I asked a simple question on Twitter on Tuesday and I was shocked by the lack of response.

“What are the 5 main things that entrepreneur support organizations do for startups in their city?”

Maybe MOST people really don’t know what we do…

In most bigger cities, entrepreneur support organizations are meant to assist and nurture emerging growth startups and help them survive the first three to five years where 70% of new companies fail. These startups are in fast high growth industries like tech and Life Sciences that require funding from angel investors, venture capital, strategic corporate investors, or federal research grants. This is outside of what most Chambers of Commerce do for main street small business.

In Wilmington NC. (Before pandemic)

My organization, the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW), is a non-profit entrepreneur support organization that started at the coast in May 2015. I started NEW and the Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE) after starting as the Executive director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) that was named one of the top 100 accelerators in the country by the SBA after only being open for 12 months and that award included a nice grant and trip to the White House.

After building for 7 years, the Wilmington startup ecosystem was beginning to see some results that even investors have to appreciate. Tech startups take 5 – 7 years to mature before the equity holders such as the founders, angel investors, venture capitalists, and equity owning early employees can realize a profit through exit events like acquisitions and IPOs.

Before there even was an ecosystem at the coast, Live Oak Bank was the center of most of the activity. After they had an IPO on NASDAQ, Live Oak Bank has also created fintech spinouts like nCino, Apiture, and most recently announced a $545 million venture capital fund called Canapi Ventures for the fintech industry. A factoid that should not get lost in that impressive list, nCino now has 866 employees and international offices.

Yes, the largest VC fund for tech (fintech) in the south is at the beach in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is now rumored to be closer to $600 million. You should get to know Patrick Scheper, Leader of Venture Banking at Live Oak Bank, trust me on this one.

The Taylor family is also a center of gravity with UnTappd / NextGlass, National Speed, and the latest creation Tru Colors Brewing. UnTappd recently announced a massive strategic investment from a private equity fund in Boston and that includes a profitable exit for the angels of the Cape Fear IMAF fund and IMAF RTP, who have been vocal about investing publicly in the past. George Taylor is an experienced serial entrepreneur who has been generous with his time as a mentor over the last 7 years with a wide variety of local entrepreneurs. His son Kurt was CEO of UnTappd until the recent changes and they will both now focus on the growth of Tru Colors Brewing. To learn more, visit TruStory.life for a video that was made for the United Nations.

Other Wilmington region startups with exciting news include a recent acquisition of PlayerSpace by Daxko, an investment by Cofounders Capital into EasyVote Solutions, and the growth of Lapetus Solutions including an investment by Aflac Insurance. Many more startups are growing into a nice density in the ecosystem that will be on display at the CED Venture Connect conference. Wilmington also has two startups who just won NC IDEA Microgrants and two more Wilmington startups as SEED grant finalists.

The Rest of North Carolina

Most major cities in North Carolina and beyond have at least one entrepreneur development or multiple support organizations. Charlotte, Asheville, Greensboro, Winston – Salem, Raleigh, Durham, and Wilmington have these organizations funded at a variety of levels for impact. NC IDEA has an ecosystem grant to help cities fund these organizations and then they have to become self-sustaining. Even smaller regions like Pembroke and the UNCP Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub are growing ecosystems to help community-based companies and create job opportunities. (I am the Entrepreneur in Residence there.)

  • Charlotte has the BIG Council, Inno Charlotte and Packard Place
  • Asheville has Venture AVL.
  • Greensboro has Launch Greensboro.
  • Winston Salem has impressive crowds at Venture Cafe.

The Raleigh / Durham area is approaching 40 different organizations that help entrepreneurs in some capacity from for-profit accelerators, university-based incubators, 1 Million Cups Chapters to orgs like Bunker Labs that helps veterans.

The Shining Example for 35 Years – CED

Twenty years ago, I remember speaking to one of my mentors, Monica Doss, former Executive Director of CED, who told me in the peak of the Dot Com boom, there were 25 US and international cities per year who would visit CED and ask how did the great entrepreneur ecosystem grow? They wanted to know how to grow their own job creators. Back then, CED focused on entrepreneur events, preparation for capital, communication/newsletters, and mentorship.

CED now has an 8 person staff and over 30 people on the board.

Jay Bigelow of CED in Durham / RTP gave the best answers to my question today publicly on Twitter. (Still waiting for a response from others.) Jay has spoken at our events at Ironclad Brewery in Wilmington. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaybigelow/

Jay responded, “CED connects entrepreneurial companies with high-value resources to accelerate business growth.” Programs like :

  1. Venture Connect – Their venture conference that starts May 4th. Oldest and largest in the South
  2. VMS – Venture Mentoring Service – a fantastic mentor program licensed from MIT
  3. Connect to Capital – Hunter Young runs this program for CED and he has also spoken on our stage at NEW events at the coast. https://cednc.org/get/capital-2/
  4. Mindshare – Mastermind kind of group
  5. Accelerate Series – Workshops exclusively for entrepreneurs
  6. Partner referrals – Helping entrepreneurs find the right professional service providers
  7. And more day to day help.

CED is the largest and oldest entrepreneur support organization and has been around for more than 35 years. They have never lost full funding, all private sector funding from memberships and sponsorships with no state GOVERNMENT funding. (Most other cities in North Carolina including Charlotte, Greensboro (PTEN), and Asheville have lost momentum by halting funding of their ecosystem orgs in prior recessions like the Dot Com Bust, 9-11 or the Housing crisis.)

You can register and tune into the annual Venture Connect on May 4th to hear from 4 NEW members from the coast and 4 Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneur (WALE) portfolio clients as they present on the virtual stage. https://cednc.org/venture-connect/

NEXT

I hope the North Carolina ecosystem organizations do not lose their support and funding during and after this current pandemic. The startups are the future job creators for the brain gain of talent that this region is known for. The existing entrepreneur support organizations in the state give them that extra boost so they can survive and thrive beyond expectations of the community. See you at the CED Venture Connect event if it is virtual. I have a new red/grey beard and will be wearing a 2016 Cubs World Series hat to cover the haircut my 12-year-old son gave me recently.

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Jim Roberts is the founder of NEW and the Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE), Founder of 91omg.biz with startup news and events in the 910 area code at the coast and the new 3 Sips of Advice short-form video podcast. Jim has been working in entrepreneur development for 20 years in Charlotte, Asheville, Durham, and Wilmington. Jim can be found on Twitter at @RedSpireUSNC.

After 18 months running a Wilmington incubator, and now running NEW, Jim has a list of what he has added to the Wilmington startup ecosystem since the Spring of 2013. Click here to learn more for background if you have an intellectual curiosity about the subject of startup ecosystems: https://91omg.biz/about/ 

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