From RICHMOND INNO By Kaitlynn R. Copinger

In romantic comedies, they call it the “meet-cute.” It’s that moment when two people who eventually fall in love meet for the first time.

There’s also a version of it in the startup world.

“You go into these older and more mature startup communities, and you hear stories all the time about how the two founders met because there was a coffee meetup or there was an IPA competition …,” said Aazia Mickens-Dessaso, Techstars’ executive director of ecosystem development for Hampton Roads. “All of the really awesome origin stories of startup communities have this little bit of, ‘We met randomly at a thing we were both interested in going to, and here we are.’”

Creating more opportunities for these types of connections is the idea behind the Community Creators Fund, a new initiative to encourage density, community, and culture in the Hampton Roads region.

“I think the more opportunities we can create for that to happen, the more of these stories we can start to hear,” Mickens-Dessaso said.

From now through May 31, individuals and organizations in Hampton Roads can apply to receive up to $1,000 for an idea, event or programming that makes a positive contribution to the ecosystem. The initiative is funded by the Hampton Roads Techstars program.

Up to five ideas will be chosen and unveiled during the upcoming 757 Day event on July 1, a date chosen to commemorate the day in 1996 when the Hampton Roads area code was established.

Aazia Mickens-Dessaso, Techstars’ executive director of ecosystem development for Hampton Roads Courtesy of Techstars

Mickens-Dessaso, who lives in Hampton, and Marla Schuchman, who lives in Yorktown and is the self-described “chief instigator” behind 757 Day and the “lady behind the curtain” of Made in 757, are driving the initiative.

The Community Creators Fund is one approach the Hampton Roads startup ecosystem has taken in recent years to spur innovation in a region known for its expansive geographic coverage, which extends from Virginia Beach and Norfolk up to Newport News and Yorktown.

Another approach is the recent opening of 757 Startup Studios, a Norfolk-based innovation hub for Hampton Roads entrepreneurs.

Establishing the Community Creators Fund is “putting the seeds down” for future ecosystem growth, Schuchman said.

“It’s not just about physical location; it’s also density of ideas and density of experiences, and more, in this case, is better,” she said.

In her Techstars role, part of Mickens-Dessaso’s mandate is to create a “nutrient-dense ecosystem where founders can connect and thrive.” Community programming can help achieve that, she said.

“In this area, when we have so many really talented engineers meeting up with really talented creatives …those collisions and the results of those collisions are endless and infinite,” Mickens-Dessaso said. “That’s the kind of thing that we hope to create with the Community Creators Fund.”