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RAMP kicks off 2020 program and introduces its fourth cohort

Six high-growth companies have been selected to take part in the fourth iteration of the RAMP business accelerator program, which began its 2020 classes on June 15.

RAMP, short for the Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program, is a regional initiative that aims to help science, technology, engineering, math and health (STEM-H) companies test the viability and marketability of their products before entering the wider market. The program supports businesses across a wide spectrum of growth stages; that mix of maturity stages allows new company heads to learn from entrepreneurs who have deeper knowledge and more experience, and gives more developed companies the chance to learn new strategies from younger ones.

Although RAMP’s 2020 session was slightly delayed due to COVID-19, Director Mary Miller said she is proud of the swift and innovative adjustments that she and other team members have implemented. In past years, RAMP has invited local business owners, entrepreneurs and community leaders to meet with cohort members and learn more about their companies in person. This year, RAMP will be facilitating the same process through remote means. Instead of hosting Meet the Cohort, its annual meet-and-greet event, at a physical location, that event will be held through Zoom, and those interested can register on the RBTC website. Mentor Madness — another annual event where lead mentors can get to know participating companies and form partnerships was held via Zoom, Miller said, “and it was fun and engaging.” “We set up the portal so mentors could come in and view videos from each company ahead of time and then we had private ‘live time’ so each potential mentor could ask the company questions,” Miller said. “We missed being together but we made the virtual experience work..” In addition to adjusting the program’s public events to be friendly to social distancing guidelines, Miller said that the RAMP program will also be moving its content partially online. While cohort members may work as teams in the Gill Memorial Building on South Jefferson Street in downtown Roanoke, curriculum and activities will be conducted online. Cohort companies will also be given access to assignments and learning materials that can be completed at their own pace. Internationally recognized instructors and Virginia Western Community College adjuncts Lisa Garcia and Mike Abbott have been examining best practices for creating attention-grabbing videos and engaging Zoom meetings, Miller said. Their efforts will help cohort members get the information they need without suffering some of the drawbacks that can accompany long virtual meetings.

“I think people are having fatigue with how to get through content,” Miller said. “We’re hoping to bring different speakers to keep spirits high.”

This year’s incoming cohort will include the following companies:

Abstract Assembly, LLC — Abstract Assembly, LLC, is a space-centered technology company. The startup has created a program that eases the process of designing and prototyping small satellites. Independent space exploration companies, universities and hobbyists can use Abstract Assembly’s program to account for vital parameters and mission constraints. If a change to the design needs to be made, Abstract Assembly’s program can use deep learning to automatically make adjustments, eliminating the need for an individual engineer to redesign the satellite from scratch. By using the program, satellite designers will be able to create models that reflect needed changes in seconds; such adjusted designs usually require 16 to 24 hours of labor. Richard Tan, Abstract Assembly’s CEO, said he’s excited to participate in the 2020 RAMP cohort because the program will afford numerous opportunities to interview and learn from potential customers. “My goal for RAMP is to get our software into the hands of university satellite teams," Tan said. "With RAMP's help, we're going to change the small satellite market so that they can compete directly with commercial integrators.”

Itus Digital — Itus Digital helps large industrial facilities and industrial equipment manufacturers predict and prevent costly equipment failures that could otherwise result in manufacturing downtime, environmental disasters or injury to personnel. The company develops analytical software and engineering models which assess equipment business risk, analyze historical performance and determine current condition. The solution predicts potential equipment failures in addition to providing workers with insights to preventative measures so that future malfunctions can be avoided all together. Joe Nichols, who helped found Itus Digital, said the company is comprised of a group of former Meridium veterans who saw key innovations which could fundamentally change how industrial companies manage industrial equipment risk and optimize their performance. Nichols said Itus Digital is excited to join RAMP because the program provides an opportunity for the company to solidify its regional network. “We think there’s great tech talent, there’s great advisors, there’s great regional sourcing, and of course RAMP as an environment to collaborate and share best practices, “ he said

