Funding / Health / Municipal government / Sports

These 5 startups nabbed $50K each to thrive in Fairfax County

The county created the Fairfax Founders Fund to support local early-stage companies’ growth.

Members of the first Fairfax Founders Fund cohort. (Courtesy Fairfax County)

For its inaugural year, the Fairfax Founders Fund recently selected five winners to receive $50,000 each in an effort to encourage entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The funds can be used by these local entrepreneurs for prototype or product development, market research, customer acquisition, technology validation and legal costs. The program is funded by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The county received 40 applications from local entrepreneurs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, environmental technology, communications, cybersecurity, autonomous systems and ag-tech.

“A committee of more than 15 experts reviewed the applications, provided feedback to the emerging companies and then invited 12 companies to pitch their proposals in person,” said Wendy Lemieux, marketing coordinator for the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives. “The experts represented local angel investment groups, seasoned entrepreneurs, technology specialists and academic researchers. From there, five finalists were chosen.”

One of those founders is Elizabeth Tikoyan, who created a health-focused social network called Healp.

“I was diagnosed at a very young age with the condition that has no cure. At the time, I was very severely disabled. I couldn’t get out of bed,” Tikoyan said. “It was a really lonely experience navigating the healthcare world with that and having no answers in the medical world. The place where I found a lot of solace was talking to people with my condition, but it’s very difficult finding those people.”

\Her startup connects patients with chronic illnesses and incurable conditions to medical providers and other patients facing similar conditions. Tikoyan’s goal is to partner with clinical trial administrators to help them fill gaps in patient recruitment. Besides providing startup capital, the Fairfax Founders Fund has introduced Tikoyan to different stakeholders in Virginia, including her first clinical trial partner.

Another winner, NearStar Fusion, builds nuclear fusion technology that could serve as a form of safe, clean energy in the future. Nuclear fusion technology is still in research and development mode, with a timeline of over ten years before it would possibly be deployed on the grid, said CEO Amit Singh. Given that timeline, he praised the fund for its forward-thinking approach on investing in technologies that may not yield a quick return on investment but could create positive long-term impacts on the community.

“I thought it was quite impressive that they were willing to take a look at a deep tech company like ours and say, ‘If they can get around to funding and bring in highly technical hardware jobs to the area, that helps the community as well,’” Singh said.

Even after selecting finalists, the Fairfax Founders Fund does “due diligence” in confirming the current state of the startups and the legitimacy of the pitches, said Rojay Chase, whose company Anapact makes smart headgear for competitive boxers and MMA fighters.

“The process was pretty thorough. I will say they definitely do their homework. They interviewed customers, potential customers, previous mentors,” Chase said. “They also will put you in a room with other investors and you can network.”

Another founder in the cohort, Raymond Magee, echoed the importance of the networking opportunities offered by the Founders Fund. Magee founded BloomCatch, a company that provides plant care information using QR codes and a mobile app. As Magee thinks about expanding his app’s usage beyond Garden Center stores and into places like local parks, he said the fund’s credibility offers a key way to navigate through Fairfax County’s bureaucracy.

Here is a full list of the companies in the cohort, as well as where in Fairfax County each is based:

  • NearStar Fusion, Chantilly
  • BloomCatch, Centreville
  • 3D Orthobiologic Solutions (3DOS), Herndon
  • Healp, formerly known as Riley App, Fairfax Station
  • Anapact/The Smart Headgear, Alexandria

“We are delighted to recognize and support these exceptional startups in Fairfax County,” said Rebecca Moudry, director of the Department of Economic Initiatives, in a release. “These grants will empower our local firms to advance their innovations, meet business goals, and drive economic growth and technological progress in our community.”

Lemieux noted that applications for the next cohort are open until Jan. 8.

Apply for the next cohort

Companies: NearStar Fusion

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