Running Down a Dream - RBTC Technite Keynote
Today we live in an era of remarkable technological wonders, a unique intersection between history and the future. Advancements are not just changing our world; they are reshaping it faster than we ever imagined possible.
Growing up, some of you may have watched cartoons like The Jetsons. Jane would talk to her friends using telepresence devices. George traveled to Spacely Sprockets on a self-flying device, and they had a robot named Rosie who helped around the house.
Fast forward 40 years and many of us use Zoom or Teams for telepresence; chances are your car has many self-driving features (not quite there yet, but getting closer), you probably have a Roomba that is vacuuming your office as we speak, and chances are a BOT answered several questions or perform functions for you that you are unaware of.
If you look around the region, consider the self-driving trucks developed by TORC or the extraordinary advancements in healthcare championed by organizations like Tiny Cargo. These innovations are not mere flashes in the pan; they herald a new age of relentless transformation.
So where does the rest of Region 2 of Virginia fit into this era of rapid change and progress? We stand uniquely poised to seize opportunities in burgeoning market segments like Healthcare, High Tech Manufacturing, and Transportation, including Autonomy, IT, and Agriculture. We should take immense pride in our journey thus far.
But let me remind you: the journey is far from over. We must maintain our thirst for progress, our hunger for what lies ahead.
The Lynchburg-Roanoke-Blacksburg region, led by the transformative efforts of organizations like Verge, RBTC, Go Virginia, and RAMP, is poised to step boldly into a future defined by innovation, intellect, and a community that thrives on diversity. We stand on the cusp of a thrilling epoch, transitioning from our sturdy industrial roots toward the infinite frontiers of technology.
Take a moment to imagine what the world would have been like if Xerox had realized that the future wasn’t in copiers but in the innovations emerging from the Palo Alto Research Center — world-changing innovations like the Graphical User Interface, devices like the Mouse and modern networking equipment. Without Xerox's short-sightedness, we may not have had companies like Apple and Cisco. Or consider if IBM had perceived that the future was not the mainframe but the personal computer. Where would Microsoft and Intel be today? Imagine if GOSSIP had been selected as the networking protocol of choice over TCP/IP. We may not have had the Internet as we know it today.
And, let's not forget the conversation that reshaped our local landscape – what if Charlie Steger, Ray Smoot, Minnis Ridenour, Nancy Agee, and Ed Murphy had not brainstormed about creating the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School? We wouldn’t have VTC, FBRI, or JLabs in the region.
The situations mentioned above were not mere hypotheticals; they sparked a revolution of innovation, facilitating exploration, innovation, and shaping the future.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our local visionaries like Venode Chachra, Marty Muscotello, Jay Foster, Russ Ellet, Michael Fleming, Greg Feldman, Kevin Bloomfield, John Heigmeyer, Henry Bass, Bonz Hart, and many more. These individuals dared to be different. They seized the opportunity to lead, dream, and shape our region's destiny.
A new generation of leaders is rising, ready to leave their mark. Leaders like Kim Snyder, Eric Hanson, Amy White, Jason Cline, Joe Nichols, Erin Burchum, Rob Goudie, and Spencer Marsh. Their audacity of vision and courage of conviction will undoubtedly propel us into a prosperous future.
Focusing on innovation clusters like Healthcare, Transportation, high-tech manufacturing, and IT creates a vibrant technology community. We are fortunate to have institutions in Region 2 at the forefront of this charge, including Radford University, Frain Biomedical Institute, Virginia Tech, The VTC, Hollins, Liberty University, University of Lynchburg, Roanoke College, Ferrum, Sweet Briar University, Randolph University, Virginia Western, Central Virginia, New River Valley, and Mountain Gateway Community colleges. New startups like Tiny Cargo, IWT, Kalvaris, Itus, Fermi, Mova, and Code One are emerging, each a lighthouse of hope illuminating a path toward a brighter future.
But remember, as we navigate this journey, the true strength of our region lies in our people. We must cultivate an environment of inclusivity, as organizations like WOTEC (Women in Technology) and Blacks in Technology are doing. The diversity of our people is our strength, amplifying our impact on the global stage.
