Another launching ground for entrepreneurial success in Blacksburg opened in January of 2011, above PK’s Bar and Grill in a community office complete with desktops, ping-pong tables, drawing boards and the advice of other active companies occupying the space, all at it’s users disposal.
TechPad was founded by Bob Summers, who earned a degree in computer engineering from Tech.
“A student that’s got an idea, for a software company or a tech company, can get started for 60 bucks a month here,” said Summers. “They can meet up with mentors or potentially investors to help them get their idea off the ground.”
Another perk of TechPad’s services is Summers’ offshoot, 460 Angels, a group of 35 accredited investors who have shown particular interests in projects coming out of TechPad.
According to Summers, projects that come before the venture group can receive substantial investment if they spark the curiosity of an investor, whether the investment is time or money.
They provide mentoring and growth experience, which is critical,” Summers said. “Anyone can come up with an idea, but not anyone can take an idea and get it to market. It requires, to improve the likelihood of success, human resources and usually a little bit of capital.”
Summers is committed to providing this same service to students by serving as the alumni to Tech's Entrepreneurial Club, or VTEC.
The self proclaimed E-Club has also received attention for its ability to shape and drive student entrepreneurship forward, providing resources and networking opportunities for its members both already involved in creating a business or those just getting started.
As the adviser, Summers allows the group access to TechPad’s resources regularly.
“They know that the TechPad is their clubhouse as they need,” Summers said. “The president of VTEC, Braden, his business is right over here.”
The E-Club has helped to initiate or continue the progress of several upward moving, student led businesses. Nathan Latka was the President of the E-Club when he met his co-founders Putt and Gunter, before going on to create Heyo. Patrick Gartlan of Koofers Inc. also has attributed initial success to assistance from the club.
“The VTEC is a good resource. When you’re starting a company, you want as much input as you can get,” said Gartlan. “We were able to talk to a lot of faculty when we were starting, who provided a lot of great feedback and assistance.”
A Strong Community
Among the many resources available for startups, there is another factor in Blacksburg’s tech-based popularity that has not been overlooked by businesses.
“Quality of life. People love Tech,” said Summers. “Alumni, when they leave, all they talk about is coming back. It’s very easy and low cost to get started here. We have a high quality of life and low cost of living.
Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam agreed.
“It comes down to quality of life,” said Rordam. “We realized years ago when we looked at how we wanted to develop, we saw that the old concept of industrial parks and pads was the past, that in the future, companies could be anywhere they wanted to be.”
Summers also pointed out the importance of Blacksburg's community.
“You can create any business you want online, for next to nothing, and do it from Blacksburg, so why not do it in a place that has low traffic, low crime, etc. People do that calculus in their head and say, ‘It’s a no-brainer’.”
For Mayor Rordam, the trend of startups expanding right now is only the beginning.
When you have a couple successes, you have young entrepreneurs who are here and want to stay here because they liked it and felt at home,” said Rordam. “Once they start to grow, it’s like a magnet, they start attracting others.”