From Inside Business By Inside Business staff

StartWheel Corp. and Hampton Roads Innovation Collaborative have combined to form Innovate Hampton Roads to better support and grow the region’s innovation ecosystem, leaders announced May 18.

StartWheel, which launched in late 2015, has helped to better connect regional entrepreneurs by sharing information and resources through its website, newsletter, job posting service and podcast.

Hampton Roads Innovation Collaborative, which launched in 2016 as a rebrand of Technology Hampton Roads, is known for its networking events like its Tech Tuesday education series and Critical Mass meetups and its focus on advancing the region’s technology sector.

The organizations have been partnering over the past few months to unify the region’s entrepreneurial and business footprints. They’ve hosted HR Bizwheel Quarterly Expos to bring the business community to unique places of business, like The Hive in Virginia Beach or The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News. They’ve helped participants learn from Virginia Beach-based DroneUp, which is helping Walmart implement drone delivery, and Newport News Shipbuilding, a longtime major employer and legacy innovator.

They bring together more than 8,000 businesses in their combined directory. Combining their strengths make sense, the leaders say.

StartWheel, a nonprofit organization, will be the surviving entity and will be renamed Innovate Hampton Roads. Tim Ryan, the director of StartWheel, will continue as the executive director of Innovate Hampton Roads.

“Until now, our business community was essentially a siloed effort,” Ryan said. “The creation of Innovate Hampton Roads will connect early-stage businesses, growth-stage companies and companies operating at scale to create a unified voice without duplicating any existing efforts. We all need each other to grow and compete with other regions.”

The boards of the two organizations will be combined. Initially, Paul Hirschbiel, chairman of StartWheel, will continue as chairman and Dan Bell, current chairman of HRIC, will serve as vice chairman.

The goal is to continue raising awareness of opportunities that exist for business in the region, Bell said.

“It is our hope that this effort is a significant step forward making Hampton Roads a more well-known national and, perhaps, even international entity. The ultimate goal is for us to have a stronger regional economy,” he added.