Economic Development Drives Support for Entrepreneurs and NC BIONEER Challenge Finalists


Eastern North Carolina leaders are investing in the region’s growing entrepreneurial community.

As sponsors of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s NC BIONEER Venture Challenge, East Carolina University, Pitt County Economic Development and NCIDEA are creating a support team for each of the competition’s regional finalists. This support will not only help finalists hone their business plans and storytelling, it will also provide them mentors whose guidance and insight will last well beyond the competition among life sciences startups.

“The sponsors of the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge in the eastern region have assisted in identifying individuals to serve on the selection committee, mentors and pitch judges,” said Mark Phillips, NCBiotech’s vice president of statewide operations and executive director of the Eastern Office. “They have each been a valuable resource in the planning, promotion and execution of the event.”

Mentoring sessions
Entrepreneurs with BioEphX (foreground) and Amalgent take advantage of  free mentoring
in NC BIONEER program.

In the state’s eastern region, Amalgent Therapeutics, BioEphX and a BioNaTec are competing for a spot to pitch their company at the Venture
Pitch Showcase at the Triad BioNight in Greensboro in June.

While the entrepreneurs welcome the opportunity to gain mentorship and potential capital to reinvest in their companies, the event sponsors see the competition as an important part of the region’s economic development efforts.

“Entrepreneurs are innovators, and they can transform ideas into economic opportunities,” explained Kelly Andrews, director of economic development for Pitt County. “This can be transformative for our economy and elevate our community’s status as progressive, innovative and diverse.”

Michael Harris, director of ECU’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship agrees, pointing out that entrepreneurs are critical to driving economic growth, infrastructure investment and community development.

“Entrepreneurship is such an important component in Eastern North Carolina’s transformation,” he said. “At ECU, there has been an effort to create an intentional pathway for students, faculty and those in the community so they can see themselves as entrepreneurs.”

This transformation, argued Harris, creates an environment where entrepreneurial talent returns home and thrives in a region where they can live, work and play.

“Entrepreneurship is the catalyst that drives so much of the growth and development in communities,” he added.

Life sciences ecosystem critical to supporting entrepreneurs

An important element of the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge is that it matches entrepreneurs with mentors and experts in fields such as financing, patents, and licensing, among others. Bringing the mentors and successful business leaders together is part of ECU’s mission.

a BioNaTec mentoring session
Lok Pokhrel, Ph.D., founder of a BioNaTec (foreground) in mentoring session
with Rob Bower, business consultant with the NC Small Business Development Center 

“ECU has a mission to deliver student success, serve the public and drive regional transformation,” said Sharon Paynter, ECU’s assistant vice chancellor for economic and community engagement. “Partnerships between organizations, universities and NCBiotech are critical to ensuring the academic and business communities are connected.”

These connections provide entrepreneurs critical insight into how to grow their companies in the region and create confidence in the fact that the region can successfully support new ideas.

One of the region’s resources is the Small Business Technology Development Center, which ECU is partnering with to identify and provide mentors and experts to the finalists in the lead up to the pitch competition.

NCIDEA, which is sponsoring and providing services for every region in the competition, is also supporting the challenge and providing funding and resources.

“Entrepreneurial ventures are high risk,” added Andrews. “A community’s ability to provide resources and assets that mitigate some of this risk encourages entrepreneurial growth, which can bring high rewards when companies succeed. Along with new jobs and wealth in our community, entrepreneurs can induce disruptions in existing markets that affect positive change, such as greater productivity or better products and services.”

The regional pitch showcases will be held May 23 through 26. Triad BioNight will be held on June 23 when the statewide winner will be announced. Learn more here about the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge.

Mindy Hamlin, NCBiotech Writer
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