Innovation board promises $100,000 grant for rural regions

Rural Southwest and Southside Virginia are in line for a new six-figure grant for entrepreneurship, the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation has announced.

The innovation partnership, which held its board meeting Wednesday at the New College Institute in Martinsville, gave word at a Tuesday night dinner that it will commit $100,000. That’s the latest grant in a series that the partnership has given in the region over the past couple of years.

Details on how to access the funding were not available yet but are forthcoming, VIPC spokeswoman Angela Costello said.

“That funding is going to be part of collaborating and partnering to help foster more ecosystem growth, around entrepreneurship, around startups,” said Joe Benevento, VIPC’s interim president and CEO. “And that involves really key aspects such as mentorship, for example, so that we can understand where the gaps and challenges are, that we can help solve for in rural Virginia, and particularly in this region.”

The work force is here, and capable, he said. But Benevento wants to help grow the investment capital side of the equation, particularly in the early stages, through the likes of angel investors.

“And I think it’s an area that, through partnerships and collaborations with other stakeholders here locally, would really help take the ecosystem to that next level,” he said.

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick is the VIPC vice chair.

Merrick said that committing $100,000 is “a great idea, because it grabs people’s attention. And it says we’re not just talking about [it], and we’re actually going to do something about it. And we will be providing more guidance on that in the not-too-distant future.”

Merrick and Benevento said the grant is intended for the GO Virginia economic initiative’s regions 1, 2 and 3, which cover most of Southwest and Southside.

The Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation has developed multiple sponsorships in the three regions over the past couple of years, according to information that Costello provided. Those include:

  • $45,000 in VIPC Virginia Accelerator Network sponsorships for fiscal year 2023-24 to the Launch Place, a venture development organization that works in areas including Martinsville, Danville and Pittsylvania County.
  • $25,000 for the Advancement Foundation, which works with entrepreneurs in Southside and Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.
  • $7,500 annually for the Southern Piedmont Technology Council, Southside’s regional technology council.

The corporation also has co-hosted Global Entrepreneurship Week virtual meetup events in 2022 and 2023 with the SOVA Innovation Hub and Longwood University, and its staff participates regularly in Southern Virginia Regional Investment in Startups & Entrepreneurs, a regional initiative for entrepreneurship and innovation in Southern Virginia.

For the GO Virginia regions in question, $100,000 is “a starting point,” Benevento said.

“What hopefully it signals is that we want to help be a catalyst to leverage and amplify and activate greater capital through public and private partnerships,” he said. “So I think it … will help catalyze that conversation and get some of the right people and the right stakeholders in the room together and at the table, and see where it goes from there.”

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