Category: Start-up

MOVA Technologies

MOVA Technologies discovers its customer base and scales with the Virginia SBDC-ICAP

Raised $1.5 million in private equity; received $420,000 in grants; created 3 jobs.

MOVA Technologies

MOVA Technologies’ selective air capture technology offers a system with nearly infinite possibilities. In the business world, however, limitless potential is not always an easy place to start. With the guidance of the Roanoke Regional SBDC and the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), MOVA Technologies spent the past two years narrowing its focus.

Founder Steve Critchfield incorporated MOVA Technologies in 2016. Under the leadership of CEO John Schott and Communications Manager Luke Allison, the company is scaling up — in part due to the applicability of its system in a world racing against climate change. MOVA Technologies transforms pollutants into products — or as Luke puts it, turns liabilities into assets.

“We aren’t capturing air pollutants to simply throw them away,” Luke says. “Instead, we are selectively harvesting these captured pollutants in a pure form so they can be returned to the supply chain. So not only are we cleaning the air, but we are creating valuable and sustainable reuse, recycle, and resale options.”

Luke met Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Cheryl Tucker in 2020. Shortly after, he enrolled in the Virginia SBDC-ICAP’s introductory course, to work on defining his customer segment and value proposition.

“ICAP really helps you look at things through the eyes of the customer,” says Luke. “You could have the biggest, brightest, greatest idea, but if it doesn’t help the customer, then the customer will never buy it.”

During the ICAP course, Luke also developed an important network of connections. ICAP mentor Irfan Ali helped him determine where to broaden and narrow MOVA’s approach. ICAP Director Josh Green provided contacts for potential investors, such as venture capital firms. Additionally, ICAP connected MOVA to the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) and provided strategic guidance and support for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant submission, which resulted in a $174,000 award through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now that MOVA has defined a path from discovery to commercialization, the company plans to expand its portfolio of market-focused pollution harvesting products, grow its customer base, and grow its intellectual property. To date, MOVA has raised $1.5 million from angel investors, $420,000 in grant funding, and created three new jobs.

Both Luke and John believe that ICAP is an absolute must for small companies.

“So many small companies don’t necessarily know how to ask the right questions, discover opportunities, and then bring those forward to the market to assess market opportunity,” says John. “ICAP has been very good for us. It’s helped us pivot from some of our initial forays and really lock in on some things that the market is after.”

Read More

Team Excel

Team Excel scores with an assist from the Virginia SBDC - ICAP Program

Expanded to serve 12 schools, created 1 job and is poised to grow revenue by almost more than 40% in 2022.

Working with Richmond-area nonprofits on youth development programs, Johnathan Mayo noticed a problem: many of the young people he encountered lacked academic motivation. This realization sparked Team Excel, a “reverse fantasy sports” app that turns success into a game, organizing teams to compete with one another based on metrics like academics, attendance, and community service hours. More importantly, Team Excel transforms students into teammates.

Johnathan initially tested his business idea as a pilot program under a nonprofit — with impressive results. Over four years, students increased their GPA by an average of 27%.

“We saw kids holding each other accountable, pushing each other, motivating each other as part of a team to do better,” he says.

Johnathan quickly recognized that to scale Team Excel, he needed to pivot out of the nonprofit sector. In 2019, he registered as a Virginia benefit corporation, which allowed him to create a technology solution that he could scale. He also recognized that he needed guidance in order to grow his business.

Enrolling in the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) offered Johnathan essential startup support and connected him with mentor Neil Agate and ICAP Director Josh Green. ICAP helped Johnathan analyze his business model and his marketing strategy, with a focus on customer discovery.

“ICAP really dug deep into your target audience,” says Johnathan. “You might have ten potential audiences, but they really helped you determine who your end customer is.”

ICAP’s advice continues to guide Johnathan. When he first started Team Excel, he focused exclusively on K-12 student-athletes. However, since the pandemic, he’s taken a broader approach.

“Chronic absenteeism and low engagement from students are such huge problems that schools are looking for solutions to service all of their students,” he explains.

Recently, Johnathan pivoted to marketing Team Excel as an enhancement tool that can be used by any existing school, nonprofit or sports team. In 2022, he launched Team Excel in 12 schools, hired his first full-time employee and launched a new website. Eventually, he foresees Team Excel expanding into higher education.

Throughout this impressive growth, ICAP has offered ongoing support, and Johnathan makes it a point to attend monthly meetings and keep up with his mentors.

