The startups at the 1717 Innovation Center in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom include businesses seeking to provide innovative services in health care, education, transportation, business processes, cybersecurity and property rentals, among other products and services.
Here is a sampling of some of the companies:
Pivot Pass: Founded by Brig Leland and April Palmer two years ago, Pivot Pass offers ways for people to try various fitness programs at local and boutique fitness centers.
The company is working with businesses and other organizations to connect their workforce to a network of local fitness studios. Employers can provide subsidies for their staff to join various programs, which employees can schedule through the Pivot Pass tool and earn rewards.
“The benefit for the employer is we are able to provide them data that allows them to reduce their insurance premiums and cost of doing business.” Palmer said. “It also enables them to attract and retain great employees.”
Leland and Palmer, who are life partners as well as business partners, have backgrounds in human resources and finance and started the company because of their shared passion for fitness and exercise.
They founded the business in Charlottesville, at first working from a garage, then spent a year in a business incubator at the University of Virginia before deciding to move their office to Richmond.
Moving into the 1717 Innovation Center was a “no-brainer” Palmer said.
“We came to Richmond because we felt the startup scene was right for us here,” she said.
“It is a market on an upward trend, and where we wanted to be,” Leland added. “We could be in New York or Boston, but we chose Richmond because we see the potential in the area.”
EdConnective: Founded by Richmond-area native Will Morris, EdConnective is one of several startups at the 1717 Innovation Center that is trying to use technology to improve educational outcomes.
The company provides technology tools for teachers to record their classroom instruction and share it with instructional experts who then remotely provide coaching and feedback.
“It is almost like having a personal trainer for your classroom instruction,” Morris said. “Because we leverage technology to do it, we are able to do it for pennies on the dollar, in a scalable way, providing low-cost access to high-quality coaching, without administrators having to hire a full-time staff member.”
The company contracts with schools to provide the service, and it is building a network of instructional experts nationwide who are matched with teachers. The use of video technology “allows us to serve thousands of teachers at a time, without traveling from school to school,” Morris said.
Morris, who grew up in Richmond and attended the College of William & Mary, came up with the idea while getting a master’s degree in education at the University of Pennsylvania, but he struggled for a few years to get the idea off the ground.
“The first couple of years, I was kind of wandering in startup wilderness,” he said. In 2016, however, Morris found angel investors, mostly in central Virginia, to back the idea.
Morris said he decided to move into the 1717 Innovation Center to access the expertise of mentors and other startups there.
“I’m a Richmond guy, and I really didn’t want to have to go outside of my hometown to build a business,” he said. “With this effort, and this startup ecosystem hitting the kind of critical mass we are at now, I felt like I had enough resources through the efforts of Startup Virginia to be able to build a business here.”
Nudge: An early example of a “mobile health aggregator,” Nudge has been around since 2011 and has evolved with time.
The company provides software that aggregates data from a person’s various fitness or health tracking apps, and enables a health care provider or fitness coach to keep track of the data and provide feedback.
“We consider ourselves a health engagement science and technology company,” said Mac Gambill, a co-founder of the company with Phil Beene and Chris Garson.
“We help health and wellness businesses better engage and connect with their clients,” he said. “Engagement is the missing link, and a stepping stone to improve outcomes, risk reduction and cost savings.”
The company has a staff of 10 people across the country, including three who have moved into an office at the 1717 Innovation Center. The local staff includes Gambill, who grew up in Richmond and lived away for about six years before returning in 2012.
“It has been encouraging to see the progress that has been made in Richmond, especially over the past year,” he said. “I think [the new incubator] has helped legitimize the entire startup ecosystem, and this is going to serve as a catalyst for a lot of rapid growth.”