By Eleanor Kennedy
Lynchburg is home to one of the top entrepreneurs in the state, according to the Herndon-based Center for Innovative Technology.
James Neel, founder and president of Cognitive Radio Technologies, was named one of the winners of the center’s GAP 50 Entrepreneur Awards earlier this month. The awards, part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s “year of the entrepreneur” initiative, are aimed at recognizing business leaders at high-growth companies.”
The center’s GAP program, the driving force behind the awards, places seed-stage equity investment in Virginia’s life science, technology and energy enterprises. The program’s name stems from its focus on the “capital gap” for pre-venture companies.
Six Lynchburg-area entrepreneurs were nominated for the award, but Neel was the only area winner.
The rest of the winners hail from around the state: 18 from Northern Virginia, 16 from Charlottesville, 10 from Roanoke and Blacksburg, five from Richmond, four from Hampton Roads and one each from Fredericksburg, Southside Virginia and far Southwest Virginia.
Neel, whose company specializes in wireless radio research largely connected to Department of Defense contracts, said he was surprised to receive the award because he thought the other area entrepreneurs had a better chance.
“I think I’m one of the only people whose picture was taken who wasn’t wearing a suit,” Neel said of the luncheon in northern Virginia where the awards were announced.
Neel finished 13 years of study at Virginia Tech in 2006 and came out to Lynchburg to start his business in 2007.
“I was at Virginia Tech forever,” he joked about his years spent earning undergraduate, post graduate, doctoral and post doctoral degrees. His company operates out of the Lynchburg Business Development Centre off Graves Mill Road.
Growth is slow for CRT because of its service focus, Neel said, but he is expanding. He’s been talking to his alma mater and the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research in Bedford about setting up a radio test bed at the CAER. And he’s added a few employees to the team over the years.
“We’re bigger than when I started, which was me,” he said.
The Knoxville, Tenn. native said he plans to stay in Lynchburg for a while because he likes the short commute and the low cost of living. The area may not be a hot bed of entrepreneurship like Charlottesville or Northern Virginia, but Neel said that doesn’t mean innovation isn’t happening in the Hill City.
“There are startups around here,” he said.