Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 16, 2014

Business idea incubator launches in Blacksburg

AP Exchange

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The downtown Blacksburg office that will give early stage startups a free place to call home has been known simply as “The Space” as organizers worked over the past several months to make it a reality.

But with a new name, logo and lots of community excitement, the region’s newest idea incubator officially launched on Feb. 3.

It’s being called NuSpark.

The joint venture between the Virginia Tech Foundation and a slew of regional heavy-hitters has been in the works ever since Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, or ICAT, moved into the new Center for the Arts.

Its old 5,000-square-foot office on the ground floor of the Collegiate Square complex in Blacksburg had a prime location, good parking and plenty of furniture  but no tenant.

Now, the space belongs to the community.

The Virginia Tech Foundation will cover two years of rent for NuSpark and will make it open to the public from noon till 9 p.m., seven days a week.

ICAT will station an employee in NuSpark to make sure everything is running smoothly. There are lockers to store belongings and beanbag chairs, couches, desks and whiteboards throughout for brainstorming sessions.

In the middle of the office there is what organizers are calling the “pool,” an open space where anyone can walk off the street and work for a few hours. It will offer a collaborative environment for young startups to take root.

Around the edges of the office are six so-called “Jacuzzis,” permanent desks that are reserved for particular startup teams. These teams are selected through a competitive application process and are given keycard access to the building, meaning they can work any time of the day.

The startups with permanent desk space are reviewed to make sure they are progressing each quarter. As long as they stay in good standing, they can stay for one year or until they reach $500,000 in sales or revenue.

At that point they are funneled into a more professional office, like one in the CRC, and a new startup takes over their Jacuzzi.

Tech students will be a major part of NuSpark, but anyone from anywhere can use the pool or apply for a Jacuzzi.

Outsiders got their first glimpse of the incubator in December, before it had a name or any kind of definite administrative structure.

Still, more than 200 people crowded the space to show support and learn more.

At the formal launch event, again more than 200 interested people showed up to hear how they can use the space.

NuSpark also hosted its first ever pitch competition, with 49 teams competing. The 15 with the strongest business idea pitched their company to a panel of judges, who gave the best three teams a $500 cash prize.

Nathan Latka, CEO of Blacksburg-based Heyo and one of NuSpark’s organizers, said the Feb. 3 event was a bigger success than anyone predicted, but it’s just the beginning.

Over the next two years, he said NuSpark aims to connect the New River and Roanoke valleys, help 10 new startups launch and bring $10 million in cash flow to new local companies.

Jacob Demitt writes for The Roanoke Times