmond, Virginia, are leaning into the fight and are developing new tools, programs and policies to support the region’s economy.

Leading the way with virus testing

As COVID-19 cases grow throughout the country, Virginia Commonwealth University Health announced it is administering an independently-developed COVID-19 test for inpatients as a pilot program. The in-house test will significantly reduce wait times for results, and in turn, reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in the community. Testing during the pilot phase has been mostly available to patients requiring hospitalization who present severe symptoms of COVID-19 and is dependent on supply.

VCU Health

“Being able to determine whether a patient does or does not have COVID-19 quickly is of critical importance,” said Christopher Doern, Ph.D., director of microbiology at VCU Health who oversees the implementation of new technologies in the VCU Health clinical microbiology laboratory. “Being able to do that in our own laboratory will be a game changer in how we manage patients with potential COVID-19 symptoms.”

VCU Health aims to obtain same-day results with this testing option, dependent on test volume. While VCU experts develops their method, a Henrico-based company is shipping tests as fast as it can.

GENETWORx will begin shipping at least 800 COVID-19 tests daily to testing sites immediately. The company will be able to increase capacity to 5,000 tests per day beginning in April and as many as 150,000 per month. The CLIA-certified laboratory conducts a variety of diagnostic and clinical testing services but repurposed a portion of its business to rapidly analyze COVID-19 samples.

“The technology we have developed not only allows us to mass produce these much needed COVID-19 tests but also ensures an accurate test result in a timely 24-hour response time from receipt of the sample,” said William Miller, the company’s CEO.

Working toward a cure

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers began two clinical trials recently on a potential, experimental treatment for COVID-19. Arun Sanyal, M.D., a liver specialist and gastroenterologist at VCU Health, is leading clinical trials of an investigational drug for patients with moderate and severe symptoms of COVID-19 and the virus responsible for the disease, SARS-Cov-2.

“The selection of VCU as a site for this global trial reflects our ability to bring multidisciplinary care to clinical trials and in having the capacity, the breadth and the depth of expertise needed to manage these patients,” Sanyal said.

VCU is one of the handful of institutions in the United States to make these clinical trials available to patients who meet the criteria for this investigational drug. The first randomized, controlled tests in the U.S. began in February.

Combating coronavirus in real time

While medical professionals and consumers alike face disrupted supply chains and emergency preparedness, local manufacturers are stepping up to meet shortages.

While health care workers worldwide respond to the coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of employees at DuPont’s Spruance manufacturing plant in Chesterfield County are working to ramp up production of Tyvek, which helps shield those front-line fighters from the virus.

DuPont Spruance
DuPont’s Spruance facility in Chesterfield, Va.

“Our material is used to make protective garments that provide unparalleled levels of protection, durability and comfort for first responders and front-line workers in this virus outbreak,” said John Richard, vice president and general manager for DuPont Safety, the business division that includes Tyvek.

Hanover-based Anton Paar recently offered its customers a way to verify hand sanitizer recipes using its density meters. The company’s instrumentation products can help prepare concentrations for ethanol and iso-propyl alcohol-based formulations – even those made by your local distillery.

“Everything we make could be used as a cleaning agent,” said Jay Carpenter, who co-founded Reservoir Distillery in Richmond. “Ours [hand sanitizer] is just our distillate — what becomes our bourbon.”

The Richmond-based bourbon whiskey producer has started making what might be called a “hand-crafted hand sanitizer.” It’s a product that distilled spirits businesses are in a unique position to make, given their production process. Carpenter said the liquid sanitizer exceeds the 60% alcohol content typically defined as a sanitizing agent.

How local governments are helping

The retail, restaurants and hospitality sector has seen the biggest effects from the coronavirus. However, local governments are helping by establishing new programs and policies to support the local businesses in their communities.

Henrico County froze late fees and interest on lodging tax and meals tax payments. Chesterfield and Hanover counties also adopted similar relief measures on lodging taxes. The tax relief measures help hotels and restaurants with cash flow issues.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed an amnesty period on penalties and interest for most local taxes through June 30. However, Richmond City Council meeting was postponed until next month delaying the vote on the Mayor’s proposal. When the Council meets next, it is expected to extend the application period for the city’s real estate tax relief program for seniors and people with disabilities.

