Plans call for 2,500 square feet of shared wet and dry lab space to be constructed at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. The facility will be able to accommodate up to 25 companies. Courtesy of CRC.

Incubators and accelerators.

Dwayne Yancey of Cardinal News said these were the “the most important words” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said while running for office. 

Incubators and accelerators. 

We’ve got a plan for that in the Roanoke and New River valleys.

Our region is working steadily to commercialize biotech, spur innovation, and create an ecosystem where companies and innovate and thrive. 

A cross-regional coalition is working to build on some of the projects and investments you’ve probably heard about recently:

  • $90M investment by Commonwealth for the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • $1.5M combined investment by Commonwealth and partners for the RAMP program
  • $155k project with GO Virginia and the VTCRC to design and provide capacity study
  • 139,000 sf building including research facilities at VTC
  • $50M gift from Heywood Fralin to continue investments and growth in our region
  • $30M VTC Innovation Fund, VTC Seed Fund, Carilion Clinic Innovation, and VT/Carilion Clinic POC

That work is just the start of building a more affordable infrastructure for biotechnology and life sciences innovation. Public and private partners are collaborating across jurisdictions to ensure that this region is ready to make a big bang in biotech. 

Incubators and accelerators. 

It takes money to turn those three words into reality. 

The region requires increased capacity to meet the needs of biotech innovators. Our region’s innovation ecosystem is quickly expanding and we need the infrastructure, programming, talent support, and wrap-around resources to support this growth. We need more flexible wet and dry lab space so they can turn their ideas into tangibles … and scale. 

A cross-regional coalition has identified a location in Roanoke and need to acquire funding to turn a shovel-ready site into a biotech incubator and accelerator. The project could be reality in less than 24 months and would result in 250 jobs and more than $21 million in wages over the next five years. 

A biotech space is more than just a facility. It’s where companies are born. From Virginia Tech, Carilion, and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, this project could result in more than 25 new startups, growing the industry cluster in Southwest Virginia. 

This region can be a destination for biotech startups, providing everything the imagination can’t so that innovation startups can thrive and fuel the economy. 

Incubators and accelerators.

While the plan is ambitious, we’ve already gotten started. 

In December, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) with a coalition including Montgomery County, City of Roanoke, Verge, and Carilion Clinic, announced the development of a shared lab facility in Blacksburg that includes 25 lab spaces in a turn-key facility and will support the creation of 125 new biotech jobs over the next five years. 

The announcement included a collaboration between Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and Johnson & Johnson LLC to provide early-stage innovators in the region with access to their virtual residency program which includes expert mentoring, programming and resources offered through Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS (JLABS). JLABS was established in 2012 with an aim to provide startups with access to the critical resources, expertise, networks, and collaborations needed to progress innovative healthcare solutions for patients and consumers.

The presence of JLABS in the region will give companies spinning out of our growing accelerator and innovation programs, such as Regional Accelerator & Mentorship Program (RAMP) and Carilion Clinic Innovations a next step. Think of it as the life science graduate school accelerator for regional startups. 

Coalition partners are focused on creating a strong talent pipeline from our regional universities, community colleges, and even K-12. Students as early as middle school need to know the career opportunities within this cluster that pay significantly higher wages than other fields. 

These programs take a holistic approach to setting the stage for entrepreneurs to thrive in our ecosystem. It’s the foundation for startups to find support through each stage of their growth.  

These programs help take innovators from the early stages of having an idea to developing a business around it to connecting with the larger biotech community to support growth and development. 

Affordable infrastructure and accessible, flexible lab space are key needs of biotech researchers and startups. They need places to work and innovate and grow. They need tools to help them turn ideas into sustainable businesses and mentors that can open doors. 

And it all comes back to three words: incubators and accelerators.

Burcham is president of Verge and Executive Director of Roanoke – Blacksburg Technology Council. She...

Malone, Ph.D., is Chief Executive Officer, Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

Nelson is Director of Economic Development, City of Roanoke.