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Education
Oct 29, 2018

Cucalorus Connect Helps Highlight Area's Economic & Cultural Identity

Sponsored Content provided by Heather McWhorter - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

This Insights article was contributed by Dan Brawley, executive director of Cucalorus Film Festival.

When we first launched Cucalorus Connect five years ago, key players in the local startup ecosystem – especially the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Castle Branch's tekMountain – joined forces with Cucalorus creatives to explore how we could showcase and highlight the potential of the entrepreneurial landscape that was growing up rapidly around us.
 
Local leaders like Diane Durance and Laura Brogdon-Primavera, plus Sean Ahlum, Amanda Sipes and many others, did the heavy lifting that brought the conference to life in 2015 and 2016.
 
Even though we were technically still in our experimental phase, the results were exciting. Not only did we get twice as many applications as we could handle, it was clear by the quality of the startups that something special was happening in Wilmington.
 
Key speakers included: CED executive director Joan Siefert Rose; Carlton Turner from Alternate ROOTS (a community-based cultural organizing network); and DigSouth founder Stanfield Gray.
 
As we headed into year three, our key supporters and I wanted to firmly establish Connect’s focus on innovation and technology. This aligned well with Cucalorus' history as a trailblazer in the film festival industry, offering virtual reality and other tech-forward interactive events years before they hit the public marketplace.
 
To pull it off, we needed to strengthen the Connect team, which started in early 2017 with the creation of the inaugural Connect Advisory Board. But we knew that we needed a visionary leader to light the way forward, so I turned to retired tech executive Tom Looney, a former colleague of Steve Jobs.
 
Tom had already been an economic thought leader in the region for over a decade. He played an active role in the launch of UNCW initiatives, including UNCW’s CEN, the original Entrepreneurship Center, and the CIE. 
 
He also co-founded Seahawk Innovation with Tobin Geatz and has tirelessly advocated for building Wilmington's 21st century economic identity as a traded-sector center focused on the biggest growth engines of the now and next economy: creating domain expertise-centered "clusters" in advanced services, and advanced manufacturing.
 
The 2017 conference featured key women in leadership, including senior executives from Corning and GE (advanced manufacturing). George Taylor premiered his Tru Colors Brewing project to the public during a Thursday afternoon keynote session. The room was filled with young creatives, seasoned entrepreneurs, public officials, technologists and, of course, local gang members.
 
This year, with the continued guidance of past president Tom Looney and the leadership of 2018 president Randall Johnson, we offer five distinct conference tracks: GigTech; HealthTech; FinTech; Startups; and the Community Brew.
 
We invite entrepreneurs, technologists, investors and sector-focused business leaders, as well as economic developers, government, policy makers and creative individuals of all stripes, to join us for an immersive, two-day conference exploring the connected digital economy. Tune into the latest technology trends in financial services, health care, employment, business development and social entrepreneurship.
 
Our keynote on Thursday, Nov. 8 at 4:30 p.m. features Susan Ellis, director of brand and corporate social innovation at SAS, in a talk focusing on how storytelling and empathy are just as important as technology in building brand success.
 
Special guest Charlie Fink, Futurist and Forbes columnist, will take it one step further with a glimpse into the rapidly evolving worlds of virtual reality and augmented reality.
 
Add a world class film festival, a party every hour and a great lineup of theatre and music and you have the perfect showcase of our community's cultural and economic identity
 
For a full schedule of dynamic track breakouts, social hours with beer and cocktail tastings, along with our full lineup films, music and theatre, visit cucalorus.org.

Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.  

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