Every time The Wall Printer sells one of its vertical wall printers in North and South America, a new business is born, said Heather McWhorter, speaking to a crowd of entrepreneurs at UNCW on Wednesday.
The Wall Printer, a Wilmington-based company founded by Paul Baron, took home the 2023 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year Award at a ceremony Wednesday morning.
Hosted by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), the annual Coastal Entrepreneur Awards recognized 11 organizations as category winners this year out of nearly 200 nominations, a CEA record. The Wall Printer captured the overall prize, which included possession for a year of a life-sized surfboard trophy by Kids Making It.
Baron joked about his age when accepting The Wall Printer’s Category award, Manufacturing & Distribution, the honor that put his company in the running for Entrepreneur of the Year.
“It only took me 71 years to become recognized as an overnight success,” he said to laughs from the participants gathered for the breakfast event at UNCW’s Burney Center.
McWhorter, director of UNCW’s CIE, also said in her introduction that in addition to being a business owner, Baron is a CIE mentor.
“Since I met Paul, he has always supported entrepreneurs,” she said.
Before founding The Wall Printer and while pursuing other endeavors, Baron was introduced to vertical printing, a type of printing that can be done by a specialized machine on a wide variety of upright surfaces and can reproduce existing artwork or create signs. As a result, in 2019, he formed a manufacturing relationship with a Chinese company and now co-owns with that firm three patents related to the product.
Baron said The Wall Printer got its first customers in 2020 with the goal of having at least 120 in its fourth year.
“The Wall Printer is not a franchise system,” Baron explained in a previous Greater Wilmington Business Journal article. “Our customers create their own businesses and their own brands. They get their equipment from us, and we give them a lot of support. We don’t take royalties. This is all about entrepreneurship: creating opportunities for others. It’s their own hopes and dreams, delivering wall art. It’s about cooperation, not competition.”
On Wednesday, Baron said he can’t take all the credit for The Wall Printer, which has 15 employees.
“The journey of an entrepreneur usually starts as a solo endeavor – it’s an idea, something you’re passionate about,” he said. “So while it may start that way, no successful business … can be achieved without a team, and I've been blessed with that.”
The other category winners (listed below) all received engraved surfboard plaques by Kids Making It and had the opportunity to share their thanks during the awards ceremony.
At the start of the event Wednesday, Business Journal Publisher Rob Kaiser described the purpose of the awards program, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year.
"The ultimate goal is to highlight these organizations and make sure they get the recognition and connections to help them create more jobs in our community," Kaiser said.
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