“It keeps up an ecosystem of founders and mentors — people in the startup ecosystem in Virginia,” he says.

Johnathan readily recommends the Virginia SBDC-ICAP Program to any small business owner.

“Thinking about your journey in business, it was a really good starting point,” he says, “a network of people that really want to see you succeed.”

Read More

Liquet Medical

SBDC advice helps Liquet Medical improve critical care

Invested $650K in personal assets into the business.

When John Schindler and Derek Hall co-founded Liquet Medical in 2020, their goal was to develop a medical device that gave ICU doctors better options to treat patients who were critically ill with vascular disease. But while their technology was certainly revolutionary, they launched the business with more than profit in mind.

“My mother passed away from a pulmonary embolism in 1971, so I had a personal attachment to this technology,” John explains.

In 2020 John and Derek started Liquet Medical, a company centered on an innovative medical device that treats both lungs simultaneously. Placed in a patient’s lungs, the Versus Catheter provides real-time pressure monitoring that allows for better critical care decisions.

Designing new technology while growing a business from the ground up is no small feat. Throughout the process, John and Derek sought startup support and business development assistance from two important resources: the Virginia SBDC Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and Central Virginia SBDC.

“Before we were entrepreneurs, we both had strengths in sales and marketing,” Derek notes.

Before launching Liquet Medical, the two innovators had worked together for multiple companies in the vascular field. John’s activities revolved around new market creation for emerging technology and product development, while Derek specialized in biomedical engineering.

“ICAP helped us strategically early on,” John comments. “ICAP’s Life Science Mentor William McPheat gave us a great introduction on ways to build our company and advised us on key elements to present to the medical community.”

ICAP, under the SBDC network, offers an intensive startup assistance program that includes one-on-one advising from experienced ICAP mentors.

Central Virginia SBDC Director Rebecca Haydock provided connections and offered advice on investor presentations.

“Rebecca was instrumental in prepping us for meetings with investor groups,” John relates. “Rebecca advised us on how to tell our story, which was very helpful.”

While the Versus Catheter is currently in an estimated nine months of clinical trials, the Virginia SBDC team stand ready to help the company move into its next phase.

“ICAP and the SBDC helped us create a solid foundation to build the company into the future,” John adds.

That future will include marketing and a permanent location.

“We look forward to Virginia SBDC assistance as we establish a brick-and-mortar location and hire local talent,” Derek says. “It’s great to know we can rely on these ongoing resources.”

Read More


Amplitude9’s robotic team upgrades the workplace with innovative solutions from the Virginia SBDC-ICAP program

Achieved 200% growth in 3 years; acquired 9 clients.

Amplitude9‘s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can reduce data-entering processes from 16 hours to 25 minutes. To make this happen, the company employs digital assistants to help perform mundane tasks previously completed by humans.

Anthony Fung, former Deputy Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, spent much of his career driving opportunities for new technologies to help with government operations. In 2019 he launched Amplitude9 to offer digital solutions to increase employee productivity, cut organizational costs, and improve service delivery.

“Using RPA allows employees to focus on tasks of higher value to their organization,” Anthony says.

With assistance from the team of digital assistants, the Mason SBDC and the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), Amplitude9 is working to change today’s workplace. Amplitude9 is currently experiencing rapid growth – 200 percent in several key indicators – in the process.

To market his concept to prospective clients, Anthony turned to the SBDC’s ICAP program, which offers expertise in launching innovation-focused companies. He worked with Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson and ICAP Director Josh Green. Timm advised Anthony on strategy, discussed concepts around building a robotics business, and worked with Anthony on finance, market analysis and digital marketing.

ICAP provided key pieces of guidance on customer discovery.

“Mason Mentors helped me identify my core market customer base,” Anthony notes. “Both the SBDC and ICAP advised me on future growth.”

That future growth includes plans for a “bot store” where Amplitude9 customers can easily purchase their own off-the-shelf robots.

“With a bot store, customers could pull a bot off the shelf and very quickly realize the benefits,” Anthony says.

Amplitude9 has already achieved impressive growth. In three years, the business has acquired nine clients, including George Mason University, and has experienced a growth of 200 percent. As the company continues to thrive, Anthony plans to keep the SBDC relationship and confer with the ICAP mentors as the company scales in growth.

“The SBDC is available and ready to offer valuable advice,” Anthony concludes. “As the CEO of a small business, I find it helpful to have the perspective of experienced entrepreneurs.”

