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Cucalorus Plans Startup Connection In 2015

By Zachery Eanes, posted Jul 30, 2015
The Cucalorus Film Festival is expanding its focus to include a program that will highlight Wilmington’s emerging entrepreneurship scene, organizers announced Thursday with the unveiling of Cucalorus Connect.

Cucalorus Connect is being billed as a business conference and showcase that will run concurrently with the film festival, which is held this year Nov. 10-15. Cucalorus Connect will feature panel discussions, workshops, speakers and opportunities for entrepreneurs to meet and share ideas.

The festival, which has been held annually at venues downtown since 1994, is partnering with the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), TekMountain, Wilmington Downtown Inc. and others to attract local and national entrepreneurs to gather in Wilmington.

“In many ways this is a brand merger building on the energy that [CIE] built when they staged the first Coastal Connect last year,” Dan Brawley, festival director, said. “We’re really excited to launch this business conference that will bring visionary leaders together that will leverage innovation, technology and creativity for financial success.”

Last year’s Coastal Connect Conference with the CIE had over 300 participants and 50 sponsors, according to Laura Brogdon, CIE’s manager of operations. “How could we continue the energy and grow that bigger?” she said. “We don’t think we could grow it bigger on our own, and we are excited to be involved.”

Brawley said it was time to launch a business initiative within the film festival for three distinct things happening in Wilmington: a changing infrastructure downtown that is bringing more hotels and venues, an emerging startup scene in the city and an effort by new leaders in Wilmington to rebrand the city as more than a tourism economy.

“It’s time for a 21st-century image for Wilmington, and Cucalorus Connect can play a central role in defining what that looks like,” he said. “Wilmington is an excellent location for the investment of capital and the start of new businesses."

Just as Cucalorus originated because of the large number of filmmakers who started working in Wilmington in the 1990s, Cucalorus Connect is coming together because of an organic startup scene that has happened over the past several years that wants to be showcased, Brawley said.

Last year, the festival had an accumulated attendance of more than 15,000, and 259 films were screened.

When asked whether this new venture by the festival was the result of reduced film  incentives in the state and a stalling film scene, Brawley was emphatic that was not the case. CBS television show Under the Dome is currently the only major project in the area, and no other major projects have been announced, as many productions have moved to Georgia and Louisiana.

“Obviously we know people are going to ask if we are doing this because the struggles with the tax incentives,” Brawley said, “and it’s categorically no.”

The film aspect of the festival will not change, he said, pointing to its strong attendance and a solid infrastructure. Cucalorus has evolved over the past 20 years, and this is something that will make a good thing better, Brawley said.

Cucalorus Connect will also allow artists being showcased in the film part of the festival to meet with business leaders who may want to use their talent.

The festival organizers said that they have been looking at Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest and Charlottesville, Virginia’s Tom Tom Founders Festival as examples.

South by Southwest is one of the largest festivals in the country and originated as a music and film festival, but over the years has also become a hub for entrepreneurs and tech companies; for example, the social media site Twitter gained noteriety at South by Southwest in 2007.

Brawley said he is confident that the addition of Cucalorus Connect will not distract from the festival’s core film aspect.

“For people who might be saying ‘Oh, are you compromising the support you have provided for filmmakers?’ I would say actually this is providing a way to make that support more meaningful,” he said. “Of course we will evaluate how this goes, and if it becomes clear that this is taking energy away from the film festival then we will re-evaluate it.”
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