Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 12:57 PM

Charlottesville as a "Hotbed for Innovation": Fastest Growing Area in US for Venture Capital Funding

Where a court is located often determines the type of cases that it hears.  For example, the "Rocket Docket" of the Eastern District of Virginia hears a large number of patent and technology-related cases both because of the speed at which it dispenses justice and also the many technology companies in Northern Virginia--not to mention that the Patent and Trademark Office is a few blocks away from the Alexandria courthouse.

The Western District of Virginia, however, is not traditionally known for its patent docket or technology-related cases.  When I clerked for Judge Wilson in Roanoke, one of the biggest cases the court heard that year was a RICO conspiracy involving (alleged) moonshiners in Franklin County.  Growing up in nearby Lynchburg, I often heard Franklin County referred to as the "moonshine capital of world."  While the homemade distillation of spirits certainly involves some measure of technology, that RICO trial was certainly not a technology-based case.  At the time, it was not surprising that the court heard more moonshining cases than patent cases.

All of that may be about to change, however, given the recent growth of tech start-ups in the region.  This growth is largely fueled by the universities--the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and James Madison University--located in Charlottesville, Blacksburg and Harrisonburg.

According to an article in today's Daily Progress, the Charlottesville area is the fastest growing area in the country for venture capital investment since 2010.  The largest investments were in technology companies, many of which got their start from academic research associated with UVa.  The article explains:

The Center for Innovative Technology also was involved with most of the companies receiving venture capital funding.  The center works to promote the technology industry around the state, and since 2004 it has invested seed money in numerous technology and life-science companies around the state, including local biotechnology and semiconductor companies.
As the market in Charlottesville has grown, [the center's investment director] said, word is spreading that it's a good place for tech startups -- it has a high concentration of talented people, a nice location and access to a major university...

The number of local companies receiving venture capital funding has increased 55 percent annually since 2010, and the amount of investment dollars pumped into the Charlottesville market has increased by $157 million.

This type of growth--fueled by the confluence of nearby universities, public-private partnerships, low taxes and livable communities--reminds me of the success of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.  Womble Carlyle's early commitment to technology led us to open an office in RTP in the 1990s.  As a law firm, we have seen first hand how a technology driven economy can transform a region, including its courts and legal market.  Let's hope the same thing (without the traffic, of course) is happening here in Charlottesville.

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