In addition to the tax relief measures, Henrico also has announced an initiative to purchase meals from locally-owned restaurants for public safety workers and other essential employees leading the community’s response to the pandemic. Similar programs to help restaurants stay afloat have surfaced in Hanover and Chesterfield counties, too.

Bouncing back

Despite the disruption the pandemic has facilitated, Greater Richmond companies and governments alike are adjusting to embrace current market uncertainty. Richmond’s grit and innovation has shown in the first few weeks of the pandemic. And while our region is not immune to this economic downtown, RVA-based Chmura Economics and Analytics recently assessed regions across the country for their vulnerability to this crisis and found the Richmond Region to be among the least vulnerable regions in the country. The analysis ranked the region at 321 among 384 MSAs across the country based on industries present in the area and expected job losses.

Along with our public and private sector partners, the Greater Richmond Partnership has planned and is ready to facilitate our part of the economic recovery the region will experience.

STEM+H development advantages for Richmond, VirginiaSTEM+H employees are in high demand across the Commonwealth and these industries (science, technology, engineering, math and health) are among the fastest-growing throughout the U.S.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM has an expected national industry growth of 8.8 percent between 2018 and 2028. The health industry alone has a projected growth of 14 percent, adding about 1.9 million new jobs. Greater Richmond mirrored this nationwide trend by increasing 2.6 percent in STEM+H occupations between 2018-19. Isolated health occupations increased by 2.7, above the national level of 2.3 percent.

Tech outlook

Tech epicenters are trending outside of Silicon Valley and the Greater Richmond region has become an attractive destination. WalletHub compared the top 100 markets for STEM professionals ranking the Richmond MSA on its shortlist, naming quality of life, STEM friendliness and professional opportunities as critical factors.

The region’s also considered attractive for connection to subsea fiber cables (MAREA and BRUSA), affordable sites and tax incentives. Chesterfield County recently reduced its data center tax rates by 86.6 percent. Taxes dropped from $1.80 per $100 to $0.24 per $100, making it the lowest data center tax rate in the state. Henrico County reduced its tax rate on data centers in 2017. Those operating in Henrico saw an 88.6 percent decrease on computer and related equipment tax rates, decreasing the rate from $3.50 to $0.40 per $100 and major tech companies are taking note.

Facebook is currently developing in Henrico’s White Oak Technology Park, set to occupy 2.5 million square feet of data center space upon completion, creating over 240 new jobs. This project joins existing data centers in the region such as QTS, Capital One, Bank of America and others.

Healthcare trends

In 2019, Virginia made WalletHub’s shortlist for Best States for Doctors, ranking high in the ‘medical environment’ category, which measures the quality of the public hospital system, hospital safety, and presence of nationally accredited departments.

The Richmond Region has more than 4,100 physicians and 19 acute care/specialty hospitals with nearly 4,000 staffed beds. The most extensive medical systems include Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health System and McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

HCA Virginia is headquartered in Richmond and is the third-largest employer in the region after VCU Health. HCA maintains a network of six hospitals, four free-standing emergency centers, over 2,500 affiliated physicians and more than 300 community-based providers.

Bon Secours Health System has four hospitals in Greater Richmond plus additional care facilities, as well as a college of nursing, a school of medical imaging, and two-family practice residency programs. It is the fourth-largest private employer in Greater Richmond.

STEM+H pipeline

Among competitive market advantages, the Richmond Region is home to nearly 30 institutions of higher education which train and supply the next generation of skilled professionals. Local universities and colleges offer a wide arrange of degree programs ranging from certificates to PhDs. Community colleges and technical schools have become a popular option for industry-specific professional careers, such as technical support, web design and medical assistant:

  • VCU Health is one of the most innovative and comprehensive medical centers in the country. The VCU medical school is one of the largest programs in the nation and houses the oldest transplant center in the country.
  • VCU is diligently working to accommodate an increased demand for lab space by breaking ground on a new STEM building in Spring 2020.
  • VCU Health continues to grow and plans to complete a new $349 million outpatient facility in 2020.
  • The University of Richmond offers competitive STEM programs to potential and current students allowing them to get hands-on experience. These programs (SMART and URISE) aim to increase the number of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in science and math disciplines
  • Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed a $1 million investment to establish UTeach programs at VSU, a public historically black college. The program would allow students to receive their secondary teaching certificate while also completing a STEM major, without adding additional time or cost to their degree.
  • VCU is in the process of launching a new Center for Innovation STEM education building at the Science Museum of Virginia. This culturally-responsive program will pair with Greater Richmond K-12 institutions to provide improved and expanded STEM education to diverse students.

The outlook for college graduates is positive, as STEM+H related fields are some of the most stable and lucrative. Virginia is expected to add over 150,000 STEM jobs over the next five years. Top areas of growth for STEM+H professions in Greater Richmond include registered nurses, software developers, computer system analysts and information security analysts.

A vital location for science & tech

Despite growth, Greater Richmond wages remain 20 percent lower than the Washington, D.C., and other major east coast metros, on par with national salaries for bioscience and information technology.

In addition to upcoming development, Greater Richmond is home to the VA Bio+Tech Park, adjacent to VCU Medical Center. The Park is home to a unique mix of more than 60 companies, laboratories and research centers with over 2,400 workers. Over the past year, two leading health innovators have added to the already impressive roster at the VA Bio+Tech Park:

  • In January, Tympanogen, a medical device startup, was awarded nearly $250,000 as a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the Department of Defense. This Phase I award will support safety testing of Tympanogen’s gel patch for eardrum repair, used in field settings to treat service members sustaining perforated eardrums.
  • Headquartered in Marseille, France, HalioDx opened its first North American facility at the Park last February, pioneering the immunological diagnosis of cancers and improving the management of localized colon cancer.

As nationwide demand increases for qualified employees, expect the Greater Richmond region to continue to distinguish itself, grooming, attracting and maintaining businesses and professionals alike.

Read more on Richmond's information technology industry

Richmond gives birth to a new life sciences cluster

Dr. Frank Gupton PhD
Dr. Frank Gupton PhD (photo courtesy VCU Engineering)

Frank Gupton is trying to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry by completely changing the way it manufactures drugs. He has attracted $40 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because of their interest in making HIV and other disease-treating drugs more affordable. At the same time, Gupton is working with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a project supported by the Pentagon’s future-oriented DARPA unit to make vending machine-like devices that can be dropped into remote areas such as Afghanistan and produce a variety of medicines on the spot, saving many lives. The concept is called “medicine on demand.”

Where is Gupton doing all this? At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Va. “Richmond is a good place to do something like this,” says Gupton. “It’s not in Cambridge, Mass. It’s not in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. I’m not competing for resources. And I’m close to Washington, D.C. and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which are good things. Perhaps more importantly is VCU itself. If this were Harvard or MIT, they would be probably not as nimble as VCU has been. My colleagues at MIT are very envious of what we’ve got here.” Being located in Bio+Tech 8 of the Virginia Bio+Tech Park allowed for Gupton’s team to have the support to convert 15,000 square feet of open space into world-class laboratory space in three months.

“We have more equipment capabilities than any other university on the East Coast and we are getting ready to double our space,” Dr. Frank Gupton.

The university has ponied up $13 million to support Gupton’s research, which concentrates on making drugs through a continuous loop process rather than making large batches of medicine, which is inherently wasteful and somewhat unpredictable. He likens the difference to that of making spaghetti sauce, where many different ingredients are combined, versus making pasta, where material is continuously fed in and turned into a consistent stream of pasta. “All the pasta tastes pretty much the same,” he explains. “But each batch of spaghetti sauce tastes a little different. The reason is that the batch processes lack reproducibility.”

A fusion of biosciences and technology

VCU lab
Virginia Commonwealth University

Gupton is at the epicenter of a new segment of a vibrant life sciences cluster in Richmond, which many have regarded as a sleepy old tobacco town. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, maintains a large presence in Richmond, but energy and money appears to be pouring into inventing a technology-based future than in clinging to the past. To be sure, Richmond’s life sciences cluster is in earlier stages than other life sciences hot spots such as San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, Research Triangle or Cambridge, Mass.

But for the first time, Richmond has all the ingredients that go into creating a genuine technology cluster—a university committed to commercializing technology, both start-up and large companies interested in new ideas, the availability of angel and venture capital, and a supportive government and quasi-government economic development network. Not to mention a surge in funding for VCU from the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies for research, mostly in the medical school, regarding such ailments as opioid and alcohol abuse, diabetes, aging and arthritis. Altogether, the university received $310 million in research funding in fiscal 2019.

