Southeastern Regional Partners Work Together to Support the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

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After months of intense mentoring and networking opportunities, Wilmington-based Renaissance Fiber will represent the state’s southeastern region at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Venture Pitch Showcase at Triad BioNight in High Point next month.

The clean-tech manufacturer of hemp and other natural fibers for textiles and other sectors received the regional top award, followed by finalists OpiAID and MacroFormulation.

Since being named southeastern regional finalists in the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge, each company has worked with mentors and an entrepreneurial pitch coach who have provided their expertise to support the companies as they prepare pitches targeting partners and investors. They also received assistance from the NCBiotech Life Science Intelligence team, network-building opportunities, incubator tenancy, and monetary awards totaling $40,000.

To support the southeastern region’s finalists, NCBiotech gained funding and other assistance from NC IDEA and the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The partners and mentors play a critical role in not only supporting the competition finalists but also investing their resources to grow economic development opportunities in their region, said Randall Johnson, executive director of NCBiotech’s southeastern office.

“While helping our existing businesses grow and attracting new businesses and talent to our area is critical to our economic success, supporting innovation and commercialization activities with new ventures is equally important to the long-term economic vitality of our local community and region,” said Johnson.

This is one reason NCBiotech sought support from NC IDEA. The foundation provides resources and encouragement to entrepreneurial ventures and initiatives across the state.

“Individuals starting and growing nascent firms is the lifeblood of our economy,” said Thom Ruhe, NC IDEA Foundation’s president and CEO. "Startups are organically creating jobs, revenue and taxes that strengthen our communities.”

As entrepreneurial endeavors, these companies are having a major economic impact that is not supported by “tax credits and other incentives offered to large established firms to move to North Carolina,” Ruhe pointed out.

“Entrepreneurs solve big problems, create new businesses, net new jobs in communities and drive innovation,” said Heather McWhorter, interim director of UNCW CIE.

She is also quick to point out that entrepreneurs can’t do it alone.

“Entrepreneurship is often portrayed as an individual activity,” McWhorter said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Successful entrepreneurs learn from and partner with others. Mentorship is part of this.”

UNCW CIE played a critical role in matching NC BIONEER finalists with mentors in the southeast region.

“The CIE Mentor Program assists both campus and community-based ventures by surrounding them with a team of experienced professionals to guide them to their next business milestone,” said McWhorter.

Startups contribute to North Carolina’s wide-ranging economy

Like all entrepreneurs, finalists in the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge are contributing new ideas, products and innovative services that strengthen the state’s life sciences ecosystem.

“You cannot talk about entrepreneurship in North Carolina without acknowledging the sizeable impact of our life sciences sector,” said Ruhe. “Many of the successful companies that are now legendary, creating great economic output for our state, were born from entrepreneurial ambition. In North Carolina, these pioneers found the necessary combination of resources and support to grow these great companies.”

Some of North Carolina’s largest and most successful companies began as startups, including PPD/Thermo Fisher Scientific, Live Oak Bank, Apiture, Alcami and Quality Chemical Labs.

The NC BIONEER Venture Challenge offers startups support as they follow in these companies’ footsteps.

“We must continue to support early-stage ventures in North Carolina in ways that help them grow to become significant job creators and heavy investors in our community,” said Johnson.

Mindy Hamlin, NCBiotech Writer
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