Now, as we move forward, let's honor the pioneers of the past, celebrate their triumphs, and learn from their journeys. They dared to dream, took calculated risks, and laid the groundwork for the success we relish today.
But what makes people and organizations great?
As a lifelong learner and student of leadership, I've spent considerable time studying leaders' journeys. I've identified unique traits that set these individuals and companies apart: leadership, vision, innovation, communication, empathy, confidence, accountability, empowerment, and integrity. These are not just words; they form the bedrock of any successful organization.
Leadership is about inspiring, motivating, and guiding others toward a shared vision. It's vital in steering our complex world, driving innovation and growth. It's important to remember that leadership isn't a one-size-fits-all solution; it's dynamic, adapting to the stage of development a company is experiencing.
A clear vision is like a compass in a ship, providing direction, aligning efforts, and propelling the team toward a common goal. Without a vision, a leader is like a ship adrift, aimlessly wandering in the vast ocean of possibilities.
Innovation is the catalyst that keeps us ahead of the competition. It's about finding novel ways to solve problems, reach goals, and think outside the box. It's about embracing change, not clinging to traditional methods.
Effective communication and empathy are the building blocks of robust relationships within a team. A great leader is an adept listener, valuing the input and concerns of team members.
Confidence, accountability, empowerment, and integrity round out the traits that define a great leader.
These traits aren't just the icing on the cake; they're the ingredients that make it itself.
Great leaders like Phillip and Caren Merrick, who revolutionized business-to-business communication at webMethods, are found at every business level and industry. Local leaders like Nancy Agee demonstrated the transformative power of compassionate leadership at Carilion Clinic. Dr. Michael Friedlander at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute is shaping the future of biomedical research and education.
And let’s not forget Bonz Hart, whom we will remember tonight as we award the first Bonz Hart Scholarship. Bonz was a leader whose impact has been truly transformative. An individual is unafraid to take risks and who strove to build a strong corporate culture, fostering employee development and teamwork. His exceptional qualities led to his company's success, the trust of his shareholders, and his enduring legacy as a respected figure in the business world.
Bonz, Phillip, Nancy, and Mike demonstrate that leadership is not confined to a single style or approach but a dynamic and evolving process.
As we stand on the precipice of a new era, we need leaders who can navigate the shifting landscapes of business, technology, and society. Leaders who can foster a culture of innovation and risk-taking, inspire and motivate, understand the value of diversity and inclusion, and are prepared to invest in the future. As our region continues to grow and evolve, we need leaders capable of guiding today's businesses and ready to steer tomorrow's startups.
The future is bright but won't be without its challenges. We will need to tackle issues like workforce development, infrastructure, and access to capital. We must foster a culture of lifelong learning, ensuring our workforce is equipped with the skills required for the jobs of the future. We must invest in infrastructure, ensuring our region remains attractive for businesses and residents. And we need to ensure that our startups have access to the capital they need to grow and thrive.
To the budding entrepreneurs among us, I say this: Dream big. Embrace challenges. Take risks. Be resilient. The path to success is often not a straight line but a journey filled with twists and turns, hurdles, and triumphs. But remember, every setback is an opportunity for a comeback.
To our educators, I say: Continue to inspire. Continue to instill curiosity. Continue to foster creativity. Our future leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs are sitting in your classrooms. You have the power to ignite their imaginations, to empower them to dream and strive for greatness.
To our established business community, I implore you: Remain open to change. Embrace new technologies. Invest in our people. Your leadership will set the tone for our region's economic future.
As we close out tonight, I'm reminded of an old proverb that goes something like this, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
We are on this journey together, and only together can we ensure a prosperous future for our region. We have a community rich in talent, creativity, and resilience. Let's leverage these strengths. Let's chart a course for a prosperous, innovative, and successful future.
We can do this inch by inch, step by step, mile by mile, and dollar for dollar - Let’s go far TOGETHER.
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