2015 saw some of Richmond’s most prominent startups mature, while others were just coming onto the scene.
Tenant Turner raised $635,000 from investors in Richmond, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, CEO James Barrett said. The 2-year-old company spent the summer in Silicon Valley to participate in Y Combinator, a startup accelerator, and has a new office in Shockoe Bottom. For 2016, Tenant Turner plans to do more fundraising so it can grow its sales team and expand to new markets.
CarLotz, a car consignment company, opened its fourth location in Virginia Beach in 2015 and is gearing up to open a fifth store in Charlotte. The company hopes to open three or four new stores in 2016 along the East Coast.
Painless1099 is less than a year old, but it has grown up fast. The company plans to help freelancers do their taxes once its website goes live mid-2016. In the meantime, Painless1099 is relocating to Buffalo, New York, to collect on a $500,000 prize it won at a startup competition. The company won an extra $50,000 at a startup contest in Oakland, California. Painless1099 was part of Lighthouse Labs’ acceleration program this year in Richmond, which came with $20,000 in funding. It plans to continue to raise capital and is in talks with investors.
WealthForge helps companies raise capital and spent some of 2015 attracting investors of its own. The company raised $2.23 million as it looked to expand its operations, acquire clients and develop new and existing products. The company won $10,000 for taking third place at the UBS Future of Finance Challenge. WealthForge also won $100,000 from a peripatetic investor and was recognized as one of Venture Forum RVA’s growth companies.
Not every Richmond startup has pitch competitions and networking with investors in its business plan.
Laura Smith and Scott Saunders want to make it safer and more fashionable for women to ride motorcycles. They launched Worse For Wear, a women’s motorcycle apparel company, and bought a West Broad Street building in Scott’s Addition for their headquarters and production site. Threads, fabric and pads have been ordered as Worse for Wear gets ready to sell its impact-resistant jeans online in the spring.
The beer business is swelling in Richmond, and Growlers to Go sought to tap into the demand for hard-to-find beers that can be consumed at home. Its first location opened late 2014 on North Boulevard, and it added a store in Short Pump in September. A third location is in the works for the business.
As much as it loves beer, Richmond can still be called a tobacco town. Avail Vapor, a homegrown electronic cigarette company, opened its new 37,000-square-foot office and manufacturing headquarters in Chesterfield County. The company has more than 50 open retail locations spread across the East Coast. The fast-growing company also saw the rise of a new competitor: Mad Vapes opened its first Richmond store near Innsbrook. The North Carolina company has about 70 stores open and plans to add future locations in the region.
The Federal Aviation Administration launched its drone registration program this year, and at least one Richmond company was ready for take-off. DividedSky Aerial Solutions got approval from the FAA to fly unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use. On the other side of the drone equation, Geoff McDonald & Associates launched a new practice focused on drone injury liability.
In the fitness arena, No Limits Nutrition Center opened a storefront near VCU to sell workout supplements.
South of Richmond, Hopewell is looking to create a startup and small business hub of its own. The Hopewell Downtown Partnership gave $70,000 in grants to four small businesses to help them open in the city’s historic downtown district. Those companies and others have either opened or are in the works. Evan Kaufman, executive director at HDP, said a large mixed-use project is also being considered for downtown Hopewell.