VCU is at the heart of Richmond’s ecosystem because it is dedicated to the concept that as an “urban university” it has a responsibility to transfer technology into the community around it. It is eager to do “translational” research, which means finding practical uses for cutting-edge ideas, whereas some other universities are interested in only pure research. That’s one reason VCU has received so much support from NIH, which is eager to show results from the tens of billions of dollars it has invested in research and development. “Most of these other great institutions are driven by basic science,” Gupton explains. “All the stuff we’re doing is translational research that’s outside the comfort zone of most universities.”

Other universities also have technology transfer departments but they tend to seek to control the outflow of technology because of the fear of “another Gatorade,” a reference to how the sports drink was invented at the University of Florida but commercialized without the university receiving compensation. Faculties at some universities regard tech transfer departments as barriers. “The perception may be that the tech transfer office is more concerned about protecting the university’s ownership position and cutting the best financial deal possible for the university,” says Dan Berglund, President and CEO of SSTI, a national organization based in Westerville, Ohio that is dedicated to technology-based economic growth.

In contrast, VCU’s technology transfer department is pointedly called the “Innovation Gateway” to emphasize its role as a facilitator in tech outflows. Both Merck and Pfizer, for example, have recently licensed technologies from the university. And the university is committed to assisting faculty and staff startups.

The school has grown rapidly to nearly 35,000 students and the school of medicine has been the engine of innovation, although the College of Engineering and other departments are catching up.

A Park serves as a beacon

VA Bio+Tech Park
VA Bio+Tech Park

The Virginia Bio+Tech Park is located adjacent to the medical campus of VCU, which – in part – provides the place for professors and students to easily leave campus to work on start-ups. It is like an incubator or accelerator designed to move ideas out of the university into a commercial setting, a crucial step in the commercialization of technology that many universities lack. “Our ecosystem is getting stronger,” says Carrie Roth, President and CEO of the VA Bio+Tech Park and Activation Capital. “If you are in a university setting for your company, then the university owns everything you create. If you are here, you have more opportunity to create your own destiny.”

The Bio+Tech Park has an impressive 1.2 million square feet of space in seven buildings, all located within walking distance of VCU. Some 36 early stage companies have labs or offices in the Bio+Tech Center. A majority of companies fail without the proper support. “Success comes in a variety of different forms,” says Roth. “Sometimes failure is a success. Our efforts are focused around opportunities to share the risk and provide the founder the best opportunity to take an idea from start to phenomenal.” It may take a life sciences company 10 years to fully develop and go through all the regulatory approvals that are necessary. Roth also runs Activation Capital, which is a new $5 million Ecosystem Direct Investment Fund to support the growth of entrepreneurial support organizations.

One company that was born in the Bio + Tech Center is Kaléo. Two twin brothers from VCU, Eric and Evan Edwards, were highly allergic to peanuts and had trouble remembering to carry their bulky EpiPens, which dispense a drug to help them recover from an allergic reaction. They came up with an auto-injector the size of a credit card, called the Auvi-Q. It can be carried much more conveniently. The company, based in Richmond, also makes a similar product to revive an individual who has overdosed on opioids.

In addition to start-ups, VA Bio+Tech has the research and development components of companies based outside of the Commonwealth because the cost structure of Richmond is so much cheaper than, say, San Francisco. In addition, the juxtaposition of large companies and start-ups in the Park allows a cross-pollenization of ideas to occur. The United Network for Organ Sharing, which coordinates organ donations and transplants globally, also has facilities in Bio+Tech, offering another type of synergy among life sciences and technology.

Changes that could save the world

Gupton’s story best illustrates VCU’s pragmatic approach. He had a Ph.D. but was working in the pharmaceutical industry until retiring at age 55 some 12 years ago. He then came to VCU as a professor, an unusual career path indeed. At the same time that he was teaching advanced organic synthesis to students, the university helped him find and equip the lab space in the Bio+Tech Park and he has been able to hire experts from industry and even from the Pentagon’s DARPA unit—another variation from standard university practice.

