Great article last week in the WilmingtonBiz Journal by Johanna Cano. The article interviewed two of the best friends a start-up could have Mr. Jim Roberts of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and Ms. Heather McWhorter of UNCW’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. (Also, a big thank you to the WilmingtonBiz Journal for the stories on F3TCH this year.)
As a start-up, we have been blessed with the move to Wilmington. We owe a tremendous amount to Jim and NEW. As we moved across the country in 2021, sight unseen, we did a web search and found NEW. We emailed and some crazy “force of nature” guy who is obsessed with whales, Wilmington, and the Florida Gators named Jim, responded and immediately started pushing us toward doing more and getting plugged into the local ecosystem. If you do not know Jim, and you are a Wilmington start-up, you should. Our participation in almost everything we did this year is a direct result of Jim pushing us to participate. His advice has been invaluable. We cannot list all the events Jim pointed us to but his Tough Love event and letting us know about the Greensboro Launch pitch event were incredibly valuable and the Reverse Aspirin event he put together with eMYRge has been pivotal.
The permanent appointment of Heather McWhorter as Director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been an incredible choice for the area. Heather is supportive and has great resources at CIE. We have a great mentor group that was set up by CIE and there are other resources there including 1MC that are great. We listen in as often as we can on the 1MC weekly sessions and were fortunate to participate in Entrepreneurship Day with a local high school (CIE initiative).
There is a lot more support too. We are not as familiar with Genesis Bloc, but often see Girard Newkirk around and that center also offers tremendous support. (We intend to do better and get to know Genesis more in 2023.) Let us not forget the WilmingtonBiz Journal that offers a tremendous possibility for opportunities. We also have people, like Mr. Rob Kaiser & Mr. Robert Preville, supporting Venture South locally. A very rich ecosystem, more so in a smaller city. There is probably more that we are not aware of yet as well.
What would I like to see as a start-up? Well, two general areas, one for my fellow start-ups and the other for the ecosystem.
If we are invited to a pitch event, program, or any other function, let us remember that we are not just representing ourselves but Wilmington and the folks who support us. Let’s remember that this is free help and that a “please” and a “thank you” go a very long way. Let us remember that political capital invested by some of our folks is not unlimited, so we need to do the best we can when given an opportunity. To quote my favorite superhero, give it your “maximum effort”.
For the Eco-system
We have so much here based on everyone’s efforts. I would say that NEW is the best consistent “connector” in town for pre-revenue start-ups. We get a lot of information from the free events and Jim does support everyone who is putting in the effort. We have other resources as mentioned above. Jim’s investor network, WALE, has been integral to F3TCH. F3TCH has been a recipient of funds from WALE as have some other local start-ups. Without early-stage investment, many would not be here today and that would adversely affect our ecosystem.
I think we can agree that startups are good for the local economy. In theory, some of us will make it and become the companies that help continue to form a stable economic landscape in Wilmington. I often think of us, like baseball, as the Triple-A teams. We are small, have some good players, and can get “called” up anytime. The best teams have the strongest talent networks. I think Wilmington is close to having a great “feeder system” for talent, not just organically (new startups), but with spin-offs from very successful start-ups like nCino (Live Oak Bank). Can you imagine Wilmington without Live Oak? In ten years, we could say the same of some of the start-ups in the article below or new ones that we have not seen yet (exciting!!).
I know there is capital here in Wilmington, but other than WALE, I do not know of investments in pre-revenue start-ups. I accept my information is very limited, but I know many of the start-ups, and we talk often, so if there is another source of investment I think we would know. The lack of investment in pre-revenue companies could be a problem in 2023-2024 as the economy is supposed to shrink. Now more than ever we need to connect local inventors to local start-ups. I am not saying just invest because we are local, but it would be incredibly helpful to know what the parameters are for investment and to meet with more local investors. We have some investors at the NEW events, the only events that feature investors in the audience on a regular basis. