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Aug 20

A Plan Coming Together

Posted on August 20, 2019 at 2:03 PM by Melinda Mayo

A couple of weeks ago, an article ran in The Roanoke Times that exemplified an aspect of our economic development that so many here have worked to nurture.  A collaboration involving entrepreneurs, federal agencies, city government, the community college, a technology council, and others.

The Opportunity 

Micro Harmonics is an area firm that manufactures Faraday rotation isolators (I won’t even begin to try to explain what they are!) at their facility in Fincastle.  They have received significant funding from NASA to further develop their technology.  The owners, a brother-and-sister team, are successful scientists, marketers, and business people.  The technology is used for a number of purposes, but holds great promise with 5G and even 6G technology.  They are seeking opportunities to expand the business and attract outside investment.

The Accelerator

Micro Harmonics is one of six firms participating in RAMP (Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program), housed in the City-owned former Gill Memorial Building located in Roanoke's Innovation Corridor. RAMP is designed to provide existing businesses the opportunity to accelerate their success through intense education and training, partnerships with mentors, and access to capital.  The current cohort, RAMP’s third, includes (in addition to Micro Harmonics) firms engaged in soil testing, collegiate sports ticket sales, blockchain technology, and technology solutions for entities interacting with clientele with cognitive disabilities.  RAMP is led by Dr. Mary Guy Miller through the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council.  Experts from throughout the region provide education and training with a curriculum developed and overseen by faculty from Virginia Western Community College and Virginia Tech.  Further support and mentoring come from individuals and businesses throughout the region.

The Pipeline

Perhaps most exciting about the Micro Harmonics example is not only its presence in RAMP, but its reliance on yet another local program for much of its staffing—the Virginia Western 
mechatronics program.  The mechatronics program is a part of Virginia Western’s School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and equips area residents with the skills needed for work as an engineering technician in fields as diverse as medicine, logistics, and manufacturing.  This field holds great promise and is part of the reason Virginia Western is expanding their facilities with the new STEM Building nearing completion on their Colonial Avenue campus.  There are even elements of this program available through Goodwill Industries of the Valleys at their job campus on Melrose Avenue in Roanoke.

All the Pieces

It’s pretty amazing to see how training opportunities with the local community college provide equipped technicians for an area business that has secured a series of federal grants. This is accelerating opportunity through participation in a collaborative effort at business mentoring and networking—all in an effort to advance a small business in one of the most promising technology-based growth sectors!  I might not be able to explain what a Faraday rotation isolator does but I do know when I see a plan come together, and what we have going on over at RAMP and Virginia Western is just that!

--Bob Cowell


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