Startups Weigh Local Support

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Jun 21, 2024
Christy Owens started UTap2, a digital business card company, in the Wilmington area last year. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
As Wilmington’s population continues to swell, some entrepreneurs moving to the area are bringing their startups with them, and other new residents are starting up their businesses upon arrival.

But what do these Wilmington newcomers moving for quality of life and proximity to the beach think of the area through a technological and entrepreneurial lens?

Christy Owens moved from Chicago to Wilmington in May 2023. She started her printing company, PC Print Solutions, in Illinois but started up a digital business card company UTap2 in Wilmington.

With a tap of the card, professional information can be shared and filed into a customer’s contact list on their phone. Once Owens decided to start the company, she began reaching out to people in Wilmington for help.

Wide Open Technologies, a Wilmington IT company, helped build UTap2’s website, but when Owens wanted to transition to a different web development firm, she couldn’t find any local partners.

“Every person I was asking like, ‘Do you have somebody who can pick up the programming, coding side of this business and help me out? I need someone new,’” Owens said. “And I want to do local, but I couldn't find anybody.”

She ended up contracting with a Charlotte-based firm. But the lack of tech development professionals was the only resource in Wilmington she couldn’t find, she said.

“I found a local guy who lives in Wilmington, he has a laser etcher, and he is going to be doing all my laser etching,” Owens said, for her metal business cards.

The company’s website went live about three weeks ago, so Owens hopes to grow the company with help from local investors. She eventually wants to find a co-founder with technology expertise, she said.

While Owens started UTap2 in Wilmington, later moving to Leland, startup founder Matt Cimino moved from the Triangle to the coast in the midst of building his direct-to-consumer software company, Amped.

Cimino moved to Wilmington in 2023 with his 2-year-old company, which has grown to service 425 customers and grossed just over $2 million in total revenue. Much of the company’s growth has happened since he moved to Wilmington, he said.

As a University of North Carolina Wilmington alumnus, Cimino first met Nathan Snell, co-founder of local fintech company nCino, when Cimino was a student at the university studying entrepreneurship. Since moving back to Wilmington, he and Snell, who now is CEO of Raleon, have reconnected as business acquaintances in the same industry, Cimino said.

Cimino has also connected with other Wilmington entrepreneurs through local support organizations such as the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) but said he still feels the Triangle has a more robust ecosystem.

He wants to help foster a larger ecosystem in Wilmington by creating groups for founders with similar-sized companies to connect and bounce ideas off one another – something he said he’d found in the Triangle but not as much in Wilmington.

Similarly, medical technology startup co-founder Adam Isley has experience in the Triangle and on the coast. While running the company he founded with his wife, Kaylan Barbrey, from their home in Ocean Isle Beach, Artemis Immersive also operates from a co-working office in Raleigh.

As the company grows, most recently winning Startup Showcase at NC Tech’s State of Tech Exponential conference, Isley and his team are deciding where to establish their first physical space. Isley told the Business Journal in March he wanted to put down roots in either Raleigh or downtown Wilmington.

Isley told the Business Journal in late May that his team has located a potential location in downtown Wilmington. 

“More to come as we sign the paperwork,” Isley said.

Wilmington is attractive to Isley because he wants to be able to train his workforce on the specialized technology that Artemis Immersive uses. Many tech workers in Raleigh are trained on different software, he said. Wilmington’s quality of life helps its case too, he said.

Access to entrepreneurial support organizations such as NEW or UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship are reasons both Isley and Owens favor Wilmington over other locations to plant business roots.

Owens was recently a part of the CIE’s Idea Test Lab Women in Tech cohort, she said. The experience connected her with other women in the area starting their businesses.

“I don't even think that I would have ever gotten that in Illinois,” Owens said. “They really want to grow here. It is so exciting. And so many people are getting help, and there’s so many avenues to get all the help you need.”
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