Ambitious plans for UNCW-EC
September 15, 2012By Jenny Callison
Wilmington’s Entrepreneurship Center is in transition, with a new legal structure, new leadership and ambitious plans to spur entrepreneurial activity in southeastern North Carolina.
Since its founding in 2009 as part of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Entrepreneurship Center (EC) has had success in nurturing new businesses and, through its Rocket Pitch events, giving local startups and fledgling businesses access to angel investors.
In February, UNCW chancellor Gary Miller announced that the EC would be placed under his purview and would become a limited liability corporation so it could focus largely on the community rather than on student entrepreneurship.
Then, in late May, Jonathan Rowe, the center’s director, left to become marketing director of banking software startup nCino. Fran Scarlett, director of the UNCW-based Small Business Technology and Development Center (SBTDC), was asked to serve as interim director of the EC as well. Even as the university prepares to search for a new director, Scarlett has a full plate.
“The center is moving full speed ahead,” Scarlett said.
“We’re doing all the events that the EC has done in the past: our camps for middle schoolers and high schoolers, our ‘speed dating’ entrepreneur event in September and our Rocket Pitch in October.”
Scarlett has also indicated, in written communications, that the center will continue to be involved with the Wells Fargo Entrepreneurial Speaker Series and with the Coastal Entrepreneurship Awards, co-sponsored with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
There are more ambitious plans as well, including opening an incubator to provide space and support to select startups and more established young companies. The center also hopes to conduct entrepreneur boot camps on topics such as raising capital, international business development and to match startups with mentor companies.
“There are tons of resources here for economic development and helping businesses grow,” Scarlett said.
“I see the center being a conduit and connector. We don’t want to duplicate services or do what others can do better. I’m using the word ‘collaborate’ a lot.”
The interim director cited two recent examples.
“Just yesterday I met with a tech company with roots in Raleigh and Durham. It wants to expand its presence here and is looking for space, talent and a way to access the community,” she said. “Another company is brand new and based in Atlanta, but the owner wants to live in Wilmington and is launching a new division here. I tell these companies, ‘Here are people you need to talk to’ and ‘Show up at this meeting.”
Scarlett points out that the new LLC structure “enables the center to engage in more innovative and commercially viable activities.”
The legal structure allows prospective donors to provide funding directly to the center, rather than going through the university. One such publicly acknowledged community gift has been received since establishment of the LLC: in July the Bruce Barclay Cameron Foundation gave the center $25,000 in outright funds and a further $25,000 in matching funds. If it raises $25,000 to match the second part of the foundation gift, the center would net a total of $75,000.
One of the three initiatives of Cape Fear Future Passion Works fundraising campaign also is focused on entrepreneurship.
Specifically, the “entrepreneurial development” initiative recognizes the EC as a “catalyst for entrepreneurial growth” that connects ventures, entrepreneurs and existing small businesses with each other and with the resources they need to flourish. One-third of the funds raised during the capital campaign will go to the center.
To date, the Passion Works campaign has yielded about $200,000 for the center, Scarlett said.
She said that the EC has received a comparable amount from anonymous donors in direct gifts, and that the university development office – and Miller himself – is actively engaged in fundraising for the fledgling LLC.
Scarlett has committed to leading the center through the end of 2012, at which time the university hopes to have a permanent director in place.
Although UNCW has announced that it will conduct a national search for the director, the position had not been posted on the university’s website as of Sept. 10. Scarlett said she has not decided whether to become a candidate for the position.