Triangle Startup Guide special: Previewing what Innovate Carolina hub will offer – WRAL TechWire

Select Page
A rendering of Innovate UNC (UNC-CH image)
by Sarah Glova, WRAL TechWire — September 5, 2022 .
Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of stories profiling startup hubs across the Triangle region. The stories, written by Sarah Glova, are published weekly as part of our Startup Monday lineup.
CHAPEL HILL – In an exclusive interview with WRAL TechWire, UNC’s Director of Economic Development and Innovation Hubs, Sheryl Waddell, discusses the new innovation hub from Innovate Carolina and the planned Spring 2023 open date.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that this hub will be unprecedented,” said Waddell. “The hub will anchor a larger innovation district in downtown Chapel Hill, which will be the first district in the United States that sits adjacent to top-five public research university.”
Sheryl Waddell (UNC-CH photo)
Waddell said that the project presents opportunities for a community that is “passionate about building and creating something new.”
A lightly edited transcript of the interview with Waddell appears below.
Sheryl Waddell (Waddell): The new innovation hub from Innovate Carolina will bring together a number of elements to create possibilities that you don’t really see in a single hub. While we’ll offer a variety of flexible, cost-effective hot desks and private offices, we’re also going way beyond the traditional coworking model. Flexible workspaces will be combined with a startup accelerator, connections into research that’s emerging from university labs, engagement with student talent, innovation tools and services for ventures, and programming driven by the university and our partners. 
There will be a lot of training, professional development and network-building opportunities for entrepreneurs, company founders, students and the wider community.   

Waddell: UNC-Chapel Hill’s central team for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development.

Waddell: Even though the hub isn’t open yet – and won’t officially open its doors until spring 2023 – we’re already seeing significant interest. There’s a lot of curiosity and energy around this initiative. We receive calls and inquiries – and have conversations – on a daily basis about the many ways that people and organizations are excited about getting involved. 
Of course, corporations and alumni are particularly excited about the proximity and built-in connections to UNC-Chapel Hill – research, talent, learning opportunities – that the hub will provide. Investors and startups are looking at the hub as a new physical space and a conduit for the university and its partners to provide programs, tools and services that support company growth and investments. 
And Chapel Hill itself is not only a great place to work and live in terms of quality of life, but also is culturally and creatively vibrant. With the Town of Chapel Hill focused on harnessing the town’s innovative spirit through the development of the new downtown innovation district, suddenly we’ll see immense infrastructure and space that will amplify the innovation potential of the community and region. All of those factors add up to a first-of-its-kind opportunity to make an impact through innovation and entrepreneurship that simply wasn’t possible before.

Grubb Properties’ 136 Rosemary Street , the future home of UNC’s innovation hub (Image via Innovate Carolina)
Waddell: The innovation hub will live in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill, literally a few steps away from campus and directly across Franklin Street from the soon-to-be developed UNC visitor center and admissions office. We see this creating a bridge between the campus and community. On one hand, faculty researchers and students will have immediate access to the hub and the tremendous entrepreneurial activity happening via small businesses, startups and larger corporations in the wider Chapel Hill region. And likewise, industry partners and startups who join the hub will have near-immediate access to campus and its many teaching and research resources. Innovate Carolina will provide programming that helps people and industry partners in the hub navigate and connect with people and resources across the Carolina academic community. 

