New website seeks to connect area's entrepreneurs
March 19, 2013By Andrew Gray
Local entrepreneurs and those who provide services to small- and medium-sized business now have a resource to help connect and organize the entrepreneurial ecosystem of southeastern North Carolina.
The new website Startupoint.org debuted at the recent Entrepreneurship Summit hosted at University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Website founder Justin Sacks describes the website as “a web-based platform that enables any community to map out and coordinate its existing resources to support startups and small businesses.”
The site allows any organization that offers support to startups or small businesses to maintain a profile and submit events to a shared calendar. Entrepreneurs and small businesses can browse these profiles to find service providers, financing, office space and other resources.
Sacks came up with the website’s idea after creating a map of entrepreneurial assets for the Startup Atlanta project.
Sacks’ background is in mapping economic assets.
“I have been doing mapping for communities for a long time,” he said. “I worked in the U.K. as a consultant, mapping economic resources and Haiti with small farmers, mapping agricultural resources and social connections. Last year, I started mapping resources for Startup Atlanta, and I produced a paper map that was very popular. It seems like a basic first step that you would think would exist, but it does not.
“The [Atlanta asset map] really sparked an interest to replicate that process in other places.”
Sacks said about the startup Atlanta website that the assets were mapped using Google maps, but “people do not look for business resources like they do pizza. It is really easy to do technically, and economic development folks like to see the clusters. If you are an entrepreneur, you care if they are within driving distance.”
Sacks explained that in smaller cities, those assets are often regional.
“That is the case in Wilmington, [for example] as there are a lot of veteran outreach organizations in Fayetteville,” he said.
The website’s Wilmington installation is sponsored by UNCW as part of chancellor Gary Miller’s focus on furthering the university’s role in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, said Jenni Harris, assistant to the chancellor for community partnerships.
“We always hear about people who may be toying with the idea of starting a business from a hobby or having a great idea for a product or service that is needed in the area, but those people don’t necessarily know where to go to get started,” she said. “We want to be proactive and helpful by encouraging them to use this website as a resource – whether it’s to discuss an idea with us, to get help from the SBTDC [Small Business and Technology Development Center] in refining a business plan, to attend a seminar with the SBA [U.S. Small Business Administration office] at CFCC, to find funding possibilities or to find a networking group of others to share ideas with.”
Sacks said he originally pitched the idea of bringing the website to Wilmington while he was rained out of a beach vacation at Wrightsville Beach.
“Last summer, I was in Wilmington for a vacation, and it was raining, so I scheduled meetings,” he said.
Sacks said now that the Startupoint platform is available in southeastern North Carolina, the next step is to make sure both entrepreneurs and service providers know the resource exists so they can use it.
Sacks is encouraging resource providers to set up free profiles on the website and place links to startupoint.org on their websites. In addition, Startupoint will work with local organizations to create workshops and events to raise awareness and foster collaboration.
“We are encouraging everyone who attended the Emerging Ventures Summit to create their own free account as well as share the link with other vendors and partners who they do business with,” Harris said. “It will only be successful if people use it, and we want to make sure that there is as much information available to everyone as possible.”
Sacks said the site would remain free to use because of UNCW’s sponsorship.
Camera store capitalizes on throwback trends
With digital cameras on almost every smartphone and online sources selling digital cameras for rock bottom prices, local camera stores have to find new ways to stay relevant.
Wilmington’s Southeastern Camera, 1351 S. Kerr Ave., has taken to going back to basics to cater to those professionals and enthusiasts who prefer the process of taking photographs with black and white film.
Store manager Gary Allen said Southeastern Camera recently started developing black and white film for customers in addition to selling digital and conventional camera equipment and accessories.
“A lot of things vintage and retro have a way of coming around,” Allen said. “We have always catered to people who like to shoot. A lot of the high schools and colleges still offer film classes.”
Allen said that even as digital camera have become more powerful, many enthusiasts were starting to use vintage and antique cameras and turning to black and white film. Photographers looking for specific effects are using even “toy” cameras such as Holga and Diana brands.
“I spent the first 15 years of my career shooting and processing film as a journalist,” Allen said. “We actually process all the film by hand. We mix all our own chemistry into containers, and then we load each roll of film into a roll and into a steel drum. It takes about 20-30 minutes for each roll of film.
“The other reason we offer it is because photographers are having a hard time finding a lab. Photographers had to send their film to Raleigh to get it done. We charge $7.50 to process a roll of film, and we also offer scanning to make a high resolution scan and put it on a CD.”
While Allen sees opportunity in developing black and white film, he says he believes camera technology is going to continue to improve at a rate similar to the personal computer.
“It is just like everything else – digital cameras are like laptops,” he said. “Every six months, they get twice as fast and have more bells and whistles. They are making cameras smarter and easier to operate and make wonderful pictures.”