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May 15, 2019

Grab Wilmington’s Best-Kept Talent Secret Before They Head Off to Bigger Dreams

Sponsored Content provided by Diane Durance - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This Insights article was contributed by Reid Wilson, Founder of Language Corpus, Inc. and (formerly) Quintify, Inc.

When I was in high school (way back when), I worked at the local Harris Teeter with several from my school. Four of us would end up in the top ten of our high school class.

And we were really into working there -- more than once I got accused by my then girlfriend of loving HT more than I did her...

Over the years, I've reflected much on that talented and committed group of kids who spent most of their time bagging groceries and scraping price labels off of Campbell soup cans for hours to put on new stickers to raise the price a penny. And I've wondered what some business could have done with us had they asked us to take on bigger problems.

Nowadays, with 24/7 access to the internet, today's teens have the potential of being much more talented than my peers and I were as kids, or at least, they have easy access to knowledge and tools that can multiply and magnify and refine their talent.

As an entrepreneur, I've had the privilege of having six teens add significant value to my two companies. Most have done professional-level software development – specifications, programming, testing, and end-user training and support, but others have also helped significantly with marketing and operations. They worked with us at both Tek Mountain and the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and attending events there only added to their experiences for a true win-win.

And -- sorry guys if you are reading this -- when you get right down to it, child labor is cheap. Am I allowed to say that my 18-year-old daughter hasn’t received any compensation yet for working with me on Language Corpus? Neither of us have since we are pre-revenue and in total bootstrapping mode…

Years ago when we interviewed one programmer, who at the time was still 14, another (adult) senior developer and I commented to each other afterward that we need to keep our skills sharp or these kids are going to overtake us. I was quite simply blown away. And Sam started working with us as a ninth grader, and by the time he left for NC State, we considered him a senior-level developer. And two of our teens, who happen to be my kids and also started working with me while quite young, both skipped college completely and have great tech jobs in Atlanta and Raleigh. (At some point, alas, kids want to go out and show they can do this stuff for someone other than their dad.)

In the Wilmington IT community, we want to attract talent to the area, but I would suggest we also grab the budding talent that is already here, and help them help us in our businesses, and -- hopefully -- some of them will stick around for the long term. But even for me when that hasn't been the case, it's been exciting to see them head off to bigger and better things, knowing that I've been able to help mentor them and add some value to their lives, while they have also added to mine and my companies and our clients.

Want to find some bright hard-working teams? I bet they are everywhere if you know where to look, but the place I've found some of the best and brightest are from the Wired Wizards high school FRC robotics team. And, just maybe, perhaps you’ve got some in your own household!

Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.  

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