Last month I spent my first three days in Richmond. The city has been popping up on multiple Top Five and Top Ten lists for attracting Millennial talent. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is everywhere downtown and creates a beacon for talent to work and stay in the area.
There's a cool factor when you step foot here. More rooftops than I imagined, great views and I would argue it's a top five hipster city in a good way. Carytown is an incredible stretch of local shops, food and converted diners from the 50s and 60s.
Talent alone can and could sway you. The real pull a city has though is its access to capital, support of large companies and momentum. The last of those three being hardest to quantify but you know it when you see it. It's something the Greater Richmond Partnership has been doing a great job of highlighting this year.
There's plenty of available capital in Richmond.
"Proximity to nationally-recognized research universities, several Fortune 500 HQs, a thriving arts district, a growing capital stack, a top 20 accelerator, and an urban renewal built around an active, outdoor lifestyle are a few of the things that in concert make RVA a draw for startups," says Paul Nolde, director of the venture capital firm, NRV, which is based in Richmond.
Right next to NRV is a completely renovated seven-story building owned by Capital One, the 1717 Innovation Center. It's a brand new hub for startups, managed by Startup Virginia, located within walking distance or even tin-can phones of major venture capital. And that's the one underrated and underreported part about Richmond, there is a lot of money there for investment. Altria, Dominion Energy, Capital One and other legacy companies in the area have brought a lot of wealth to the area.
"Nearly $250 million was invested in Richmond based companies in 2017," said Carrie Roth, CEO of Richmond-Based Activation Capital. And its spreading to more companies. Six startups received investment over $1.5 million in Q3 this year, led by food processor Nutriati.
A city with history and a future.
Mobile app developer Mobelux, which works with Ford, Tumblr and more, renovated an old post office from the 1930s. It's an architectural marvel and one of the three best offices I've seen in the last year. And fortunately or unfortunately I see a lot of offices. Mobelux made a statement last year when they found and old, and at-the-time controversial mural that faced backlash in the 1930s and didn't appear in the building. They recreated it and it is prominently the first thing you see as you walk in the door.
Richmond was the former capital of the confederacy. It's where Jefferson and Washington met at a church in 1775 and Patrick Henry shouted "give me liberty or give me death." That church is still there. I was able to walk in to it. Richmond's history is messy just like any old city in America, maybe a little messier because of how visible their monuments are. But its businesses and its leaders are taking it head-on to move the city forward and make it match the inclusive talent hub it's becoming.
Startups have the facilities and backing of any major hub.
Without the support of big companies, a lot of startup ecosystems are based on luck.
"Capital One was originally a Richmond-based startup and we are still founder led. We have a long history of giving back and continue to invest in the Richmond community through our Future Edge initiative -- a $150 million, five year commitment to helping people succeed in the 21st Century," said Rasheeda Creighton, Director, 1717 Innovation Center. "When small businesses, entrepreneurs and our customers do well, local economies succeed and communities are strengthened."
There is also a diversity of companies in Richmond. Some cities cluster. Richmond has a large biotech and research campus located downtown. But their latest high-growth startups have been everywhere from mobile technology with Mobelux to health food.
Health food startup, Health Warrior, started in Richmond with chia bars. What's exceptional has been their ability to quickly get in Whole Foods and grow nationally built on a brand of superfoods, smart protein and an estimated $10 million in investment to be as big as KIND, Mamma Chia and ThinkThin. Richmond was also a grocery hub, with the 70-year run of Ukrop's in 25 locations, before it sold to Dutch conglomerate Ahold in 2010. There's a lot of distribution, shelf space and retail expertise that remains in the area, especially with the Ukrop family.
Stone Brewing moved its Eastern headquarters to Richmond. It's the only downtown where you can raft or kayak a class IV rapid.
Fun is why the talent wants to be here. Capital and large company support is why you want to be here.