“Lighthouse U represents an unprecedented opportunity and collaboration for future founders to learn, stay, and grow amazing companies in Virginia,” said Todd Nuckols, Executive Director of Lighthouse Labs. “We are honored to partner with VCU and Virginia’s excellent academic institutions, corporations, and investment partners to craft strong pathways for startup creation in Virginia. We invite the voices of others in higher-ed, corporate innovation, and capital investment to join us in the rise of entrepreneurship in Virginia.”
The da Vinci Center, VCU’s student hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, joined Lighthouse Labs as a founding partner in the development of Lighthouse U. Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center said, “Virginia is home to an elite collection of colleges and universities that produce some of the most talented innovators and entrepreneurs in the world. The formation of Lighthouse U establishes an infrastructure that connects all of Virginia's colleges and universities with regional and state level resources that support the development and retention of talent and startups in the Commonwealth.” As part of their commitment to Lighthouse U, the da Vinci Center is prepared to commit more than $300,000 in services and resources to Lighthouse Labs over the next two years.
According to a January 2018 report, “Assessment of Virginia’s Research Assets: Strategic Directions to Advance Innovation-Led Growth and High-Quality Job Creation across the Commonwealth,” Virginia’s innovation ecosystem is underperforming since the current economic recovery began in 2010. The report notes that venture capital, while on the rise nationally, has been flat in Virginia and significantly trails in relation to national averages. In fact, seed-stage funding in Virginia is 50% less than the national average, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
In addition, research by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that startups account for approximately 50% of gross job creation. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity Virginia may miss out on if the capacity to support startups and entrepreneurs doesn’t increase. According to the Kauffmann Foundation, “entrepreneurs flourish in a connected, dense, and diverse ecosystem where they can move quickly to take advantage of opportunities. You can’t scale what you don’t start, so pursue entrepreneurial growth in a holistic manner.”
With the launch of Lighthouse U, Lighthouse Labs aims to increase the number of funded startups and entrepreneurs in Virginia pursuing high-growth businesses, thereby creating more high-paying jobs, attracting additional investors, and fueling the innovation wave of Virginia’s economy. Lighthouse Labs has been nationally recognized for the past two years as a Top 30 Seed-Stage Accelerator in the United States, alongside notable names in the industry such as Techstars, Y-Combinator, and 500 Startups. In the past five years, Lighthouse Labs has worked with 33 startups who have gone to create more than 120 jobs, raise more than $25 million in outside investments, generate a portfolio value worth more than $130 million, and receive national attention themselves, for example: Kyndiwas named as a Hot 100 Startup of 2018, and RoundTripwas featured in The New York Times in August. Rather unique to Lighthouse Labs, the non-profit organization takes no equity in the startups it provides investment capital, and instead relies on the support of corporations, organizations, and individuals looking to engage with startups, emerging technology, and the innovation community.
Lighthouse Labs welcomes this as an opportunity to facilitate the sharing of best practices across Virginia, identify opportunities for greater collaboration, and highlight the strength of Virginia’s colleges and universities in support of entrepreneurs. Additionally contributing to Lighthouse U as collaborators are representatives from: Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, George Mason University, Virginia State University, Old Dominion University, the University of Richmond, the College of William & Mary, Radford University, and Christopher Newport University. Student participation in Lighthouse U programs are open to students from any Virginia college or university.
Lighthouse U also touches an increasing concern that more and more of Virginia’s top talent is leaving the state to pursue new ventures and high-paying jobs elsewhere. According to data published by the IRS, Virginia is currently experiencing its 4th consecutive year of more people leaving the Commonwealth than entering it, predominately by those aged 26 – 35. Lighthouse Labs will provide Lighthouse U participants with targeted mentorship, workshops, access to investors, a global network of industry relationships, nationally recognized training in project management and design thinking, and other resources necessary to lead high-growth companies or join established enterprises with the skills required to innovate from within.
As part of the Lighthouse U program, Lighthouse Labs will additionally present the 2019 Virginia Startup Spring Break, co-hosted this year with the da Vinci Center. The organization is leveraging lessons learned from the da Vinci Center’s previous experience piloting an “alternative” Spring Break, in which 20 teams of students from 8 universities engaged in an entrepreneurship boot camp and competed for $25,000 in equity-free funding.
Beginning Summer 2019, Lighthouse U offers Lighthouse Labs the opportunity to expand its proven model, and the organization anticipates investing $20,000 in up to 20 exceptional teams of recent Virginia college graduates building exciting technology. Acceleration for startups selected by Lighthouse Labs includes a 3-month intensive program connecting founders with mentors, investors, corporate partners, support services, workspace, and lean startup methodologies to validate business models and scale high-growth ventures. Much of the innovative work with startups during the summer cohorts will be hosted at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.
Lighthouse U is one of five projects put forth by Region 4’s GROW Capital Jobs Council to be approved by the statewide GO Virginia Board Lighthouse Labs was able to leverage their grant from Activation Capital, a nonprofit organization that supports a vibrant creative and entrepreneurial culture in Richmond, for this award. ”Through the engagement of our entrepreneurial community, one of the strategies of our region’s growth and development plan is to support the growth of programs enhancing the success of student-based entrepreneurial programs in creating viable, high-growth companies. Lighthouse U is a transformational initiative to support the quality startup programs of our colleges and universities across the Commonwealth,” said Carrie Roth, President/CEO of Activation Capital.
Corporate partners, such as Capital One, Altria, and Markel, also significantly help Lighthouse Labs play a leading role in Virginia’s innovation ecosystem. “With limited resources, we have a proven history of contributing to startup success and economic growth that can be further scaled for even greater positive impact in Virginia, and serve as a model attractive to others as well,” says Dan Myers, Managing Director of Lighthouse Labs.
A Lighthouse Labs Fall 2018 cohort of 8 teams, including a first-time focus on education technology companies, launches August 20th.