Moreover, because his labs are off campus, four companies are interested in or have co-located in the same building with his research team, which would violate most universities’ policies if the labs were on-campus. He declines to name the companies but says that two are large established companies and two are start-ups and all are eager to get early access to the processes Gupton is developing. “Frank retired from industry and thought he was just going to spend time relaxing,” says Francis L. Macrina, the university’s former Vice President for Research and Innovation. “But what Frank is doing with the Gates Foundation is at the forefront. He’s hired great people to collaborate with. He’s going to create medicine on demand.”

Ultimately, Gupton and his supporters believe they can spawn a cluster of companies all focused on making pharmaceuticals using the continuous process. Gupton’s work on creating the vending machine-style dispenser relies on a specialized clear-plastic “reactor” where drug compounds are mixed. The components need to be in the form of a liquid-like slurry, rather than solid. Certain catalysts and solvents must be present. And very precise sensors are needed to monitor the creation of the medicines. Specialized companies that make all those items may spring up in the Richmond area to support Gupton’s work. “We think it could be a new industry cluster in our region,” says Roth.

They are thinking big in Richmond.

Learn more about Richmond's BioScience industry

Greater Richmond has consistently been recognized for its innovative environment and supportive business community. In 2019, the region was ranked 3rd Best City (Outside Silicon Valley) For Your Next Startup by BroadBandNow. Individuals, companies and organizations around the region are constantly taking the initiative to progress in their field.

Earlier this month, Virginia-based researchers in the private sector, academia and nonprofit research institutes received funding from the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund (CRCF). A total amount of $2.51 million was awarded through 41 awards to initiatives that will further the commercialization process of high-potential technology and services for Virginia’s private sector. Of that fund, $500,000 was awarded to Richmond-based individuals, teams, and companies.

Wearable sleep tech gets investment

Dr. Ryan Casey Boutwell, Chief Executive Officer of NIRSleep Inc. and Bionica Labs, was awarded $50,000 for his proposal Home Sleep Monitoring with a Compact and Inexpensive Wearable Neuro-Imaging Device. NIRSleep Inc. is dedicated to creating a noninvasive, easy-to-use sleep-monitoring device that expands the realm of sleep science outside of a lab. The NIRSleep devices would enable scientists to remotely receive objective data from sleeping patients wearing the tech in the comfort of their own homes, improving accessibility and acceptability of disorder diagnosis.

Braintrust at VCU issued funding

Four experts at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) were each awarded $100,000:

  • Wei-Ning Wang was awarded for his proposal Development of a Highly Efficient Air Filter for Inactivation of Airborne Germs. He currently teaches in VCU’s Department of Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering with expertise in aerosol science and technology.
  • Jason Reed received funding for his proposal A Nanotechnology Approach for Streamlining Detection of Prognostic Translocation in Multiple Myeloma (MM). He currently teaches in VCU’s Department of Physics and is an expert in experimental biophysics and nanoscience.
  • Christopher Ehrhardt was awarded for his proposal Rapid Cell Typing Technology for Forensic DNA Casework. He currently teaches in VCU’s Department of Forensic Science. He specializes in microbiology, forensic biology, and trace evidence analysis.
  • Nicholas Farrell was issued funding for his proposal Sulfated Glycosaminoglycans as Disease Biomarkers and Molecular Targets for Precision Medicine in Cancer. He is a current professor in VCU’s Department of Chemistry. He studies the role of metal complexes in biology and medicine.

Biomedical firm to research infection prevention

Dr. Kenneth Wynne, President of WynnVision LLC., was awarded $50,000 for the proposal Antimicrobial and Biocompatible Endotracheal Tubes. Located in the VA Bio+Tech Park, the biomedical company focuses on preventing infections caused by medical devices. WynnVision recently received a NIH SBIR FastTrack award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in 2018. Dr. Kenneth Wynne is also a Professor Emeritus in VCU’s Department of Chemistry and Life Sciences Engineering with expertise in the processing technology for fluoropolymers.

Learn more about Richmond's BioScience industry

Richmond Region bioscience industry outpaces state, U.S.

Bioscience firms in Richmond are growing at nearly twice the rate of Virginia and the United States, according to Chmura JobsEQ. In Greater Richmond alone, over $140 million have been invested by bioscience businesses since 2008. The region’s bioscience industry is thriving with no signs of slowing down.

University innovation

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) recently announced the opening of a new Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences. The pharmaceutical engineering field involves chemical, mechanical and biomedical engineering in addition to pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry and materials science. The center is a collaboration between VCU’s School of Pharmacy and College of Engineering. Together, they will focus on drug product design, drug discovery, preclinical studies, manufacturing, formulation and packaging.

