RIoT expands into Virginia and Colorado

We regularly tell startups in the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP) that it is important to continuously talk to customers and track market-driven opportunities.  A technology push is a difficult sale.  Delivering on a market pull is much easier.  Taking a dose of our own medicine, RIoT has been fielding inquiries from communities around the US about how we might help them with their economic development efforts.

Today, RIoT is excited to announce an expansion of our programs and services to Virginia and Colorado and to introduce new hires to support those activities.  

RIoT kicks off the 6th cohort RAP today

RAP looks a little bit different now than when we began working with our inaugural group of 10 startups back in spring of 2018.  Our startups today have more than 85 corporate sponsors supporting them with resources from all over the world.  The startups have access to work and prototype from a much more full-featured lab, embedded within a greatly expanded Raleigh Founded coworking facility. RIoT’s mentor network has grown in size and quality. 

Significantly, the latest teams have 40 RAP alumni companies to learn from, 85% of which remain viable and growing businesses.  Those companies have collectively driven >$47M in revenue, raised $8M in equity capital and created more than 100 jobs.  Among those companies, 48% is founded or cofounded by a woman or person of color, giving diverse and accessible role models for cohort 6 founders to follow.

On the event side of RIoT, we produced and held more than 90 events, workshops and courses in 2019.  Pre-pandemic, RIoT was holding 9 Lunch and Learns per month across Atlanta, Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh.  Large format RIoTs have been held in 7 states.

As we enter fall of 2020, RIoT continues to accelerate startups and convene businesses, but leveraging digital tools for all of our content delivery.  Despite initial concern, we found that working fully virtual has had incredibly positive results.  

Previously, we had RAP applications from all over the world, and had teams travel from Switzerland and California and Spain to participate.  We regularly had corporate sponsors travel to our events held all around the United States.  RIoT itself was frequently on the road, speaking from New York to San Francisco and globally in places like Buenos Aires, Limerick and Ljubljana.

With virtual delivery, all of the above can be accomplished, without the cost or time burden of travel.  This reduces friction for participating in RAP, leading to more inclusive participation.  It enables sponsors to join all events, versus only the ones that fit their travel schedule or budget.

Despite the success in the virtual world, RIoT is physically expanding

Earlier this year, we started programming in Stafford, VA.  Based on a successful pilot of our 2019 expansion to Wilson, North Carolina, we recognized the opportunity to drive meaningful economic development in smaller communities.  An increased market acceptance of the power of digital tools and virtual workforce has accelerated the opportunity for smaller communities to attract new companies — particularly when they are within an hour or so of larger cities and tier 1 research universities.

Stafford is at the midpoint between Richmond and Washington DC.  Those urban centers have been previous sources of startups in RAP and host sites for RIoT events.  We have sponsors in both communities that have been long time supporters of RIoT activities broadly, but were seeking to make a more meaningful local impact.

The local leadership in Stafford recognized the opportunity and engaged RIoT to hold events and do “customer discovery” across the entire region during 2020.  GO Virginia provided grant funding to kick off the initiative and our goal is to formalize RAP in Stafford in 2021.  Learning from how Wilson has created their own culture and built infrastructure to support entrepreneurs in proximity to RTP, Stafford is building a completely new main street and smart city infrastructure to capture opportunity from the super-region.

We brought Amber Cobb on board to increase our energy in supporting RIoT partnerships around the world, and with focus on the eastern US.  Amber brings a wealth of experience from TUV SUD, having worked with engineering and product teams from all market sectors, advising on regulatory and performance testing.  Making the Stafford expansion successful is a major part of Amber’s role and I encourage you to reach out and get to know her.  

More recently, RIoT made our first hire in Colorado, adding Chris Meyer to the team.  Chris has been a serial entrepreneur, managed the R+D team at Sphero, makers of the tech in Star Wars’ BB8 droid, and more recently was a founding team member of Misty Robotics.  Similarly to the Stafford story, RIoT has worked with corporate partners for many years across Colorado.  There is incredible energy and talent in the Boulder-Denver corridor, coupled with a strong desire to support rural entrepreneurship.

Chris also supports RIoT partnerships broadly, but will take a stronger focus on the western US.  He is focused on building a robust and healthy RIoT chapter in Colorado.  He will work closely with our two Wireless Center employees in Colorado that are driving new drone initiatives and broadband projects in Grand County and other rural areas.  Please give Chris a warm welcome to the RIoT ecosystem.

Why expand physically when virtual tools work so well?

It may seem counterintuitive to add physical locations, when data indicates that virtual programs are running quite successfully.  That’s where listening to the customer comes into play.

Markets continuously change, and so does economic development.  It is likely that we are nearing an end of the era where economic development offices measure success primarily by attracting large companies to move into a region and take up massive office buildings or build new corporate campuses.

Economic development will more often be simply, how many workers are physically living in my place?  The corporate entity may be anywhere, but people still need to live somewhere.  They contribute to an economy through eating in local restaurants and frequenting local shops.  The most desirable places for tech and data economy workers will be places with strong quality of life, a sense of community and really strong broadband.

It remains important to have local mentors and advisors.  People who can meet for coffee and help a founder to get past a hurdle in their business.  People who can make connections.  And it remains important to have physical resources like prototyping labs and test equipment that can be expensive for a single company to provide to their remote workers.  

The pooled revenue business model under which RIoT operates provides a high level of benefit at a fraction of the cost to each individual sponsor.  We build the mentor networks and physical spaces from which commerce is accelerated to the benefit of all, but with each individual participant only bearing a fraction of the cost.

RIoT is an ecosystem builder and much of that work is done, boots on the ground building relationships.  We couple that with our labs, facilities and programs and expect to continue a hybrid of digital and in person convening in the years to come.  Nothing stops us from geographic expansion during the 100% digital chapter that COVID has written.  In fact, this is the perfect time to get in early, build a foundation and prepare for the hybrid work chapter that is coming next.

Please welcome Amber and Chris to the team and learn how you can get involved!  Welcome to our new friends in Virginia, Colorado and across the world.