Waddell: There are also so many advantages to the hub sitting at the center of all the innovation activity and development that’s happening downtown. On the same block where the hub will open – on the 100 block of East Franklin and Rosemary Streets – an entire re-imagining of downtown commercial activity is underway. The first phase of the district will include a life sciences building with a wet lab incubator for startups, a new parking deck, affordable professional housing, and a new hotel. So, the hub will be part of an entire downtown environment focused on helping people work and live better. 
We also see an extremely interesting intersection happening between the university and town. When you take the university’s strength in life sciences and other areas of research – the 13th largest university research portfolio in the country – and bring it together with the artistic, cultural and creativity vibrancy of not just the university, but the entire town and county, we think that’s a special combination. 
People at the university and in Chapel Hill have a lot of energy and passion for their work that’s driven by their curiosity to find better answers. We expect a lot of really interesting collaborations between the sciences, arts and humanities will emerge from the hub and the people working there. And we think that is a key differentiator: this is a place where people can not only come to work on their own solo venture or project, but also team with others to make a greater social and economic impact than they could make by themselves. Our innovation hub in Chapel Hill is a placed focused on collaboration and purpose.  
Waddell: One of the greatest areas of initial demand that we’ve noticed is that people are looking for private offices. Within the hub, we’ll have a limited number of private offices – perhaps 30 or so – and, based on the high demand that we’re seeing already, their availability simply won’t last long. 
A rendering offers a preview inside Innovate Carolina hub. (UNC-CH image)
Beyond the interest in the physical space itself, a lot of people and organizations are interested in the hub as a way to connect with the Chapel Hill and university communities. On one hand, they’re excited about what they can gain from the experience – tapping into the talent and resources of the university and community. On the other hand, they’re equally excited about what they can give in terms of expertise. We have a lot of experienced alumni, founders, investors, serial entrepreneurs and partners who want to help make an impact. 
They’re coming to us and saying, “We want to lend our expertise to this hub. How can we help you make a positive difference?”   
Waddell: The innovation hub in Chapel Hill will have 20,000 square feet of space – which comprises two floors of the 136 E. Rosemary/137 E. Franklin building that’s being renovated by Grubb Properties. 
The hub will be an anchor space and entry point to a total of approximately 400,000 square feet of new space that will comprise the first phase of Chapel Hill’s overall innovation district being developed through a collaboration among Grubb Properties, the town, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and university.
Innovate Carolina is also expanding our innovation programming and services into Chatham County. Specifically, Innovate Carolina is partnering with the new coworking space and hub called 79° West, which is located in the Mosaic mixed-used development of Chatham Park. We’re teaming with the 79° West team and have already launch a series of skills-based workshops and programs to members of their hub, which include remote workers, startup founders and small businesses in the Chatham community. For example, this fall at 79° West, Innovate Carolina is partnering with Central Carolina Community College to launch a new program called Next Level that will take startups on a step-by-step journey to validate and strengthen their business concepts. 
Waddell: Innovate Carolina will offer a range of tools and services for a variety of entrepreneurial-minded people and organizations at the hub: individual founders, entrepreneurs, students, startups and larger organizations. The goal is to provide services that are helpful to innovators and companies at every stage of their growth – from idea to investment and beyond. And ultimately, we hope to see startups take root in Chapel Hill and expand. When people and ventures see how they can get started and where they can go, we think they’ll realize that the possibilities are practically boundless. 
Specific services available through the hub include:
Waddell: Our hub emphasizes that the best problem solving happens when we bring diverse groups of people together to share a range of perspectives, experiences and talents. We have several programs to actively engage people from all backgrounds whose voices are critical for innovation. For instance, one of our primary programs for startups and students is called Carolina Startup Connect. One of the things this program does is facilitate connections between students and minority- and female-founded startups. For the past several years, this program has facilitated panel discussions and networking that give students the chance to talk and meet directly with founders who are historically underrepresented in the entrepreneurial sector and who want to build relationships with talented students. This is also a great opportunity for the founders and students to explore the potential for immediate internship and longer-range job opportunities.  
In addition, our KickStart team, which will work with research-based ventures via the hub, is launching a curriculum-based partnership with the organization Women in Bio. The collaboration is called the 3.8 Initiative – named after International Women’s Day on March 8 – and it aims to increase startup board leadership for women in the Research Triangle’s life science and health tech industries.

Waddell: The hub is a university-funded space, and we have received a high level of support from the UNC Board of Trustees and UNC Board of Governors to make the hub a reality. The hub is also supported by the work of the Chancellor’s Economic Development Strategy, which is led by two town-grown committees comprised of university, town and community leaders. These leaders from across campus and the region are working to identify companies and industry partners who are ideally suited for the Chapel Hill innovation district, including the hub. They are engaging with companies whose missions are aligned with the goal of creating economic and human impact and which will find mutual benefit by developing a stronger presence in Chapel Hill.

Waddell: As we’ve designed the space and programming for the hub – as a cornerstone location to the wider innovation district that is taking shape in Chapel Hill – we’ve collaborated closely with Town of Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. We value those relationships because we know that, together, we can accomplish more in terms of economic and social impact than any of us can by ourselves. 
We’ve also forged a strong partnership with BioLabs North Carolina, which will open an office in the same building as the hub and work with Innovate Carolina’s KickStart Venture Services team to develop an even stronger pipeline of life science startups. We’re also having discussions with area community colleges about using the hub as an environment for workforce development training in a variety of fields, such as biotech and clinical trials. 
Inside the university, we’re planning to bring a variety of program-based partnerships to the hub. These include partnering with the Carolina Honors program to facilitate mentoring and coaching within the space. We’re also closely connected to the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship, which offers a minor in entrepreneurship to undergraduate students and has wide and deep connections within the entrepreneurial industry across the country and world.  
Latest headlines delivered to you twice daily
© 2022 WRAL TechWire.   |   Site designed and managed by WRAL Digital Solutions.   |   Privacy Policy.   |   Terms and Conditions
Raleigh Crossing
Horseshoe & Hub RTP
Top Golf
Raleigh Iron Works
Seaboard Station
Bloc 83
Perry's Steakhouse & Grille
Smoky Hollow
Durham Food Hall


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *