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$1.5 million to fight flooding and climate change in Hampton Roads will go to these six startups

NORFOLK - Six new concepts to fight sea level rise and climate change will be coming to Hampton Roads after the state recently announced $1.5 million in grants to a half-dozen companies.

Nearly a year ago, the local non-profit RISE gathered dozens of entrepreneurs, experts, university professors and representatives from MIT at the Slover Library to hone their pitches to compete for cash to fund innovative ways to battle sea level rise or prepare for a changing climate.

Over the last several months, groups have taken their ideas from concept to full-on business plan. The winners of the RISE competition, announced last week, are split between local groups and firms from around the country.

RISE executive director Paul Robinson noted these aren’t research grants. The groups that won prizes have an idea and a business plan already in place. They’ll be under contract to RISE and expected to deliver specific things on a timeline in order to get that grant money.

The hope is that these become businesses that can not only market their product and make money, but scale up and expand, and in the process position the region as the hub of the business of resilience.

“They need to do pilot programs to demonstrate their product. … It’s hard to go to the bank and get that assistance,” Robinson said. “We’re helping them get to the point where they can go out and raise a few more million dollars.”

This year, six groups made the cut. Robinson said he’s surprised it was that many.

“It was a heavy lift — you have to come up with something innovative, you have to build a business around it, you have to do it in Hampton Roads,” said RISE’s chief strategy officer, Katerina Oskarsson.

The state still has roughly $3.5 million for future competitions. The next one, which will be more narrowly focused, is expected to be unveiled late this summer.

“Topic areas will be similar, but different or more use cases around specific problems to make it more likely that if we solve a problem, we will have a customer for it,” Oskarsson said.

Here are the winning groups, how much grant money they're expecting and what they’ve got planned for Hampton Roads:

Building Resilient Solutions — up to $237,000

This local group is looking for different ways to retrofit existing, and especially older, houses to deal with flooding.

“In a place like Norfolk we are fully built out. We have to figure out how to adapt our existing housing stock,” Oskarsson said. She noted that you often aren’t able to put a historic home on stilts, so they need other solutions for areas like ours.

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