Richmond’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is growing

Small startup businesses are sprouting in various nooks and crannies around the Richmond region.

About 50 local businesspeople, educators and civic leaders piled onto a bus in downtown Richmond on Thursday to get a look at where the “innovation economy” is sprouting.
“One of the interesting things about innovation in Richmond is that it is incredibly diverse,” said Todd Nuckols, managing director of Lighthouse Labs, a startup accelerator that supports the growth of new businesses in the region.

The bus tour organized by the Greater Richmond Chamber, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park started out at the biotech park, the 34-acre site in downtown Richmond that is home to about 60 companies in life sciences, including about a dozen small startup firms.

The tour also highlighted VCU’s developments along West Broad Street, where the university is building a themed residence hall for students who want to immerse themselves in entrepreneurship and innovation.

“This is really representative of a number of new buildings in what we call the living-learning corridor,” VCU President Michael Rao told the tour group. “The idea is that when the students are here, they are learning all the time.”

Also on Broad, the group got a glimpse of one of the co-working spaces that have developed in the region for entrepreneurs to collaborate. This one was 804RVA, founded by Larkin Garbee in 2011.
Garbee called it “Richmond’s country club for nerds and creatives.”

She said about 80 804RVA members are working in the space, and it has hosted more than 400 Meetup events in the past three years.

The group also got a look at the burgeoning startup community in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, and the same kind of development south of the James River in the Manchester neighborhood.
The tour was organized in part to give local business and civic leaders a better sense of the region’s startup culture before the chamber’s next InterCity visit in March, to Nashville, Tenn.

The group also stopped at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s 1E small-business collaborative workspace and learned about Lighthouse Labs, which held its latest class for startup businesses in the space this past fall.

That was the startup accelerator’s second class in two years. The classes have produced 16 new ventures that have received $1.5 million in new investment capital, created 40 jobs and have revenue projection exceeding $4 million for 2015, Nuckols said.

The bus tour group also learned about new plans for another one of the region’s business incubators, the Dominion Resources Innovation Center in Ashland.The incubator, which serves as a startup site for small firms working in the energy sector, opened in 2009. Mary Doswell, Dominion Resources’ senior vice president for alternative energy solutions, said the incubator is planning to move from its site on Business Lane in Ashland into a renovated fire station in the town. “We are moving it and trying to make it more adaptable, with more lab space,” Doswell said.

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