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At 21, Cucalorus Aims To Look Forward With Focus On Business, Film Innovation

By Jenny Callison, posted Oct 23, 2015
Cucalorus spokeswoman Margee Herring shows off "the board" which contains all the events for Cucalorus 21 next month. (Photo by Jenny Callison)
This November’s Cucalorus 21, organizers believe, represents a new era as the film festival reaches the age of majority. But adulthood doesn't mean the festival isn't still stretching and growing: While in the past it has incorporated a business component, this year’s festival integrates an entire entrepreneurship conference, featuring well-known entrepreneurial leaders from within and beyond North Carolina.

“Last year was a year of reflection, at 20 years, looking back at the history of film in Wilmington,” festival executive director Dan Brawley said Friday. “This year is all about looking forward.”

Brawley sees Cucalorus 21 as the merging of two creative communities in Wilmington. The film festival builds on the talents and skills of the area’s filmmakers and draws other filmmakers from around the world. The new Cucalorus Connect, he says, is bringing in the energy and ideas of the region’s entrepreneurs – some of whom also happen to be filmmakers.

Rather than being two parallel five-day events, said spokeswoman Margee Herring, the film festival and entrepreneurship conference are intertwined.

Daily workshops – some targeted at filmmakers and some at business innovators of all kinds –are designed generate discussion on a broad range of topics important for startups; keynotes feature several high-profile successful entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship leader Joan Siefert Rose is excited at the prospect of being a keynote speaker.

“I’m interested in coming to the Cucalorus Festival itself because for more than 20 years it has been attracting creative people to the region,” Rose, president and CEO of the Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), said Friday. “What I love about Connect is the opportunity to connect the entrepreneurship community and the creative community. I love what’s been going on in Wilmington; it seems that it’s been on fire these past few years.”

Rose will speak about startups and what she calls “scaleups.”

“I’ll be looking at communities’ entrepreneurial leaders and support systems, and the opportunities they offer to build a lasting community of entrepreneurs,” she said. “That’s what we’re seeing in Wilmington right now. Some companies ultimately will scale up and they will be the companies that create jobs and opportunities for others in the region.”

Other visiting speakers include Chris Heivly, co-founder of MapQuest and a managing director of The Startup Factory in Durham; Dan Tynan, Yahoo Tech’s editor-in-chief; Galen Buckwalter, co-founder and past chief science officer of eHarmony; and Carlton Turner, executive director of Alternate ROOTS.

Also planned are workshops and panel discussions on topics such as health care technology, eco-friendly innovations and developing tech centers in downtowns. In all, there are more than 50 events planned as part of the Connect Conference.

The idea for Cucalorus Connect has come from outside the film festival organization itself, according to Brawley.
 
“Over the past three or four years people from different parts of the community have been reaching out to me with a common vision,” Brawley said.  “They are unrelated, unconnected to each other but these people have a notion that that Wilmington is ready for a conference that looks at innovation and entrepreneurship. The Cucalorus brand is closely aligned with that.”

With a working group of committed individuals, development of Cucalorus Connect began just this past July and has been an intense effort, Herring said.

“The Connect work group has been meeting weekly for many weeks; it’s a stalwart group,” she said. “They brought their own networks. It’s an indication of the capacity of Cucalorus and its ability to plug [the conference] in.”

One aspect of Cucalorus Connect will be a focus on women entrepreneurs, notably women in technology. There is a Ladies Code Workshop as well as a panel, Women in TechNovation.

Rose said she is happy to see the conference look specifically at women and their contributions.

“It’s a great opportunity for women to join the entrepreneurship community right now,” she said. “I have seen a couple of interesting things happening. More women are interested in learning how to code: just about every company is going to be a technology company and have large data components. It’s a great thing to know how to do.

“There is also a general understanding that the tech community needs to be open to women and other under-represented minorities,” Rose added.  “We need all the talent we can get. If women are not choosing to enter that field and learn those skills, we are missing out on a huge contribution.”

Cucalorus Connect is making time for the very new members of the entrepreneurial community. A daily Port City Pitch feature gives very early-stage companies an opportunity to make a case for their concept, and also checks in with young companies that pitched themselves at the Coastal Connect conference in 2014. Returning companies are Next Glass, Easy Vote, Mimijumi and Lapetus. New ones are TacLace, Special Pedals, Service Whale, LifeGait, Performance Culture and SpeedFaces.

The new participants were selected based on the buzz they’ve experienced in the last year, both locally and regionally, Laura Brogdon Primavera, manager of programs and operations at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said in an email Friday. 
 
“Some have some pretty solid pitches that are great examples for other startups to hear and learn from,” Primavera said. “Others have presented at other events across the state such as the CED Conference this fall. Some have won local, regional, and national awards and recognition such as TacLace at the Amazon Inventions Tour, Performance Culture who won a Coastal Entrepreneur Award this spring, and Special Pedals, who won the recent Institute for Emerging Issues Discovery Forum’s Wilmington competition. 
 
The Connect audience will vote on the best pitch, and the winner will have an additional slot to speak to conference attendees, Primavera said.
 
As Cucalorus organizers continue to prepare for the two-fold event, the festival’s annual Kickstarter campaign is in progress. As of Friday, the campaign was about halfway toward its $33,000 goal, according to Brawley. Passes to Cucalorus 21 are the rewards for contributors, he said.

A complete listing of Cucalorus 21 films and events is available on the festival's website.
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