Cohort 2 Blockchain Developers: (L to R) Elijah Joyce, sophomore at University of Virginia's College at Wise, Brandon White, Master Deputy Commissioner of the Revenue, Ben Nichols, senior at University of Virginia's College at Wise, Robert England, Professor of Criminal Justice at Mountain Empire Community College, Colby Farmer, Blockchain Lead & freshman at Mountain Empire Community College, Ally Connell, Deputy Clerk, April Huff, Master Deputy Clerk, Micah McDermott, senior at Western Governors University, and Julie McCoy, Chief Master Deputy Clerk.

Here are news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send items for possible inclusion to

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Wise County clerk’s office uses blockchain

The Wise County Clerk of Circuit Court Office is part of a pilot program funded in part by NASA to create a 40-year blockchain of title abstracts including hundreds of parcels.

Court Clerk Jack Kennedy said this means that, when the project is completed, a user need only click a button to get the entire transaction history of a piece of property.

Wise County is the only county in Virginia piloting the program funded in part by the NASA Space Grant Consortium, the Commonwealth of Virginia Technology Trust Fund and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority through 2022.

The blockchain-based land title system is a back-end addition to the existing land registry for Wise County and the city of Norton which ties together historic transactional data involving each parcel and locks the data to reduce any possibility of fraud in land conveyances and speeds the time that a land transition closing may be made, according to a release from Kennedy. There are few blockchain land registry use cases in the United States.

He said the next step to further the blockchain land registry program is to begin to add artificial intelligence, optical charter recognition and big data crunching to speed the title transfer examinations over a historic period of 40 years, and subsequently to be double-checked by human intervention to complete the entire data for every Wise County parcel, if the pilot can be completed before Dec. 31, 2023. 

The project seeks interested scholars from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Mountain Empire Community College, Dickenson County Clerk of Court Richard Edwards and Scott County Clerk of Court “Bo” Taylor, and other workforce development agencies within the region to teach title abstracting with use of the blockchain application.

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Valleys Innovation Council receives $200,000 grant

Valleys Innovation Council, an affiliate of Verge,  has received a $200,000 grant from Truist Foundation to offer new educational programming and support structures through its PitchPlus program that will help regional entrepreneurs and founders understand the fundamentals of angel and venture capital  finance, how to access capital and build connections between startups and sources of capital in Southside, Southwest and West Central Virginia. The program will be delivered in coordination with project partners Blue Ridge PBS, The Launch Place in Danville, the Appalachian Council for Innovation, the Roanoke firm Eddy Alexander and fellow Verge affiliate the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. 

The PitchPlus program will improve access to information regarding capital through a robust  multipart video series produced in conjunction with Blue Ridge PBS and dedicated online  resources to facilitate accessing capital. The grant will support in-person and hybrid educational and networking events to help connect entrepreneurs to capital sources, expand the region’s mentor pool and provide microgrants to help growing companies secure federal and state grant  writing technical assistance. PitchPlus will also incentivize improved collaboration across a region spanning Roanoke to Danville to Bristol by project partners to benefit the region’s entrepreneurs and startups. Some PitchPlus program activities are also supported by a grant VIC received in 2020 from the U.S ,Economic Development Administration. 

Valleys Innovation Council is a nonprofit organization with a mission to support innovation and entrepreneurship by connecting, communicating and collaborating with stakeholders to grow and strengthen our innovation economy. To learn more, visit Verge is a collaborative strategic alliance established to grow the region’s innovation economy, technology and life sciences sectors, and the supporting professional communities. It aligns the programming efforts of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, the  Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP) and Valleys Innovation Council.  To learn more about membership, events and how to get involved, visit  

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Students at the Idea Fair in Danville.

High school students attend Idea Fair at Danville Community College

On Dec. 17, students from Danville Public Schools, Pittsylvania County Public Schools, and Danville Community College gathered virtually and in person in Oliver Hall on the DCC campus to attend the 2021 Idea Fair award ceremony. 

