Heather McWhorter has been named director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), beginning July 1, according to a news release Wednesday.
McWhorter, who has been the CIE's interim director since August last year, said the role will allow her to focus full-time on the CIE "and really look forward to how we can improve our services to those high-growth entrepreneurs, how we can build a better ecosystem in the region, just continuing the good foundation past directors have made and looking to make it even better."
As CIE interim director, McWhorter was also serving as the regional center director for the UNCW Small Business and Technology Development Center, a job she'd held since 2017. UNCW will be seeking a new SBTDC director, with the job expected to be posted soon, McWhorter said Wednesday.
As director, McWhorter's salary is $130,000, and she reports to Stuart Borrett, UNCW's associate provost for research and innovation.
“Heather brings a wealth of experience to CIE and its programs,” Borrett said in the release. “She has been an entrepreneur, she is an experienced engineer and she regularly teaches entrepreneurial leadership. She also has significant experience supporting the success of innovators, entrepreneurs and small business owners. I look forward to supporting her leadership and the resulting growth of CIE’s positive impact on the strong Wilmington entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Addressing her specific plans, McWhorter said the CIE will have a strategic plan kickoff "and get community input, get entrepreneur input to help figure out what would be most impactful for entrepreneurs and what they need to do to succeed as well as what the community needs."
A question McWhorter said she is really passionate about is what programs CIE should be offering to help more women interested in venture capital-backed companies.
McWhorter said the CIE, at 803 S. College Road in Wilmington, has about 30 tenants now, many of them startups. The CIE serves as "a place where entrepreneurs of all ages and backgrounds can engage with expertise at the university, retired experts can give back to the next generation, new startups can collaborate and entrepreneurs can network with peers," according to the release.
McWhorter said she has already rolled out a resilience program for high-potential entrepreneurs, Startup EQ. It's a six-month program where the entrepreneurs meet with executive coaches every other week "to learn how to lead themselves, lead others and lead their businesses."
She said with traditional entrepreneur training, resilience isn't typically a focus, but with tech entrepreneurs, it can take seven years (an industry standard stat) to make it big. "That's a long time to stick to a vision without knowing for sure that it's going to happen and so how can we shore up these ideas so they can make it big and go the distance."
Through CIE’s network, McWhorter will also lead efforts to strengthen the center’s impact by growing programs such as CIE Mentors, All Blue and Chancellor’s Challenge, as well as partnerships with local and regional groups, the release stated.
McWhorter said in the release, "I aim to position Wilmington as a global destination for entrepreneurs solving big problems.”
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