Richmond, VA: Startup South

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Well, blow me away. Alex Madrigal, senior editor at the Atlantic, is touting Richmond as a regional center of innovation. “Richmond is blossoming into a tech hub thanks to a great research university, a big creative agency, and cheap, beautiful real estate,” reads the sub-head of the first in a series of articles.

The quality of life is high, real estate prices are reasonable and “the stock of homes is beautiful.” He credits Virginia Commonwealth University and the Martin Agency as being critical nodes in the innovation system. (I would add Capital One, which has recruited many talented people to the region, many of whom leave and start their own enterprises.)

Madrigal seems taken with the wealth of great urban neighborhoods and the old industrial buildings renovated into apartments, offices and cool start-up space. I eagerly await his upcoming posts.


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5 responses to “Richmond, VA: Startup South”

  1. Groveton Avatar

    “The weather is warm”?

    Has this guy ever actually been to Richmond?

    Might he be thinking about Richmond, CA?

  2. Andrea Epps Avatar
    Andrea Epps

    This reminds me of a conversation we had a week or so ago. Ironic?
    Something in my head is telling me to wait to see what Groveton has to say.

  3. Groveton Avatar


    This is a journalist writing a story. He wants to get people to read what he writes and talking about a bunch of hometowns is a good way to do it.

    VCU won’t cut it. I mean no disrespect but it’s just not a technology powerhouse. It could be. Here is a good index of research universities:

    The state of Virginia’s top research university (UVA) is rated #35 overall. More disturbing, it is rated #18 among public universities. VCU is rated #49 among public universities. Not bad but not something that you can build the next Silicon Valley around. The original Silicon Valley has 2 of the top 8 research universities in the city and seven universities in the state ranked ahead of Virginia’s top research university (i.e. in the top 34).

    The Martin Agency has some merit as an anchor upon which to build. However, one company almost never establishes a cluster. It’s a start but there is far to go. And advertising is a multi-disciplinary field, it seems to me. I always hear that New York (aka Madison Avenue) is an advertising cluster but I don’t hear of any others.

    Richmond could be a great place to live but it’s not. There is too much crime and race relations are dicey on a good day. Again, this is assuming that the younger people who will fill these innovative companies will want to live in the city itself. The basic bones of a great place to live exist in Richmond but those bones need some fleshing out.

    There is also something of a liberal attitude missing in Richmond. The “real” Silicon Valley and all of its closest imitators (Cambridge, MA – Austin, TX – NY,NY, RTC,NC) are the most liberal places in their states.

    There is only one Silicon Valley. That won’t change in my lifetime. However, there are other high technology clusters. If Richmond wants to be one of the Silicon Valley “juniors” then Richmond should study Austin, TX.

  4. Does Virginia’s closeness to the Federal Government and its many requirements for secrecy/non-disclosure play a big role in why free-thinking innovation is not big here?

  5. Groveton Avatar


    Secrecy is on my list, but not that high on the list. I see the issues as follow:

    1. Lack of top STEM / Research universities. Silicon Valley / SF has Stanford and Berkeley. However, people forget about San Jose State. SJSU’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering ranks 7th in the nation among public engineering programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees (excluding service academies), and 27th overall among all 193 engineering schools on the list, according to U.S. News and World Report (2012). UC-Davis is every bit as good a school as UVA and it’s closer to SanFrancisco than UVA is to DC. If you could condense the top universities in the entire state of Virginia down to one area (like RTP), it still wouldn’t touch SF / Oak for technology.

    2. Public vs. private capital. Defense innovation tends to be very slow and very expensive. No venture capital firm would put up with the innovation cycles that DoD accepts. In fairness, DoD innovations tend to be dramatic. However, the speed of innovation in Silicon Valley is vastly different than the speed of innovation among defense contractors.

    3. Culture. Defense contractors are nothing like high technology entrepreneurs. Most are a lot more like Ward Cleaver than Sean Parker. They are very smart technically but they are not generally “gun slingers”. They want steady pay and predictable hours. This is not at all the profile of an innovator.

    4. Military technology is not “productized” by defense contractors. GPS is a good example. While the origins of GPS are unfamiliar to me (and, perhaps, still secret) the commercialization was done by Qualcomm – based in San Diego, CA. The core competency of defense contractors is navigating the idiotic government procurement process, not finding innovative uses for new technology. Every time there is a dip in defense spending the defense contractors swear they will work to gain market share in the commercial space. They fail every time.

    5. Lifestyle. Three regions trying to govern one metropolitan area creates a serious level of confusion. Each jurisdiction has its own culture and attitude. Coordination is nearly impossible. So, the harnessing of potential becomes very difficult. Even given that, Virginia is doing the worst job among the three jurisdictions. DC has made excellent inroads in building a place where young people want to live work and play. If one place becomes the springboard for technology innovation in the area, I’d pick DC. Maryland has made progress with Silver Spring / Bethesda. It’s getting to be a good work, live, play community. Northern Virginia is still under the incompetent yoke of the Clown Show. Reston makes progress on a small scale and Old Town, Alexandria makes progress on an even smaller scale. The potential of places like Fairfax City is squandered by our idiot politicians. The Clown Show has never understood that highly innovative young people could care less about tax rates.

    6. Secrecy. It is an issue but not on my “top 5”. There are amazing jobs in the Washington area for absolutely top technical talent. Ft Meade for example. The problem is the level of drop off in job satisfaction that occurs when you leave one of those jobs. People who work for the NSA, CIA or Mitre leave for Boston not Ballston.

    Just one man’s opinion.

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