The Spirit of Entrepreneurship has found a welcoming and supportive home in Wilmington. If you put your ear to the ground, you’ll hear interesting conversations about entrepreneurship all over town. The conversations and energy have turned to the importance of the entrepreneurial mindset. It reminds me of the kinds of questions we were asking ten years ago – Are entrepreneurs made or born? Can you ‘teach’ entrepreneurship? Can you ignite a spirit of entrepreneurship?
Now that we know you CAN teach entrepreneurship, where’s the roadblock? People that never pictured themselves as CEOs or business owners, are starting new ventures every day. What’s the common denominator? An entrepreneurial mindset. They believed in themselves and they believed it was possible. Start with fertile soil (ready minds) and entrepreneurial seeds will take hold. As a community, we need to be actively cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset in every corner of the city, county, and region – and leave no one out. And we’re on our way…
Let’s start with our middle school and high school students. The Brian Hamilton Foundation with “Entrepreneurship for All” is reaching out to 8th graders with their message. Nick Cannon came to town last fall with his student entrepreneurship competition and vows to be back again next year. UNCW has been hosting a week-long entrepreneurship camp for the past six summers – encouraging high school students to explore entrepreneurship opportunities in the food economy, construction, and the creative fields. The UNCW Chancellor’s High School Innovation and Business Plan Competition will celebrate its fifth annual competition this year. UNCW also hosts monthly meetups for high school students and is collaborating with other entrepreneurial support organizations to bring the NC IDEA Foundation-supported Ice House Entrepreneurship Program to students in our region.
Our youth entrepreneurship programs will give Wilmington a leg up as the next generation emerges as business leaders. Equally important, are the efforts to open the door to entrepreneurship for those that are economically, educationally, and socially disadvantaged in our community. It’s hard work to change a mindset and belief system that was formed through 20, 30 or 40 years of hard knocks. The Brian Hamilton Foundation is reaching out to help those with criminal records by offering Inmates to Entrepreneurs several times a year. Coastal Women’s Ventures is seeking to help women and minority entrepreneurs. With the Battle of the Bosses, the TRU Colors Brewery team puts a focus on the most pressing needs for entrepreneurial activity and solutions in troubled neighborhoods. Cedric Harrison of Support the Port is working to develop an impactful program to nurture and fund minority businesses.
All these programs share the same purpose – to grow the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s not about ‘how to start a business’ with sessions on setting up your accounting system and social media marketing – it’s about feeling the excitement when ideas are brought to life, creating value for others, being validated, and knowing you have ‘the right stuff’.
As our collective Spirit of Entrepreneurship grows, we’ll see an exciting, creative, inclusive, and engaged community emerge with opportunity for all.
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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