Read More

Ipsun Solar

Lights on: The Mason SBDC powers up solar installer

Grew from two employees to over 50; over 300 customers served; became one of the largest solar installers in the Northern VA area.

When Herve Billiet and Joe Marhamati founded Ipsun Solar, they had a singular vision: encourage all Americans to produce their own power using the clean, renewable energy of the sun. Today, that vision remains unchanged, and thanks to help from the Mason SBDC Ipsun Solar has grown to become one of the largest solar developers in Northern Virginia.

Unlike many industries, solar was unscathed by the recent pandemic. In fact, according to Herve, their business flourished as many customers looked to make the switch from gas, oil, and other types of fuel to solar power during the uncertain times of COVID-19. “We are definitely riding a wave,” Herve explains. “There is a huge increase in demand for what we have to offer.”

Herve is an electro-mechanical engineer who began developing solar projects in Alabama in the 2000s, while Joe is an environmental scientist who served as Energy Advisor to President Obama. Despite their extensive in-field knowledge, including Herve’s previous business experience, when it came to taking their two-man start-up from zero watts to megawatts, there was only one place to go.

“When I got started with Ipsun, I immediately went to the team at the Mason SBDC,” Herve explains, “because I knew they would provide the best advice on how to get us most quickly from a start-up to a real business.”

Herve connected with advisor and mentor, Timm Johnson. From the start of the relationship, Herve says Timm’s real-world experience and matter-of-fact advice have been crucial guide points for the solar company. Herve explains, “The continuity I experienced working with Timm the entire time has been so valuable to me — working with a person that has actually done mergers and acquisitions, has actually had experience running a business, and not just from a book, but someone who actually has the hands-on knowledge.”

As Ipsun Solar rapidly expanded, the business-related issues evolved from bottom line to people oriented. Again, Herve found that Timm had the experience and resources to provide incisive assistance. “As a business owner, you have many data-driven things coming at you, and the best thing that you can do is always be very analytical,” Herve says. “If I have questions about sales and marketing, legal, product development, or even hiring and firing, Timm is all about answering those questions in a very down-to-earth way,” Herve adds. “Timm was — and is — helpful for drilling down to the core issues and providing insight.”

Herve continues to meet with Timm regularly, as Ipsun Solar has spiked from two employees to over 50, and has served over 300 customers in the Virginia, D.C., and Maryland areas.

Read More

Wall-Lift Inc.

Innovation leads to international business for Wall-Lift

Achieved more than 100% growth in domestic and international sales

When Mark Helmuth first invented the Wall-Lift in 2005, it was purely out of necessity. As a contractor, he needed a safer and more efficient way to raise walls, so he built a device to do the heavy lifting for him and his crew, literally.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” Mark says. “I had a need to set walls, and the methods that were out there didn’t quite meet my specs. I thought about it, went out and got the components, and within a week and a half I had it all together. On the first job, it worked great.”

That first use quickly turned into dozens. After his fellow contractors saw the machine in action, requests to build more began to filter in. At the urging of a friend in 2016, Mark filed for a patent and began exploring the process of setting up Wall-Lift as a business. His banker referred him to the SBDC center in the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham area where Allison Dugan’s team helped Mark establish Wall-Lift Inc.

“The SBDC walked me through a lot of things,” Mark says. “I took a lot of the courses they offered, they hooked me up with some shipping guys, and they helped me put together some brochures and marketing,” he adds. He also participated in the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) to learn about customer discovery and how to match your product to your customers’ needs.

But Mark’s partnership with the SBDC didn’t end there. This past spring, Mark discovered a video of his Wall-Lift posted by what Mark wrote on Instagram, was “an icon of the framing world.” The SBDC was there to help Mark double down on the power of viral marketing in this unique situation.

That video, which has since generated nearly 400,000 views, led to an exponential increase in orders for Wall-Lift almost overnight. Mark has nearly doubled sales from last year already and, with help from the Virginia SBDC Network’s International Business Development Director Aaron Miller, he has shipped as far as Australia, England, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution channels the SBDC helped him establish have paid dividends during that growth — as have partnerships the SBDC helped him secure with two dealers who now sell Wall-Lift.

“I got a large United States map, and I put pins where every sale went so I can see what’s going on,” Mark recalls. “Early on, I saw that if I made one sale in one area, it’s not long before you have two or three more in that same area. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a bad product because it’s selling itself,” adds Mark.

