Beautiful sunsets, lush green fields, magnificent tree covered mountains – it’s easy to think of the Shenandoah Valley as a quiet place for hiking and mountain biking. It is a great place for all that, but look past our natural wonder and you’ll find an area ripe with innovation and primed for entrepreneurs. The region is alive with many exciting and energetic people and projects. The region’s diverse economy, natural beauty, recreational amenities and educational opportunities are a major draw for young professionals. The Shenandoah Valley, and the greater Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, is an excellent place for existing and all the resources needed to support aspiring tech businesses and entrepreneurs. The Valley offers an incredibly favorable business climate, easy access to major markets, and a dependable, high-caliber workforce emanating from our excellent 2 and 4-year colleges and universities.
Our famous friendliness easily facilities collaboration for local entrepreneurs and tech ventures. Support and social organizations facilitate making new connections and networking with fellow tech-centric entrepreneurs, able mentors and an experienced group of local angel investors. These are ecosystem essentials -— ingredients used by many here and accessible to all.
Downtown Harrisonburg, a hub of activity in the Valley, is a vital and a vibrant place for established and budding endeavors, especially tech entrepreneurs. While still maturing, our angel investors regularly connect with aspiring entrepreneurs. Local non-profits come together to offer intense classes to develop successful business models, and maker spaces and prototyping resources are readily available.
Quality education plays a major role in the Valley’s culture and the foundation of the tech-workforce pipeline. Public schools, community colleges, and numerous higher ed institutions play an integral and important role. Our youngest participants tinker at the maker space for kids at the Explore More Museum and are supported throughout their K-12 education. Robotics and coding are taught deliberately and incorporated into everyday life, at school and beyond.
Recognizing the need to inspire an early interest in STEM-fields, the region supports a variety of STEM programs like Techsters to build confidence in girls who code and a number of FIRST robotics programs covering all ages 6-18. James Madison University is home to the state’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL). With more than 600 teams in the Commonwealth, the league hosts its annual championship each December — an event that brings more than 100 teams and 3,000 people to town for the three-day event.
In July 2019, Harrisonburg held the first Computer Science Education Summit. Educators from around the state came to discuss the Virginia Computer Science Standards of Learning, share resources, and brainstorm with colleagues.
In addition to preparing a tech-savvy workforce, students, staff and faculty from our many colleges and universities contribute directly to the active tech ecosystem and create rich resources not often found in communities of our size. Ranging from a robust public transportation system to maker and innovation spaces for students, for example, the award-winning JMU X-Labs. Co-working and innovation spaces are now almost commonplace. In the Shenandoah Valley, tech entrepreneurs and all who want short-term space can gather at co-working space in Harrisonburg and Broadway, or to the south in Staunton. Plans are underway regionally for expansions and more collaborative spaces, some including food and/or education opportunities.
The Shenandoah Valley Technology Council is one of several organizations, including cities and counties, and education institutions, that collaborate with others to connect existing businesses, tech users and creators of all ages, to expand or create something entirely new. Several collaborative projects with big impacts intentionally and purposely span across cities and counties to push the tech and entrepreneurial envelope for all who live here. Cities and counties in the region, premier tech-centric events, like Tech Nite (highlighting local innovation from the entire area in 8 categories), and people that work together towards a common goal — they all contribute to the nicely-woven and economically beneficial tech fabric of the Shenandoah Valley.
Nicky Swayne, Executive Director of the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council