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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Center for Innovation wins accelerator grant

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Just one day after the University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s first birthday, it was announced Friday, Sept. 5 the center won a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Jim Roberts, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Executive Director, said the grant would provide funding for an expansion of the center’s services.

“That is a big deal, $50,000 makes up about one-fifth of our annual budget so that will allow us to do some additional things we were not able to do in year one,” Roberts said. “We are very proud of that because it was very competitive with almost 900 accelerators from across the country that applied for that grant.”

The CIE was founded in 2013 as a means to foster the growth and development of local entrepreneurs and small businesses, and to connect those entities to resources. The SBA grant was awarded to 49 other small business accelerators across the United States. Two other accelerators were awarded grants in North Carolina, both in Charlotte.

After a year of operation, the CIE now houses the offices of 25 different small business startups and regularly assists more than 50 others.

Roberts said the grant would allow the CIE to start and/or refine four initiatives in the coming year.

The first initiative will refine a technology transfer program, which will facilitate the commercialization of research being completed on the campus of UNCW to the private sector. Two examples Roberts mentioned were the research of Dr. Andrea Bourdelais on drug delivery technology and Dr. Karl Ricanek’s Face My Age facial recognition software.

Another initiative the grant will help fund is a three-month boot camp for new entrepreneurs and small business owners.

“That three-month boot camp is going to lay down a baseline of understanding of how to run a business from the beginning as an intellectual property startup,” Roberts said. “There are existing resources for entrepreneurs in Wilmington but not so much for the knowledge-based companies we are working with.”

Another initiative the CIE recently started that will benefit from the grant is the Coastal Open Resource App Lab, or CORAL. Established through a partnership with AT&T, the lab will serve as a co-working space for mobile web and application developers to have access to a variety of mobile devices to test their products.

Similar to the co-working office spaces established by companies like Coworx in Wilmington, Roberts also said the CIE plans to become more involved in the idea of maker spaces, which act as co-work spaces for tinkerers and inventors with the tools and machinery to physically create their ideas. Locally, Elite Innovations, LLC, is Wilmington’s first maker space and Roberts said the CIE has already referred more than a dozen tinkerers to the space.

While the attention around the area’s small business entrepreneurs is growing, Roberts said it would take the first big startup like Raleigh’s tech startup Red Hat to break through and put Wilmington on the entrepreneurial map.

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but use best practices already in use in other cities … and make them relevant to the local community,” Roberts said. “Cities always have to have that first success story to get everyone in the community to buy in.”

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