As Wall-Lift continues to grow, Mark finds the SBDC to be a reliable ally in his corner. Sales for the product have doubled every year, ballooning from fewer than 10 in his first year to more than 200 units already sold in 2021. He sold eight in one day and 52 in a single month — records he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see broken.

“[The SBDC] asked me, how big do you want to go? I said that if we got to the point where we could sell two a week, that would be great,” Mark says. “Now we’re way past that.”

Read More


Software company gets its start with ICAP

Received a $50,000 grant from the NSF

As an insurance defense attorney for 35 years, James Chapman saw the need for a litigation management tool to enable faster and less expensive resolutions of lawsuits. In 2018, he launched a company to provide that tool. One of his first moves was to contact the Hampton Roads SBDC. Three years later, James is glad he did.

“In 2018, I was interested in what tools were out there to help us grow a business,” he explains. “Through the SBDC, we had an opportunity to get involved in a cohort through the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP).” Backed by the Virginia SBDC Network, ICAP helps Virginia’s entrepreneurs maximize the potential of their technology startups. “I applied for ICAP through the Hampton Roads SBDC,” James adds. “I worked with Bob Smith and, later, Josh Green.”

The ICAP cohort met weekly. “ICAP focused on the concept of customer discovery — figuring out who customers were and deciding what ideas would appeal to them,” James explains. “During each weekly class, we reported on our customer discovery and how we could use that information.” After the first month, ICAP classes moved online. “ICAP continued to provide support for each business following the cohort,” James adds.

When they received a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the company continued their customer discovery journey with I-Corps. Created in 2011 by NSF, I-Corps helps entrepreneurs with promising ideas and technologies move from the laboratory into the marketplace. “It was through ICAP that we learned about I-Corps,” James says.

In 2020, the company was one of five selected for an accelerator program. “During the accelerator program, and in spite of the COVID environment, we were able to build out our software,” James reports.

Now in 2021, three years after making a connection with the SBDC, their software product, ClaimEdge, is in pilot testing with a major insurance company. “The SBDC’s ICAP program was a great way to get our business started,” James says.

James continues to keep in touch with ICAP, sitting in on monthly meetings four or five times a year. “I absolutely recommend the SBDC,” James concludes. “With the SBDC, you have a whole team that’s ready to help you out.”

Read More


Proctor360 makes virtual testing real

Proctor360 have experienced very significant growth.

Long before the COVID pandemic forced virtual learning to become a reality for students across the nation, Ganga Bathula and Kranthi Bathula were making plans to enter the online testing market, an estimated $1,34 billion industry by 2027. Both Founder/CEO Ganga Bathula and CTO Kranthi Bathula were industry veterans with successful backgrounds in live testing centers and wanted to bring that expertise to remote testing.

Their company, Proctor360, brings novel technology to the market, which includes headset that incorporates a 360-degree camera, speaker, and microphone. The result is a complete view of the testing environment for proctoring – a game changer. “We saw early on that a transition to remote testing was underway,” Kranthi says. “We developed what the market needed to further its growth.”

Going to the Mason SBDC, as Kranthi put it, was a no-brainer. “One of Proctor360’s offices is right next to the Mason SBDC,” he adds. Ganga and Kranthi met with Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor George Siragusa.

“We spent most of 2018 planning,” Kranthi continues. “George advised us on the decisions we had to make. He also helped us explore different avenues of funding.” George connected the Proctor360 planners with the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). “ICAP helped us in performing a market study, talking directly to our customers,” Kranthi says. “That feedback was especially helpful.”

In February 2019, Proctor360 held a soft launch to demonstrate its patent-pending technology at the Mason Enterprise Center in Fairfax. “Our 360 total-view system is unique to us,” Kranthi says. “Students don’t have to leave their house — they can just log on to the computer and take their exams from anywhere.”

Proctor360 caters to colleges and universities, as well as training and certification companies.
The company currently has 10+ employees spread across the US. Kranthi credits the SBDC for aiding in Proctor360’s success. “Since we started working with the SBDC, our business growth has been over 600 percent,” Kranthi notes.

“The SBDC is well established,” Kranthi concludes. “They can bring in the right person to help with a specific business need. That gives company owners a great deal of confidence.”

Read More

The O’Connor Group

Wright on track as marketing agency grows

Bought a company, created 1 job and retained 7 jobs

What began as Rice Wright Creative transformed to The O’Connor Group when Rebecca Rice and Raki Wright purchased the marketing agency in 2019. “We are honor to continue the legacy of Bill O’Connor by keeping the name The O’Connor Group,” Raki says. “It is now a small, women-owned agency that operates as a debt-free company,” Raki explains. “This means we need to raise any funds needed for large projects, keep our expenses to a minimum, and reinvest our profits back into the company.”

