Entrepreneurship Center Steps Out

By Christina A. Haley, posted Mar 30, 2012

By Is there a way to foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wilmington, given the city’s great location and combination of small and large business?  What if there were place where you, an aspiring entrepreneur, could find all the necessary resources to grow your company would be right at your fingertips?

The UNCW Entrepreneurship Center wants to be that one-stop shop. Since 2010, the center has worked with Cameron School of Business students, faculty and alumni in developing successful business strategies and launching businesses.

Now, the center is moving out from underneath the Cameron School’s umbrella.
On February 28, Chancellor Gary Miller and members of the Cameron School announced their decision to make the Entrepreneurship Center a Limited Liability Corporation under the aegis of the university. Center director Jonathan Rowe continues in the driver’s seat as managing director of the new LLC.

“One of my overall goals for UNCW is to serve as a catalyst for economic development and entrepreneurial growth in southeastern North Carolina. The Entrepreneurship Center (EC) has already made significant contributions toward that goal. This reorganization will provide the center with even greater flexibility to expand its programs, create ongoing relationships with partner organizations and assist UNCW with our own entrepreneurship efforts, including support for innovative student and faculty ventures,” said Miller.

“While the Cameron School of Business will continue to be active in center initiatives, this new structure will allow the EC to become more involved with innovative projects across the campus and throughout the community,” he said.

The center already has had a reportable impact.  Justin Queen of Blue Zeus Interactive Marketing said the EC was a great resource to connect with local entrepreneurs whose clients are both local and global, and whose models he used to expand his own business.

“The EC has really allowed me to connect with very exceptional serial entrepreneurs who have had experience owning high growth enterprises.  [For me] as a young entrepreneur, the EC has been a great resource,” said Queen.

The new structure allows the center to draw from viable entrepreneurial ideas around the UNCW campus, while also enhancing community efforts in the Wilmington area and beyond.   The goal is to build business within southeastern North Carolina and to establish, brand, and promote the region as an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“With this new LLC structure we are going to enhance our efforts in entrepreneurial development,” said Rowe. “The structure allows us the flexibility, autonomy, independence, and freedom to move quicker and to create programs to achieve our vision but also symbolically for the campus, it sends a message that entrepreneurship is a part of the entire campus, not just one entity,” said Rowe.

Terry Linehan, a Film Studies lecturer, has been part of UNCW for 13 years.  A couple of years ago Linehan became involved with Rowe and the EC.   When he did a "rocket pitch" about a film project, Linehan said there was a great response from the business community.

“Within a week of my presentation I partnered with an executive producer who was in the audience and we have begun the process of raising capital for a feature film project.  Without Jonathan's initial encouragement and support from the EC, this would never have occurred.  I will be doing the next rocket pitch on April 18 seeking support for my next film project.  What the EC is doing cannot be measured by a bottom line,” said Linehan.

At this point in the expansion, there still are many loose ends to tie.  However, the goal is to build a team that can take the viable ideas of entrepreneurs like those of Linehan and Queen and make them a reality.

One of the more difficult situations to overcome in this transition is that the public -private partnership requires more funding and more space, and there is increased pressure to find real-world resources to further expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Looking ahead

Rowe said that the university will continue to invest in the center in the foreseeable future, but the long-term goal is for the center to become self-sustaining, without taxpayer or university support.

Over the next two to three months Rowe, University leaders and others from the Entrepreneurial realm are working hard to put the key components in place:

• To start the process, raise roughly $150,000 over the next year from private entities, grants, and foundations to help with the transition of the new model towards a self-sufficient one;
• By April, finalize an advisory board;
• In the next two months, create a center coordinator position and 4 to 5 student intern positions;
• Establish the center in its own space, possibly in the downtown area where it is easier for the community to access the center;
• Possibly in the next year, establish the Accelerator program, in which the center will identify entrepreneurs with solid, viable business plans, products and services, and give them space, resources, and funding to help launch their company.

“Our goal, if we created the Accelerator, would be to spin out at least two companies a year and our goal with those companies would be to create 10 to 15 jobs directly within those companies and two to three jobs indirectly as a result of having those new businesses,” said Rowe.

“If we can create more PPD companies in the next five or ten years, create 10 to 15 mid-size companies, create 40 to 50 small businesses, you put that all together and you’ve made a tremendous impact on this region,” he said.

Kristen Beckmeyer has been working with the Entrepreneurship Center to develop three businesses since graduating from UNCW.

"What makes the center so special is its ability to bring together a scattered population and its resources to create an environment of opportunities and innovation,” she said.  “We have the center to thank for introducing us to our mentors and advisors who have helped us to grow Coastal Cupcakes and to start our new company, PipeView Technologies.  Wilmington is such a unique place to live and work and one of the reasons for that is UNCW and the Entrepreneurship Center."

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