Starting today, Prince William County is on the hunt for high-growth startups.
The Northern Virginia county opened applications for its relaunched IGNITE Startup Grant, a $1 million program leveraging American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help draw founders to the area and help those already there. In order to qualify, startups need to have at least a two-member team, remain in Prince William County for three years after receiving funds and be for-profit. Companies also need to be currently located in the county or outside of the Northern Virginia area, including Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fauquier County, Loudoun, Manassas and Manassas Park.
Pre-revenue and startup phase companies are eligible for $25,000 grants. Awards worth $50,000 are available for post-revenue or pre-revenue firms with investor or institutional funds, while others worth $100,000 are open to those with a business team, sales funnel or funding of over $1 million.
With the relaunch, Executive Director of the Prince William County Department of Economic Development Christina Winn said the IGNITE program is specifically interested in a few different industries. She specifically pointed to life sciences, cyber and defense companies with a need for manufacturing space, fintech, heathtech, agetech and space innovation as areas of focus.
Winn added that county leadership has its eyes on agri-engineering tech, which includes not only synthetic foods but also machines and tools to help with aquaponics, hydroponics and more.
“We think they can be very successful given that we’ve got a large, rural community as well as our development area and our suburban community,” Winn told Technical.ly. “The synthetic food is that bridge between our life sciences and the assets that we have here — and then helping to bridge that with our rural area.”
The program was initially created in 2020 with CARES Act funds. Previous selectees include Bacchus Therapeutics, BCMstrategy, Cyret Technologies, Impruvon Health, ISOThrive, Jeeva Informatics, SylLab Systems, TRAXyL, Virongy Biosciences, Viva Vita and ZeoVation. When the ARPA funds came around, Winn said, she really wanted to relaunch the program given its success early on. This interation includes the $100,000 tier for companies.
“When there’s disruption, that’s when innovation happens,” Winn said. “So we originally launched the IGNITE program and we were very successful in attracting a diverse set of entrepreneurs that were really in that makers and fabricators space.”
The county is also partnering with a local coworking space, George Mason University and the Virginia Serious Games Institute to enact the program.
With the new launch, Winn hopes to connect with founders via both online LinkedIn groups and in-person convenings at the program’s coworking spaces and buildings. This year, IGNITE has also incorporated a Masterclass education element to help founders make the next step. In addition, it launched a student component that is already underway; through it, approximately 40 student entrepreneurs from George Mason will go through a program and pitch their idea in the spring to win $5,000 for their startup.
All in all, Winn hopes IGNITE will offer a chance to grow the Prince William County startup scene.
“We’re able to really wrap our arms around these entrepreneurs and give them the tools and the resources for them to be successful,” Winn said. “So with this new launch of the IGNITE program, I think we’re just looking to really grow that entrepreneurial community.”