Whether you’re a birthday person or not, it’s always good to take a moment of reflection each year, especially if it’s a program looking to make an impact in the local community.
This month marks the first anniversary of the Virginia Smart Community Testbed, a local program to help technology-based startups. The program was developed through a partnership between Virginia’s Stafford County, the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) Y OST. It is designed, according to VIPC CTO and VP david ihree, to demonstrate the value of new technologies. Once it’s done at a price that works for community adoption, the program puts those technologies into practice for implementation. So far, Ihrie said, he has won the support of all three levels of government.
Local startups can participate in different ways. One is through Testbed’s links with local, state, and federal government entities, as well as private sector partners. For them, various technologies are worth investigating, so with funding from the federal government (through the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate), Testbed may take some of the technologies that the government has expressed interest in and try to implement them.
It also works with Riot throttle, which helps Internet of Things (IoT) technology startups develop their products and bring them to market. Testbed tries to place those companies in different pilot projects, as well as working with the county and any startups they may have considered.
“The biggest challenge a new entrepreneur faces is always getting that first customer, someone who is willing to try their stuff, who is willing to be a referral customer,” Ihrie said. Technically. “So this is a mechanism to help them.”
On the other hand, Ihrie also sees the program as an asset to local government, even for a county like Stafford that is already fairly well organized. But she noted that for smaller counties, it’s particularly useful for issues like cybersecurity. While there are state agencies for cybersecurity, there is no equivalent for local governments. He hopes Testbed can provide a place to bring that cyber expertise and make it available to local governments that can hopefully become less vulnerable.
So far, Testbed has sent nine different projects through the program process this year; one of those projects had six different companies working on it. In total, he believes that 20 companies have participated so far, with eight more in the accelerator program, and several projects have been completed.
“It has been enough [something] from a rocket ride,” Ihrie said. “It’s been a very exciting year and I really couldn’t have asked for much more. It has far exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
For her second year (and more to come), Ihrie has a few ideas. She would like to see a more holistic and integrated approach to IoT devices and critical infrastructure or control systems. She also hopes to share more data and do something like the Commonwealth Data Trust in a national data trust. He would also like to see more work on the computing side, particularly quantum.
But overall, he wants the test bed to be a place where startups can get a real sense of how their technology will exist in the real market.
“We’re really looking at, what are those few things that we can demonstrate in the real world, on the test bed, that can start to show economic development results?” Ihrie said. “That may also start to show: Here is a solid, viable business that can hire people, that can create jobs.”