The new center complements the Medicines for All Institute (M4ALL), whose mission is to improve access to affordable and high-quality medicines. The institute accomplishes its goal by decreasing the costs of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) through low-cost manufacturing and production. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, M4ALL was formed to pursue and to deliver this patient access to existing and new medications.

A center for industry

Adjacent to the VCU Medical Center in downtown Richmond is the 34-acre VA Bio+Tech Park. The park is home to more than 60 companies, laboratories and research centers with 2,400 workers in 1.2 million square feet of space. Companies located in the park include the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), Tympanogen, the Altria Center for Research & Technology, and Thermal Gradient.

Outside of the park and throughout the region, industry representatives include Kaléo, Fareva, McKesson Medical-Surgical and Pfizer. These companies and more help contribute to the large number of bioscience workers in the region, totaling over 5,700 existing bioscience employees, while roughly 67,000 are employed in health and life sciences.

STEM education advancement

Greater Richmond’s bioscience workforce is highly educated due to the numerous colleges and universities in the region. In addition to VCU, universities in the region include the University of Richmond, Virginia Union University, Virginia State University and Randolph-Macon College, which all offer undergraduate programs in Biology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Chemistry and Physics and master’s programs in Biology. Total higher-education enrollment in the region is nearly 80,000 with more than 16,000 degrees conferred annually. Beyond the Richmond Region, there are more than 1.6 million higher educations students within 150 miles including some of the top universities on the East Coast. These include University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke University, James Madison University, George Mason University, Georgetown University and American University.

Over 1,500 of the degrees conferred annually at VCU alone are in STEM fields. Recently, VCU was approved in state budgets for a new $121 million STEM building for the Monroe Park campus, in the heart of Richmond. It will be 160,000 square feet and six floors of classrooms, labs, and office space dedicated to enriching STEM students with experiential learning.

Virginia STEM graduates will join a rapidly growing workforce in the U.S.; over the past decade, STEM fields have experienced a 9.5 percent increase, in contrast to the 2.5 increase of non-STEM fields. As of October 2018, 76.5 percent of STEM graduates from VCU remain in Virginia, an experienced workforce for the thriving bioscience and technology industries based in the Greater Richmond area.

As biosciences touch upon more technological advances, Virginia is committed to doubling the state’s tech-talent pipeline which will benefit employers across the commonwealth. A new performance-based investment program will double the annual number of graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and closely related fields, ultimately yielding 25,000 to 35,000 additional graduates over the next two decades in excess of current levels.

Learn more about Richmond's BioScience industry

When most people consider incentives as part of an overall economic development incentive package, workforce development incentives typically aren’t top of mind. However, this can actually have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line, particularly when combined with other offerings from a state or region.

Here in the Richmond Region, the Capital Region Workforce Board proactively targets companies in the Advanced Manufacturing, Healthcare, Logistics, and Professional, Scientific & Technical Services — all of which happen to align with industry strengths in the region. This is no accident. The Board strategically aligns their focus and has an average of $4 million annually to assist companies with finding and training their workforce. In the fiscal year ending in June 2017, more than 28,000 job seekers received basic career services and more than 1,800 job seekers received individualized counseling and training assistance.

Employment and training programs in these and other areas are administered by 20 regional organizations that, together, form the Capital Region Workforce Network. Most network partners are state or local government groups, but others include community-based groups, non-profits, and economic development organizations like the Greater Richmond Partnership.

Greater Richmond’s evolving Bioscience scene

Starting more than 400 years ago with the first hospital of the New World, the Richmond Region’s health and life science scene keeps evolving by combining bioscience, technology and even food science.

Anchored by Virginia Commonwealth University and the VA Bio+Tech Park, the Richmond Region’s health and life science community is gaining momentum, and is starting to rival the North Carolina Research Triangle and Cambridge, Mass., thanks to their tech transfer program.

