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Innovation Districts: SHOCKING Revelations!

A cool Venn diagram, courtesy of the Brookings Institue

A cool Venn diagram, courtesy of the Brookings Institue

I’ve been promising a piece about innovation districts for several days on Twitter, but there’s a problem: though this is a fertile subject, I’m interested in it, and I have some things to say about it, the issue is that it isn’t really a good topic for a blog purporting to be about the Roanoke Valley. The whole reason I decided to start writing about the start-up culture that exists here is precisely because we are so different, yet I couldn’t find anyone talking about our deficits and our strengths as a self-sustaining start-up ecosystem. One of the key pieces to unlocking our potential is understanding how successes elsewhere could be replicated here, but also which experiments should be avoided.

So, as I’ve been doing my research, centered on Boston, I kept coming to the conclusion that I was really trying to shoehorn Roanoke into a conversation in which it had no real business.

  • Boston has an MSA population of nearly five million; we cover a much larger geographical area and still barely crack 300,000.
  • Boston has Harvard, MIT, Babson, Boston College, Tufts; we have Virginia Western Community College and Virginia Tech’s medical school.
  • Boston is world-renowned as a center of business and banking; Roanoke is the center of business and banking for Southwest Virginia.

Roanoke isn’t very much like Boston, to put it mildly. Still, it could make sense to replicate the innovation district concept on a population-adjusted scale (Boston’s innovation district is 1,000 acres) IF we had all of those ingredients listed in the Venn diagram above. We don’t; we lag behind significantly in capital investment, even on an adjusted per capita basis.

But it isn’t all gloom and doom. An innovation district is simply a dedicated space to encourage interactions between doers and financiers, and for such a small city we do pretty well at that. I’m thinking here of the growing number of conferences and events, put on by the likes of the RBTC and CoLab – or TechPad in Blacksburg – in order to put interesting people into the same room, just to see what happens. After all, start-up culture is supposedly the antithesis of staid, brick-and-mortar commerce; instead, it is a state of mind, thinking outside the box and trying new things. In that regard, we are building something kind of cool here in the Blue Ridge mountains, even without an innovation district.

We’ll see where it goes.

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We are TEAM RAIN #thunder #lightning

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Lawyers: A Primer

Caring and compassionate attorney, beard game for days

A caring and compassionate attorney.

The reality for most tech start-ups is that they won’t ever need a tech-focused attorney. Just because you’ve built an app doesn’t mean you need an App Lawyer. Still, even though the majority of your questions and concerns are going to involve good old fashioned business law issues, you may prefer to talk to a lawyer who better “speaks your language,” and lucky for you we have some ’round here who claim to do so.

You may be asking yourself, “when do I need a lawyer?” In turn, a lawyer is going to tell you that if you are asking that question, you already need one. If you want peace of mind, sure, consult a lawyer for any and every question, just remember they charge by the tenth of the hour (that means they bill in six minute increments). Lawyers get paid to handle details that you can’t or don’t want to handle yourself, so while you are paying for their time, you are also buying back your own time in the process. Be judicious in your use of your lawyer (be prepared with smart, direct questions before calling) and you’ll be fine. Also, be sympathetic: their job is much, much more boring than yours…you are basically paying them to do your homework for you. Does that sound fun?

So without (much) further ado, here are your Roanoke-Blacksburg-NRV Legal All-Stars, Tech Division! (A bit more ado: in truth, this is just a list of local attorneys claiming some sort of tech experience, not an endorsement of their legal skills; also, please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, these are just some names to begin your search).

Gentry Locke The list has to start with Gentry Locke, as they are the biggest law firm in town. Accordingly, they probably have the highest rates. But if you want the security of having a big, powerful law firm on your side, these are the folks to call. Also, unlike a lot of firms that generally list IP or Business amongst their services, Gentry Locke also specifically touts experience with Software & Technology (and for a law firm, their site is pretty cool).

Woods Rogers The list has to include these guys second, as they are the second biggest firm in town. How would you pick between Woods and Gentry? Why are we pretending this is a legit question for you to ask? Until you get a call from Mark Zuckerberg inquiring about an acquisition, save your money…there are cheaper legal options.

Also, if you want to know the name of another big firm that you shouldn’t bother considering, there is LeCairRyan. Not bothering to provide a link. They are headquartered in Richmond and have offices everywhere, including a smallish outpost in Roanoke.

Ready for something different? How about Mitchell Law? Jeff Mitchell is a sole practitioner in Blacksburg who is “passionate about working with emerging growth companies.” He also has a twitter presence. Seems to be into baseball.

Ugh. Can we be done now? I came up with this long ass list of attorneys, but writing up notes for all these guys…alright, one more. Creekmore is similar to Mitchell Law: they are based in Blacksburg and court start-ups. However, the team is larger, and they have an art gallery or something in their office.

God, what an onerous task I set for myself. But I’ve written this much, might as well post it. I hope this is helpful, but it probably isn’t.

If you think there is a firm that should be listed, put it in a comment, and I’ll see about putting them in a follow-up post.

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Quick evening update

It was a busy day here at Grandin Republic. So busy, in fact, that there wasn’t much time for writing. However, we’ve got a few REALLY EXCITING things on tap in the coming days. Let me tease a couple:

First, we’ve got a story coming about local tech law firms. Hopefully this will point local start-ups in the right direction should they need legal counsel.

Also, I’ll be writing up some interviews with local tech luminaries (a.k.a. “founders”).

Stay tuned.

It has been a weird week, but I’m excited by everything I’ve already learned. Honestly, I’d do some things differently if I could start all over again, but I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t started, so I’d almost certainly make the same mistakes again given another chance. Trippy.

Thanks to those few of you who have taken the time to read what has been written so far. I’ll do better next time. Spread the word.

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The Great Copyright Swindle

We need patent reform. This self-evident proposition is only radical if you happen to be Disney or Microsoft, much the same way only royalty and monarchists believe some men are created more equal than others.

This is said in light of a jury’s decision that 2013’s biggest hit, “Blurred Lines,” was an unauthorized copy of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got To Give It Up.” Did Pharrell and Robin Thicke create their crappy song by pirating Gaye’s earlier work? That ancillary question truly misses the real injustice here, which is the perversion of copyright to punish innovation.

Ask yourself, instead, why the children of Marvin Gaye would deserve to profit in any way from music they didn’t create.

Then ask yourself how this passage from the United States Constitution,

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8)

could be deemed in any way at all to confer perpetual rights on the heirs of a singer/songwriter, even a really great one.

“Right now, I feel free,” Nona Gaye is quoted by USA Today as having said after the verdict. Yeah, I bet it would be freeing to be given $7 million I didn’t have to do a single thing to earn.

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