Event introduces new entrepreneurship center, director
August 16, 2013By Jenny Callison
When people think of University of North Carolina Wilmington’s new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), Jim Roberts does not want them to think of a building.
At a special event Thursday evening hosted by UNCW’s Cameron School of Business, Roberts, the CIE’s new director, outlined his vision and plans for the center, which on Sept. 5 will hold a grand opening in its new offices at 803 S. College Ave., just south of the UNCW campus.
Thursday’s event was held at the Computer Information Systems building on the UNCW campus, but Roberts showed slides of the new CIE facility.
“The center is more than a building,” its director said, outlining the center’s three primary roles as entrepreneurship support, capital formation and mentorship connections. “It should be an activity hub.”
Another goal of the CIE, Roberts said, is to help the area’s investors to understand the needs of today’s business startups and make entrepreneurs more comfortable with what the investors want.
Funds to sustain the CIE in the near-term come from a variety of sources, Roberts said: a $70,000 grant from the City of Wilmington a recent $50,000 gift from Cape Fear Future and BB&T.
“We’re looking for additional donors and sponsors,” he said.
Roberts sees the facility as a place where fledgling company tenants can connect with other entrepreneurs in the region, collaborate with each other, identify sources of funding and get counseling from seasoned business professionals.
"We are not just trying to fill offices, we want our tenants to grow, raise money, graduate and move into the Wilmington community," Roberts said.
In addition to co-working spaces for fledgling companies, the building – a former real estate office suite – contains spaces for meetings, seminars and other events. Eventually it will house two permanent tenants: the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), which is currently leasing space elsewhere in Wilmington, and the Seahawk Innovation Fund, a venture capital fund to support business and economic development in the greater Wilmington region.
UNCW is a special limited partner in the fund, Roberts said, but the fund will be managed by three men experienced in early-stage venture capital: Tobin Geatz, Tom Looney and Dallas Romanowski.
According to Roberts, the CIE currently has commitments from three startup companies to locate in the new facility. He said the center is looking for more tenants who, he said, “are in the early stage of their business, have some intellectual property, know how to be of interest to investors, play well with others, and see a potential exit.”
UNCW student ventures can get space in the facility free of charge. There is a discounted rental rate for technology transfer startups.