Local Food Network — Local Food Network aims to support small businesses and local economies by helping wholesale buyers source local food more easily. The company streamlines the process by which chefs and grocery managers usually order their food from farmers and producers. Instead of having to send multiple emails or make numerous phone calls to update orders, customers can use Local Food Network’s platform to send a single, comprehensive order. The platform will handle the additional communication and coordination needed to complete orders containing goods from multiple vendors. Dustyn Vallies, Local Food Network’s co-founder, said the company applied to RAMP in hopes of expanding their customer bases in the Roanoke and New River valleys. “We really see RAMP as a way to receive the necessary guidance to help communities at the next level,” he said.

Rendyr — Rendyr provides more intuitive, accessible and affordable solutions for rapid prototyping and digital fabrication centered around creative users, such as designers, makers and engineers. The company has designed the Optic Portable Laser Cutter which cuts and engraves hundreds of materials at industrial precision. The user enjoys flexibility through a large work area of 12 by 17 inches, while the storage configuration measures a mere 4 by 6 by 24 inches. Unlike conventional laser cutters, which require costly add-ons such as external air filters, Rendyr’s all-in-one device is the first with integrated filtration and the unique ability to set up the machine and — by detaching the cutting mat — engrave directly on any stable surface. Martin Angst, the company’s co-founder, said he’s excited about the regional connections and learning experiences that RAMP will provide. “We look forward to RAMP’s program and to acquiring the additional business skills that we need to provide our customers with the best products and support. Additionally, we’re hoping to recruit skilled people from the region that can help us move forward onto our team,” he said.

QuickTech — QuickTech facilitates faster, easier and more affordable orthopedic recovery while improving patient outcomes by leveraging new technologies designed to replace existing archaic devices and procedures. The company develops analytical software and manufactures a diagnostic tool that allows medical workers to quickly and accurately measure joints on patients suffering from arthritis, stroke, burns and other ailments. Unlike current medical tools used in that field, which require manual measurement of each joint individually by an experienced doctor, QuickTech’s product only requires the patient to flex his or her hand while the device is in use. The patient’s joints will then be mapped by 3D sensors and an AI algorithm. In addition to improving the tools used to diagnose and treat arthritis and other conditions, QuickTech hopes to gather and analyze data that steer doctors and clinicians toward more effective treatment processes that speed recovery time. Glenn Feit, one of QuickTech’s four co-founders, said that the company’s team was excited to work and learn from RAMP. “We’re excited about the partnerships that we can form through RAMP,” Feit said. “It’s a great organization, and it’s exciting to see what they’ve accomplished in just two years.”

Yindividual — Yindividual aims to provide small businesses and independent creators with an affordable, customizable and multifaceted Super-App that provides a platform for local companies to more easily compete with chain franchises and conglomerates. This Super-app provides premade functional modules, which fit or improve their business model in the best way. Along with solving the problem of mobile app fatigue, Yindividual will help business owners bring their customers closer than ever before. Engagement, Customization and Convenience are the key values of their platform development. Yibo Zheng, one of the company’s co-founders, said he and his team are excited for the networking and educational opportunities that RAMP will provide. “We’ve been learning the process of entrepreneurship by ourselves, through failure and through other entrepreneurial stories, and we are optimistic and prepared to adapt to the new challenges presented to us, our community and our world,” Zheng said.

In addition to receiving three months of entrepreneurship training from Garcia and Abbott, cohort members will be given office space within the Gill Memorial Building, as well as free Wi-Fi for a year. Seed capital money may be provided depending on funding availability.

“Mike and Lisa, they’ve been working feverishly to move to an online space, and we were fortunate to get additional grant funding from GO Virginia to create that platform,” Miller said. “We’re excited to get to work with our 2020 companies and to learn with them over the next 12 weeks.”

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