|English: Governor of Virginia at CPAC in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
“This Commonwealth of Opportunity” Tour Visit to WireTough Showcases Growth of Technology Economy in Region
BRISTOL - During a tour of WireTough Cylinders in Bristol’s industrial area, Governor Bob McDonnell discussed the results of his administration’s economic development initiatives that have focused on growing innovation and entrepreneurship all across Virginia, including in Southwest Virginia by companies and organizations advancing energy-efficient and clean technologies.
Speaking about the visit, Governor McDonnell remarked, “All across the world, innovation is recognized as the premier path to economic expansion and job creation. And the drivers of innovation in our economy are entrepreneurs and workers at emerging, high-growth technology companies – individuals like Amit Prakash and the dedicated employees of his company, WireTough. These companies produce up to 33% of the new jobs being created today. That is why, as part of our economic development efforts, we pushed reforms and investments in seed-stage funding and research commercialization – two areas of innovation that are crucial for entrepreneurship to flourish. Additionally, instead of re-creating new programs, we have leveraged existing resources, such as the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Foundation and Clean Energy R&D Center, the Secretary of Technology and the Center for Innovative Technology to create a collaborative ecosystem that is fueling innovation and company and job creation in Southwest Virginia.”
“In addition to recognizing the new technologies and companies, the region is helping create and take advantage of new market opportunities,” Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey said. “What we are seeing today is that when we unleash the entrepreneurial spirit, we are successful at creating opportunities to support the expansion of private-sector businesses and create new jobs here in the Commonwealth.”
Working with the General Assembly, Governor McDonnell advanced reforms and additional funding for the CIT GAP Funds and the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund (CRCF).The CIT GAP Funds make seed-stage equity investments in emerging technology companies with high growth potential. The Funds rely on an Investment Advisory Board to approve the investment, and then to attract additional private sector investments, sometimes with a leverage of 13:1, depending on the stage of the company. Since 2010, the Funds have helped 50 companies reach new growth levels, and Virginia saw significant growth in early-stage investments and new startups.
One of those companies was WireTough, which in 2012 and again this year, received investments from the CIT GAP Funds’ Commonwealth Energy Fund for its proprietary technology that manufactures compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinders that are lighter, safer and increase fuel-efficiency for vehicles.
Amit Prakash, WireTough CEO, said, “WireTough’s economical and safe tanks accelerate acceptance of natural gas vehicles while reducing a dependence on foreign oil. I am grateful to the McDonnell Administration’s focus on emerging technology companies like mine, and for the CIT GAP Funds’ investment that gives the opportunity to generate these unique technologies and to grow our company. ”
Governor McDonnell noted that in addition to making seed-stage investments, “innovation requires commercialization. Although Virginia has been fortunate over the years to receive billions of federal dollars, including research investments, the investments in accelerating the commercialization of that research has been episodic and uncertain. That is why we also worked to reform and invest in the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund.”
The CRCF is administered by CIT to facilitate research commercialization to build new companies and create jobs. To prioritize those investments, the McDonnell administration and General Assembly created the Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap (the R&T Roadmap), a strategic planning tool aligned with the CRCF that links investments to regional industry sector priorities with commercial promise that are worthy of institutional focus and economic development. Lastly, they also established the Commonwealth Research and Technology Investment Advisory Committee (RTIAC), a body of public and private sector research experts, that advises the Board of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority (IEIA) on CRCF investments. Altogether, these programs outline a strategic direction that aligns the Commonwealth’s strengths with short- and long-term goals; drives smart investment decisions and innovation; and creates future job and company creation, and higher wages.
Since FY2012, the first fiscal year the reforms took place, 89 awards have been executed totaling $8.8 million in investment from the CRCF. The projects varied, from cybersecurity to modeling and simulation applications for homeland security to biolife technologies and therapies for the early detection and treatment of cancer. The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Foundation and the Clean Energy R&D Center received a $100,000 CRCF award, the first for Southwest Virginia for a project entitled “Tazewell County Renewable Natural Gas.”
Governor McDonnell further remarked, “These investments show that innovation and entrepreneurship are strong, and alive and well in Southwest Virginia, and we need to make sure that we have the tools in place to help companies like WireTough and research at the Clean Energy R&D Center and the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Foundation, which will bring new economic opportunities to the people who live and work here, and who are trying to create a better life and future for their families.”