Rebecca and Raki use a streamlined business model that allows them a superior level of agility and performance. Raki functions as the digital strategy director while Rebecca adds vision as the creative director. “I consult with clients on digital ads, website content, search engine optimization, retargeting, electronic newsletters, and social channels,” Raki explains. “As creative director, Rebecca oversees concept development, art direction, and the agency team for any creative components of client campaigns. She and the account manager work with clients to make sure projects meet expectations and objectives, and stay on schedule and on budget.” 

Rebecca connected the team with Roanoke Regional SBDC’s Business Advisor Tom Tanner, which has proven to be pivotal for the agency. Tom guided Raki and Rebecca through the purchasing process. With such a big transition, Raki says this level of access to knowledgeable help was pivotal for the growing agency.

“Tom helped us set up our corporation, value the company we were purchasing, create a business plan, create a budget, create our partnership agreement, draft a purchase agreement, and more,” Raki says. “We could not have done this without him.”

With a staff of seven, The O’Connor Group dealt with COVID-19 in full stride. Raki notes that the team’s agility has enabled them to be flexible, which provides their agency with a definite advantage. “I’ve been able to control my work-life balance while doing rewarding work and partnering with some of the greatest small businesses in the region, especially since we all began dealing with the pandemic,” Raki says. “It’s been great to have a company culture that puts family first, whether that means working from home, bringing kids to work for virtual school, or altering our schedules around family responsibilities.” 

“We’d like to continue to grow the agency and team. We plan to continue working with the SBDC to learn more about and optimize the operational side of the agency,” Raki says. “There’s so much knowledge inside the SBDC, and we want to take advantage of all of those opportunities.”

Read More


Hustle and Go: Cycling and yoga studio done differently in Roanoke

Started a new business and created 19 jobs

When London Ray-Dykstra discovered hot yoga and cycling, it was a lifeline for her. She describes it as a healing experience for past traumas, and an immersive, mind-body ritual that was as much about strengthening the soul as building muscles or perfecting a tree pose.

With a background in dance and a fast-paced life in Richmond where she worked multiple jobs, cycling and hot yoga quickly became a refuge and reset for London. When she met her now-husband and decided to move to Roanoke to be with him, it quickly became clear that this refuge was about to take a new, critical role in her life.

Hustle/Haven started on Instagram, where London posted motivational quotes and teased the opening of her indoor cycling and hot yoga studio. With no other hot yoga or indoor cycling facilities in Roanoke, London envisioned Hustle/Haven as a place where people could come and, according to her, “learn to take care of themselves gently, because that’s what I was learning to do.”

London says that she wanted Hustle/Haven to take people beyond what they might find in a more typical gym experience. “I wanted it to be more than a cycle studio, more than a hot yoga studio,” she says. “I believe deeply in the concept of fitness for your overall well-being, mentally and physically.”

While Hustle/Haven was making its first virtual debut via social media, London was hard at work with her secret weapon: Amanda Forrester and the Roanoke Regional SBDC. According to London, Amanda was an unbelievable resource. A former gym-owner herself, she easily grasped London’s vision for Hustle/Haven. “Amanda completely got what I was trying to do and encouraged me that this wasn’t a crazy idea,” London says. “Having someone work with me who shared my vision and who was familiar with the concept was such a game-changer.” London worked with Amanda and the Roanoke Regional SBDC to procure a brick-and-mortar location and navigate the complexities of opening during a pandemic.

In August 2020, Hustle/Haven opened its doors. London wanted the name to capture the hustle of indoor cycling and the haven of yoga. “At Hustle/Haven, we emphasize a lifestyle and mindset that’s not built around limitations. I wanted to build a place where you would want to hang out,” London explains. “I wanted to make it intentionally different.”

With fun features like a striking mural on the front of the building, a “potion bar” that sells adaptogenic drinks, and more, there’s no question that Hustle/Haven is different. COVID-19 posed a challenge for the young business, but London says that community support has been warm and enthusiastic. “We’ve been well received. Everyone was very excited for us to open,” she says. “We are trying to stay adaptable as we move into the winter, trying out online classes and other ways to manage the ongoing pandemic,” she adds. “It’s definitely been an interesting situation with COVID,” London says, “but our plan is to just keep adapting. At the end of the day, gratitude carries everyone and everything.”

Read More