Up and away: The best of Richmond’s startup scene 2018

1717 building

Capital One opened a new incubator at the 1717 Innovation Center. (John Romeo & Associates)

This year was one of openings, arrivals and acquisitions for Richmond-area startups.

Credit card giant cuts ribbon on new incubator

Many local startups got a new home in the spring when Capital One opened its six-story, 42,000-square-foot 1717 Innovation Center at 1717 E. Cary St. in Shockoe Bottom.

The space is a joint venture with nonprofit Startup Virginia and is now home to dozens of local startups, including Coin Savage, a cryptocurrency analysis firm, and Kinis, a workout apparel company. Both companies launched in 2018.

Investors open their checkbooks

Plenty of Richmond startups caught the eye of investors in 2018, including a newly formed, locally based venture capital firm.

Trolley Venture Partners was launched in June by a group of local entrepreneurs. From left: Brad Cummings, Mark Rausch, Hank Heyming, Tim Black, Michael Saxon, and Tom York. (Courtesy of Trolley Ventures)

Trolley Venture Partners was formed in June and initially brought in $4 million for its first fund. It later decided to seek an additional $6 million.

Compare.com, a local insurance tech firm, and Paymerang, a payment processing startup, received investments of $35 million and $26 million, respectively, while VA BioTech + Park-based GPB Scientific opened a $10 million round.

A few startups in the food and drink industry also cashed checks from investors in 2018.

DineGigs, a restaurant tech firm, opened a $5 million raise; Nutriati, a health food ingredient startup, opened a $4.5 million raise; and Convergent Coffee Co., a canned coffee company, brought in $2.3 million.

Deals made and broken

Speaking of food startups, Health Warrior, a Scott’s Addition-based company that makes health foods primarily from Chia seeds, signed a deal in November to be acquired by PepsiCo for an undisclosed amount.

Despite being bought by PepsiCo, Health Warrior is set to remain headquartered in Richmond. (Mike Platania)

Meanwhile, a deal that would have put a different Scott’s Addition-based startup under foreign control flopped. In late 2017, Evatran, which makes wireless chargers for electric cars, was set to be bought by Chinese investors for about $10 million. But the deal fell through in the spring.

Evatran still operates in some form, but founding CEO Rebecca Hough left in March for a job at Tesla. The firm’s headquarters in the HandCraft building is being taken over by local apparel company Need Supply Co.

Birds swoop in on Richmond

A quartet of Bird scooters along Broad Street.

One morning in August, Richmonders woke up to dozens of dockless electric scooters planted on Richmond sidewalks. The company responsible was Santa Monica, California-based Bird, which launched unannounced in the city.

The city quickly impounded the fleet of scooters, but that didn’t stop Bird from continuing to drop scooters in Richmond throughout the late summer and early fall.

Eventually, Bird representatives met with city officials, and Mayor Levar Stoney drafted legislation that would allow the scooters to operate legally in Richmond. City Council is scheduled to vote on the legislation in mid-January.

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Bert Hapablap
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Bert Hapablap

Yeah the Bird entry was poorly done. I like the concept but just dropping off scooters like a reverse thief in the night just made no sense. But it looks like they’ll be up and running come early next year.

David Humphrey
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David Humphrey

On the flip side, if they had not done that how long would it have taken City Council to set the framework for them and others to operate? I was not a big fan of that either, but I somewhat understood why they did it.

Ed Christina
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I say they need to drop off helmets with the scooters, or they should be banned.