Since leaving University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) last March, Jim Roberts has remained active in Wilmington’s startup scene. Through an informal arrangement with Ironclad Brewery, he has been hosting events for entrepreneurs and has remained in touch with many of the young companies he worked with at the CIE.
Now, Roberts has announced the official launch of two parallel initiatives, both designed to provide area startups with the support they need to grow and ultimately fuel the local economy.
One initiative is Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, or NEW. Roberts says it’s the formal organization of his events series.
“It’s a nonprofit entrepreneur support organization much like the CED (Council for Entrepreneurship Development) in Raleigh-Durham,” he said Wednesday, adding that the organization is similar to ones he started in Charlotte and Asheville earlier in his career.
The organization’s activities will be sustained through sponsorships from area businesses that have an interest in supporting and providing services to the entrepreneurial community, Roberts said. He has two sponsors currently.
“There are a lot of people in this community that want a stronger local economy. Startups are a way to grow that, and a way to hold on to college graduates that desperately want to stay in Wilmington,” he said.
The second initiative is Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE), an investor network.
“WALE has been in process for months trying to find support from committed members but has now been formalized legally,” he said.
That organization is sustained through an annual membership fee. WALE is already functioning, Roberts said, and has had two sessions with a total of five early-stage companies looking for financial backing.
The first was an informal meeting, in late July, with a young venture that is – in Roberts’ words – in stealth mode. At the second, WALE members heard presentations from three of the five Wilmington startups that were chosen to participate in the CED’s TechVenture conference in September, plus one Elite Innovations makerspace client.
Roberts declined to name the presenters; he also did not say how many investors he has in his network, nor the amount of the annual membership fee.
He did indicate that his members have committed to investing in "at least two of the companies they have already seen."
WALE has also linked up with a syndicate of other investment groups in the Southeast, which offers further financing potential to startups the Wilmington group supports.
If the investors commit at least $50,000 to any one startup, WALE will be able to send that company to the syndicate for those groups’ consideration, Roberts said.