  • During the 2017 fiscal year alone, VCU attracted $275 million in sponsored research funding – earning national recognition as a research university by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for their “very high research activity.”
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) College of Engineering a $25 million grant to create the Medicines for All Institute. Led by retired pharma engineer Dr. Frank Gupton, the institute helps increase access to medications for malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases around the globe. The Medicines for All Institute has also worked closely with the Clinton Health Access Initiative.
  • The National Institute of Health (NIH) recently presented the university with $21.5 million, the largest grant in its history. The donation will expand and promote research and improve access for Virginians to revolutionary treatments for diseases, including pulmonary disease, cardiac disease and addiction.

However, VCU isn’t the only institution advancing the bioscience scene in the Richmond Region. The City of Richmond is also home to the VA Bio+Tech Park, a dynamic life sciences and evolving technologies community housing nearly 70 companies, like:

  • Kaléo, a Richmond-based pharmaceutical company, created an auto-injector for allergic reactions and has recently designed auto-injectors to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
  • Tympanogen, a Richmond developer of ear, nose and throat devices, is developing the first nonsurgical eardrum repair gel.
  • Nutriati, a food technology company focused on research, development and commercialization of innovative plant-based food ingredients.

With such a thriving bioscience community, Richmond, Virginia is a strategic location for innovators, researchers, scientists, and engineers seeking to make an impact in the industry.

Innovation grows in Richmond, Va.

Our region has become a magnet for millennial talent and startups. Richmond is home to numerous innovative spaces to support professionals and students alike to collaborate and bring ideas to life.

Thanks to an investment from Capital One, the new 42,000-square-foot 1717 Innovation Center, serves up to 50 startup businesses in the heart of downtown Richmond. The goal is for up to 200 startup companies to use the space in the first three years, with access to more than 70 volunteer mentors who will offer business advice and leadership training. The building’s operator, Startup Virginia, was founded by like-minded entrepreneurs deeply invested in the region’s innovation ecosystem. The six-story building will house an innovation and research center for Capital One (the region’s largest employer) and will offer space for events and educational programs.

Just around the corner, locally-headquartered CarMax has modeled its Innovation Center after startups in Silicon Valley, focusing on technology powering the customer experience. The Innovation Center’s newest implemented technology is the 360-degree view from inside the car that allows customers to see the interior while shopping online. The company’s current project focuses on home delivery, giving shoppers an opportunity to test drive cars if they have no time to visit a CarMax in person.


Health and life sciences are constantly being improved from research and development models.

The Virginia Center for Health Innovation is a public-private partnership that accelerates the adoption of value-driven models of wellness and health care. The organization consists of health care providers, health systems, pharmaceutical manufacturers, employers, consumers, and government who work together in developing recommendations about implementing health reform and to seek innovative solutions that meet the needs of Virginia’s citizens and its government. VCHI also provides an online forum for individuals to share information, ideas, and innovations, collaborate on projects, and more on wellness and healthcare in Virginia.

Talent pipeline

The incoming workforce will have experience in innovative workplaces from a university level. These innovative and collective spaces are molding students to be both analytical and creative for today’s competitive business environment.

At the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, the new idea lab (or iLab) was created to foster innovation and collaboration among the students. The space features the ability to link any device to several different displays, Skype-ready screens with cameras and microphones, digital whiteboard walls that can send notes and sketches as a PDF, and moveable furniture to accommodate meetings both small and large.

Virginia Commonwealth University is home to the da Vinci Center, a unique collegiate model that advances innovation and entrepreneurship through cross-disciplinary collaboration. Students in the da Vinci Center view innovation and entrepreneurship from numerous disciplinary outlooks. Current innovation projects include clients such as Pfizer, Productiv Inc., and Hamilton Perkins Collection.

Most people wouldn’t associate the industry sectors of Food & Beverage and Biosciences, but in Richmond, Va., it’s a recipe (or formula!) that works.

Ever since Reynolds Wrap was pioneered here in 1947, food & beverage (and associated) companies have been flocking to Richmond. It’s now home to more than 50 food processing companies, including Sabra Dipping Company, the largest hummus manufacturing facility in the world.

The latest in this trend is the natural products market. These companies are taking crossing over from the kitchen to the laboratory:

  • Located at the Virginia Bio+Tech Park, RVA Yeast Labs is working to develop traditional and unique species and strains of brewing microbes. The company also captures and spreads wild yeasts, all of which they supply to brewers in the region.
  • We’re seeing exciting food science innovations, including by Nutriati which raised $8 million for further development of a chickpea-based protein additive. The mild-tasting powder can be used to add protein to cooking dishes.
  • Start-up company Spira is developing nutritional drinks made of spirulina blue-green algae.

