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Business Growth
Feb 23, 2015

The CIE And Open Resources: Paving A Path To Innovation

Sponsored Content provided by Jim Roberts - Executive Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This Insights was contributed by Jeff Guard, a co-founder of WhittleDATA.
A new home, a new venture
Local developer Ken Zeiger and I have created a comprehensive solution to the everyday software complications that hinder nearly every small business owner. Before I tell you more about our business, allow me to introduce myself; my name is Jeff Guard, co-founder of WhittleDATA.
After many years of visiting family in Hampstead, N.C., my wife Melanie and I moved to Wilmington after falling in love with the places, people and growing opportunities in this area. Soon after we relocated, I started GuardianPay, a point-of-sale and payments provider that was inspired by my experiences after many years working in the merchant services field. GuardianPay is focused on empowering small companies by providing inventive cloud-based, mobile point-of-sale technology and emerging mobile-payment technologies.
Making sense of a complex business world
There was a very clear and accelerating trend that I noticed immediately after starting GuardianPay. Powerful and affordable cloud-based software services were being released and improved almost daily, giving ever greater capabilities to small companies. This presents a problem, however; even though business owners can afford to do far more, optimizing the use of “so many” software platforms is challenging, especially for small businesses.
This is the problem I set out to solve, and immediately after hearing Executive Director Jim Roberts speak, I knew I had to become a part of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE works to identify and nurture high-growth, high-impact companies and to accelerate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in southeastern North Carolina.
In many areas, business startup incubators, like the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and maker spaces, like Elite Innovations, are sprouting up. With resources such as these, there has never been a better time for a determined individual to start a business. As businesspeople, we have so many cost-efficient resources that help us be more productive and efficient, and to reach more potential customers.
The birth of WhittleDATA
Last February, I was lucky to meet Ken Zeiger. Ken is a talented local software developer, fellow entrepreneur, and host of the Wilmington “Tech Talk” at Wave Rider Design. After our initial meeting, we stayed in touch through email and occasionally ran into each other at CIE events. When I approached Ken for advice as to how I could make the idea happen, he immediately saw potential and we agreed to work together. On July 3, 2014, WhittleDATA was born.
Since that time, we have grown WhittleDATA and are near completion of our first infinitely scalable cloud-based software product. We enable small businesses to use the right combinations of software services in the most efficient way possible. This gives our users a substantial competitive advantage.
In the past year, we have graduated from a co-working space to a private office in the CIE, and recently added two talented student partners! Nicholas Dixon and Sarah Ritter are among UNCW’s brightest, most talented student entrepreneurs and are already adding tremendous value to our venture. Ken and I hope that our mentoring will allow them to grow and advance their careers. After witnessing the altruistic giving that the CIE is known for, we are thrilled to be able to provide mentoring for our student partners.
Growing with the CIE
We have embraced our new community and are shocked by the growth we have witnessed in the past few years. There are now substantial physical resources in Wilmington to help aspiring entrepreneurs. As seen by CIE graduate Next Glass and cloud-banking firm nCino, great companies are being built here. There is a groundswell right now and I encourage anyone who is motivated to get out there and seize any opportunity available. I strongly believe smaller, nimble companies who innovate quickly and make use of online and physical resources are those who will drive wealth creation more and more.
The future is exciting for us here at WhittleDATA. In a business ecosystem fueled by exponential technologies, moonshot thinking, and crowd-powered tools, the leaders of tomorrow are innovating to create extraordinary wealth while also positively affecting the lives of billions. Like the CIE, we at WhittleDATA want to help make this path for innovators an easier one.
For those interested:
An excellent place to begin engagement with the CIE is the High Tide Breakfast. Every Wednesday morning at 8:30, affiliated entrepreneurs present their business and host an open discussion. Also new this year, the CIE is hosting an Entrepreneur Bootcamp where the area’s best and brightest entrepreneurs teach an eight-week course on successfully setting goals, reaching milestones and growing a business. Both Ken and I participate in these two events and are around the CIE almost every day. Stop by the CIE at 803 S. College Road and come say hello!
A favor to ask our business community:
Please visit to answer a few questions and help make us better.
About the author: Jeff Guard. Entrepreneur. From Massachusetts. UMASS Amherst graduate. Happily married. Wilmington resident since 2012. Curious and motivated, I am driven by solving BIG challenges and focusing my energy on BIG ideas!
Jim R. Roberts is the executive director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNC Wilmington. CIE is an accelerator for the startup community to help diversify the local economy with innovative companies that will pay higher wages. CIE is Jim’s fourth entrepreneurship organization within North Carolina and he is a former employee of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

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