Commentary: Compete to win through innovation
Innovation and startups are key elements of a vibrant and healthy economy. Startups are responsible for most of the significant technological breakthroughs in recent years, and these new businesses create jobs, drive market competition and lead to a higher standard of living.
Virginia has helped launch many great innovation success stories in key industries, including Embody Inc. in life sciences, ID.me Inc. in cybersecurity, Babylon Micro-Farms in agtech, DroneUp LLC in unmanned flight, Electra Aero Inc. in aerospace, and Attune in energy.
Recognizing the significant role that innovation contributes to Virginia’s economic future, Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently released a comprehensive economic development policy — “Compete to Win.” The policy includes innovation as one of six strategies to accelerate economic development in Virginia.
Youngkin’s plan will strengthen a statewide culture conducive to entrepreneurship by enhancing connections between businesses, universities, investors and talent, and by reducing burdensome regulations for small businesses and early-stage companies.
Connecting innovators with opportunity is the mission of the nonprofit Virginia Innovation Partnership Corp. (VIPC). VIPC is the operating arm of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority (VIPA), which was formed by the General Assembly to focus support for technology innovation and new company formation in the commonwealth. VIPC is committed to establishing Virginia as a top state for emerging technology businesses through new industry development, ecosystem building and commercialization via universities and the private sector, and equity investments that leverage follow-on venture capital.
VIPC’s investment programs include Virginia Venture Partners (VVP), which invests in early-stage companies by providing the seed funding necessary for an idea to take root and grow. VVP has invested in nearly 300 new companies, which created more than 9,000 jobs, mobilized more than 1,300 investors and leveraged $1.3 billion in third-party capital. Recent funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) adds significant new opportunities for founders — particularly those from underrepresented demographics.
Similarly, the grant opportunities VIPC offers are valuable resources to help budding entrepreneurs find their footing. The Commonwealth Commercialization Fund (CCF) is Virginia’s primary grant program designed to get new products off the bench and into the market. Since 2012, VIPC’s CCF has awarded more than $47 million to Virginia-based startups, entrepreneurs and university-based inventors. These grants assist innovators with critical early technology testing and market validation to reach customers with their innovative products and services.
VIPC has also established several strategic initiatives to advance nascent technology industries. For instance, the Virginia Smart Community Testbed in Stafford County explores solutions based on the Internet of Things (IoT). It is fully integrated with 5G broadband wireless communications and other new and emerging technologies for collaboration with smart cities around the country.
In 2019 and 2020, Virginia was named the best state in the country for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by Business Facilities magazine. This recognition was accomplished through pilot projects by VIPC’s Unmanned Systems Center and VIPC’s Public Safety Innovation Center, which is assisting with the development and implementation of new technologies for first responders.
VIPC programs and initiatives support the life cycle of innovation, from translational research to commercialization in support of regional and statewide innovation ecosystems and networks.
“Virginia must commit to taking strong action that builds upon a best-in-class business environment to attract far more new businesses, help our existing job creators grow, unlock world-class entrepreneurial creativity and reverse population losses,” Youngkin said when he released his economic development policy. “Now is the time to hit the accelerator and compete to win.”
At the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corp., we are excited about accepting that challenge.
Bob Stolle is president and CEO of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corp. He was Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade under Gov. George Allen.