University of North Carolina Wilmington officials on Wednesday named a new director for its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Diane Durance, who now works as president of a Michigan-based and state-supported nonprofit that supports early- and second-stage ventures in that state, will start at the CIE on June 20, according to a news release.
Before her current job at the 501(c)(3) called MiQuest, she was executive director for Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest (GLEQ), the predecessor to MiQuest and president of the Ann Arbor IT Zone, the region’s first incubator for startup technology ventures, officials said.
Durance is the CIE's first permanent director since Jim Roberts left the center
in March 2015. UNCW faculty member Chuck Whitlock was appointed interim director in June 2015 and served until the end of the year. He has remained associated with the center, running programs such as business focus groups.
The prospect of heading the CIE is “very exciting to me,” Durance said Wednesday morning in a telephone interview. “The CIE is very similar to a program I ran with the Ann Arbor IT Zone, associated with the University of Michigan. What the CIE aspires to do is very similar to what we did: connect the community with the university, with advisors, entrepreneurs and funding. This is taking me back to my roots in entrepreneurship support.”
Durance herself is an entrepreneur, having launched three very different companies. Her first, she said, was an engineering company specializing in long-distance communications networks. The second was a custom publishing company that provided company-to-customer publications for telecom companies. Durance’s third startup did residential construction and remodeling in the Ann Arbor area.
Another factor that made the CIE position attractive, Durance said, was UNCW’s strength in marine biology research.
“One of my main interests has been aquaculture and sustainable fisheries,” she said, explaining that she and her daughter toured UNCW five years ago on a college visit. Her daughter wound up majoring in marine science at the University of Tampa and will enroll at the University of the Virgin Islands this fall for her master’s degree.
Through her daughter’s interest, Durance said she became fascinated by aquaculture and marine science. She developed a prototype of a marine recirculating system and met a “tremendous number” of investors who are likewise interested in the field of aquaculture and sustainable fisheries.
“There is great potential at UNCW to develop that aspect of entrepreneurship,” Durance said. “That’s why, when I saw [UNCW] was looking [for a CIE director], it seemed like a perfect fit.”
When she begins her new job later this month, Durance plans to begin building on the center’s existing foundation.
“The most important first step is to take what has been done and build on those relationships and draw in more participation from the community and university,” she said. “I’ve connected a lot of the consulting community into a mentoring network here in Michigan -- 130 mentors and coaches that would volunteer their time. We also had 100 investors from around the state that would meet with these entrepreneurs and get them to the point where they could be investment candidates. One-to-one mentoring and coaching, there can be more of that [in Wilmington].
“I want to connect the CIE [with the community] in any way we can, including retired professionals, who are a rich resource of knowledge and experience. Many, I’m sure, would like to get involved but don’t know how. We will make that path very clear," Durance said.
The newly tapped CIE director is a Michigan native but has lived and worked in several major U.S. cities. After she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Southern Methodist University, her work in the telecommunications industry took her to Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco and New Orleans.
She returned to Michigan in 1990 and has been active with business development since then.
“After a very competitive search process, I’m pleased to welcome Diane to the helm of the CIE,” Ron Vetter, UNCW’s associate provost for research and dean of the graduate school, said in the release. “She understands the challenges entrepreneurs face in the startup and growth phases. Her experience and expertise will help us continue to provide business start-ups the tools and resources to get off the ground and grow."