Experts estimate the worldwide non-GMO foods market to increase 16.2 percent between 2017 and 2021, and these organic food makers are riding the upswing:

  • Locally-based Health Warrior is one company that saw the benefits of natural superfoods and jumped at the chance to develop a chia-based product that could change activity habits.
  • San-J International manufactures gluten-free, non-GMO Tamari soy sauce and other premium Asian-inspired food products.
  • Sabra Dipping now offers an organic line of their popular hummus dips. The company operates a Center of Excellence research and development facility in Chesterfield County.
  • Seeking a natural hair care product during her battle with psoriasis, Nadira Chase developed Adiva Naturals Skin and Hair Care Products.
  • Richmond is also home to Tokie’s, the producers of gluten-free baking mixes which can be found in Whole Foods.

Richmond is quickly becoming a hub for start-ups with incubators like Lighthouse Labs and Startup Virginia providing mentorships and a network to resources.

Ideally situated on the East Coast, the region is an hour to Virginia Beach, two hours to Washington, D.C., and close to several international airport options. Our strategic location and compelling quality of life have helped the region become a magnet for talent. More than 1.6 million post-secondary students study within 150 miles, providing a pipeline for a highly-educated workforce when start-ups decide to scale up services.

The Richmond Region’s business-friendly environment provides a low cost for businesses, easy company structuring and multiple legal options. Many Richmond start-ups keep their headquarters locally and instead expand to larger markets, keeping the core executive team in the region due to its low cost and high quality of life.

Incubation and co-working spaces

Co-working spaces like 804RVA, Gather, and the soon-to-open Level Office offer beginners an office area to start their business. Richmond is a community of many entrepreneurs that create and come together to support each other. Richmond has a highly educated and skilled workforce, low cost for business, and many local start-up competitions helping to provide seed money for new businesses.

The Gather co-working space offers entrepreneurs an environment to collaborate.

Capital One Financial purchased a building in Shockoe Bottom that two local businessmen are planning to turn into an incubator for start-up businesses. The five-story building is a former tobacco warehouse that would provide work space and mentoring opportunities for local entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Start-up Funding & Competitions

NRV, a Richmond-based venture capital firm recently raised $33 million to invest in promising early-stage businesses in the Richmond Region and throughout Virginia. NRV’s Early-Stage Growth Fund closed with contributions from 83 investors across the state. The firm is not looking for 10-12 start-ups that only have a concept, but early-stage companies that have shown a viable business model and need capital to grow.

Start-ups and entrepreneurs will find several competitions in Richmond, Va., including the Dominion Resources Innovation Center’s 2018 Pitch Contest. The competition will feature three start-ups vying for a $10,000 award.

Once a company is ready to expand to international markets, the Metro Richmond Exports Initiative is ready to assist. The program recently awarded five $5,000 grants to small and medium-sized firms looking to export goods or services.

Success Stories

In 2017, the Richmond Region had many new businesses either start-up or grow. Many already established start-ups raised more than $19 million in venture capital:

  • Nutriati, a company focusing on the breakdown of garbanzo beans into proteins and gluten-free compound, has raised over $9 million from investors.
  • Blueswipe hit a milestone in 2017 with a nearly $150,000 capital raise after ramping up earlier in the year. Located in Scott’s Addition, the firm specializes in payment processing for small and midsize businesses.
  • Iggbo has a system that dispatches phlebotomists to patients’ homes to draw blood. Iggbo plans to use excess space in doctors’ offices as permanent locations. Launched in 2015, Iggbo has a presence in 1,300 cities and raised $16 million in capital.
  • Outdoor Access helps private landowners rent out their land to customers for hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking. Outdoor access launched in Sept. 2017 by Jamie Christensen, Aaron Bumgarner and Buck Robinson. As of Aug. 2017, they have raised $2 million in capital.
  • Evatran, a Scott’s Addition start-up, focuses on wireless charges for electronic cars. After moving into a new headquarters, the RVA start-up will be bought by Zhejiang VIE Science & Technology Co., an auto parts manufacturer in China. Since its founding in 2009, Evatran has raised over $7 million in capital.

Last year saw the rise of new start-ups and there is little doubt that 2018 will see these companies grow larger.