RISE Challenge Winners Announced: Startups Bringing Innovation to Resilience in Virginia

by | May 25, 2022

In their crusade against climate change, RISE, an economic development organization, has announced the winners of their Rural and Urban Coastal Community Resilience Challenges. These eight small businesses, selected from over 70 submissions, will receive up to $300M and access to an ecosystem of support and resources to pilot and scale novel solutions throughout Coastal Virginia. 

It’s no secret that Coastal Virginia is particularly vulnerable to flooding, but how concerning is it, really? According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Virginia has seen the highest rate of relative sea-level rise on the Atlantic Coast, up 14 inches since 1930. Hampton Roads is particularly at risk because the land is sinking while the seawater rises. Considering the rapid encroachment of waters and resulting threat to water quality, the region’s increased participation and aging infrastructure are a recipe for disaster.

Public officials recognize the urgency for action, and efforts to reconcile government, state, and local standards are underway. This year, for example, VDOT (The Virginia Department of Transportation) incorporated NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) data into bridge design standards. Given the perceived benefits of regional coordination and the need for operational agility, RISE has invoked the help of small businesses with their Coastal Resilience Challenge.

The Norfolk-based non-profit enables businesses to develop and scale innovations promising environmental resilience in the face of climate change. Mobilizing small businesses allows solution builders to move from ideation to implementation effectively while still invoking the support and expertise of public and private sector stakeholders. Moreover, given the necessary start-up assets, Challenge Winners can test and deploy their solutions in a pilot community and obtain real-time feedback on their innovation. Coastal Virginia provides this “living laboratory” in which they can pilot the winning solutions and demonstrate true speed-to-value. 

Challenge participants apply for one of two categories: the Rural Resilience Challenge or Urban Resilience Challenge. The region of the focus for the Rural Resilience Challenge is Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, whose exposure to the open waters of the Chesapeake and Atlantic exacerbates issues of coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, and wastewater disposal. Challenge topics include Flood Management, Protection of Buildings and Property, and Water Quality Management. 

Similarly, the Urban Resilience Challenge seeks to tackle the triple threat of economic, environmental, and public health challenges resulting from climate change in Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads is experiencing the highest sea-level rise on the East Coast and presents a rare opportunity to restore economic vitality through climate resilience innovation. Challenge topics are of particular interest to the region’s 1.7 million residents: Flood Management, Protection of Buildings and Property, Data Quality Management, and Re-Establishment of Critical Utilities. 

Ultimately, solutions must be presented in the prototype stage, ready for deployment at one of several pilot sites. Winners will receive the support, resources, and eminence required to successfully bring their vision to life – for Rural Resilience Challenge winners, this means $200,000 of non-equity grant funding, and for Urban Resilience Challenge Winners, $300,000 in non-equity financing. Additionally, all winners receive access to local co-working spaces and collaboration with partners who can provide technical expertise, regulatory assistance, business acumen, and introductions to potential customers. In the interest of quickly commercializing their solution, winners may be required to participate in a business accelerator to refine their business plan. 

So far, RISE has launched six challenges and awarded over $5 million to businesses. With more than 20 pilot projects underway, challenge winners join an entrepreneurial ecosystem of coastal resilience pioneers. Winning solutions include everything from stormwater tracking software to decision support solutions that empower communities to invest in climate adaptation. These solutions have already demonstrated immense value, revealing the promise and potential of resilience-focused businesses and a path forward that other at-risk coastal communities can adopt.


Rural Resilience Challenge Winners

Triangle Environmental Health Initiative
The Company: Accelerates the design, development, and scaling of WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) technologies globally.
The Solution: A compact, modular wastewater treatment system for non-potable reuse of household greywater.

Biogenics Solution Consulting, LLC
The Company: Provides consulting support in ecological restoration, mitigation, and shoreline management.
The Solution: The testing/advancement of a new method of upcycling dredge materials to protect shorelines.

The Company: Combines digital intelligence and advanced manufacturing tools to deliver a nature-based infrastructure platform.
Solution: A process for repurposing dredge materials to construct resilient infrastructure.

Home Mechanix
The Company: Offers flood mitigation and reparation services to protect and restore residential housing.
Solution: A novel crawlspace moisture barrier that protects homes against flood damage.

Urban Resilience Challenge Winners

The Company: Provides data-driven, resilience decision-support solutions to promote environmental adaptation and social equity.
Solution:  A mechanism that assesses system-wide climate and community impact indicators of projects to help cities prioritize transportation infrastructure funds.

Natrx (two-time winner!)
The Company: Combines digital intelligence and advanced manufacturing tools to deliver a nature-based infrastructure platform.
Solution: An innovative method for businesses to measure and report the value of resilience-based infrastructure

The Company: Offers a bioretention solution to help cities solve their stormwater management issues.
Solution: Will refine its business model and prepare for market launch.

Independence Hydrogen
The Company: Provides access to reliable, affordable, and clean hydrogen sources.
Solution: A distribution system that provides backup alternative power supplies to cities

Rachel Reiss

Talbot Park, NFK

Rachel Reiss moved to Norfolk in 2021, and, true to her native Floridian roots, has been enjoying life near the beach. Since her day job as an HR Program Manager has gone remote, it offers her the flexibility to explore the area’s rich history, culture, and diverse food scene in her spare time. She is also a passionate pianist, aspiring yogi, and self-proclaimed health nut who loves to cook. Rachel lives near Talbot Park with her husband, Phil - a CHKD resident - and their Maltese, Minnie.

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