“The Idea Fair is the culmination of many sponsors and organizations who want to support the entrepreneurial spirit of the students in our community,” said Willie Sherman, coordinator of the Idea Fair and professor of business at DCC. “Students enter their best and brightest business ideas and our group of judges from across the community review their presentations and decide who the winners are.”

The Idea Fair is hosted and facilitated by Danville Community College as part of the Dan River Region Entrepreneur Ecosystem, which also includes The Launch Place, the Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce, the River District Association and Longwood Small Business Development Center. 

 “Our participants each had an opportunity to present their business idea to our panel of judges, explaining how their idea would work, how it would remain viable, and answering any questions the judges might have,” said Sherman. 

First, second, and third place winners are selected from each participating school. Out of more than 70 participants, 15 students received monetary prizes for their entries.

“The grant that allows us to host the Idea Fair provides us with the funds to award these brilliant minds with $300 for first place, $200 for second place, and $100 for third place,” said Sherman. “All other participants received $50 for participating in the fair.”

Winners – Pittsylvania County Public Schools

Tunstall High School

1st Place – Automatic Welding Team Project

  • Joshua Brown
  • Peyton Henderson
  • Cristian Licea-Hernandez
  • Eben Owen

2nd Place – Food Waste Prevention Project

  • Riley Edwards

3rd Place – Food Waste Recycling Team Project

  • Evan Burnett
  • Santanna Keatts
  • Nathan Rigney 

Winners – Danville Public Schools

George Washington High School

1st Place – Quick Fix Hair Team Project

  • Makayla Witcher
  • Gakoria Robertson
  • Paris Hall
  • Jayla Dickerson

Winners – Danville Community College

1st Place – Hemp Farm Project

  • Izaak Jeffers 

2nd Place – Shipping Container Homes Project

  • Madison Fuquay

3rd Place – Casino Employee Training Project

  • Dustin Brumfield 


Nicolas Bernard

Malcom Hudges

Rodney Brandon

Wendy Ferrell

Hunter Adkins

Chanel Jones

Leslie Pineda

Jodi Amos

Mackenzie Branton

Almira Shaw

Elijiah Keatts

Jacqueline Willis

Luke White

Zildijian Crumpton

Agustin Carrillo-Lopez

Ivania Rivera Rodas

Chakiyah Clark

Kaleb Smith

Victoria Shelton

William Durham

Aaron Gregory

Aiden Ferrell

Grayson Robertson

Brayden Spencer

Ryan Stewart

Meghan Keatts

Francisco Licea-Hernandez

Francoise Moore

Timothy Love

Thomas Scearce

Bryce Conner

John Bledsoe
Nicholas Cook
Jacob Oswald
Tristan Bagbey
Emma Doolin
Angel Torres
Jacob Wethington
Aaron Presley
Daven Trail
Monica Escalante

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Mary Blanco, center. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech’s Blanco is honored

Myra Blanco, director of advancement, partnerships, and outreach at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, has been named the Society of Automotive Engineers Contributor of the Year for 2021.

“This year’s class of contributors is a testament to the tremendous work our members do, and we are honored to recognize the contributions they have made to not only SAE, but the mobility industry as a whole,” said Chris Ciuca, vice president of programs at SAE International. “Dr. Blanco is a perfect example of that, and we are proud to present her with this award.”

SAE’s Contributor of the Year is the highest honor bestowed on a volunteer for their contributions to the society. From the nominations, a top contributor class is identified and invited to attend the yearly celebration trip. The volunteer of the year is chosen from the top contributor class and announced at the annual awards dinner.

As the director of advancement, partnerships and outreach at the institute, Blanco is responsible for ensuring the quality, design, execution, and interpretation of VTTI’s internal collaborations with other Virginia Tech researchers and externally through corporate, individual, and government relations.

Blanco earned her bachelor’s in industrial engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus, and her master’s and Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech.

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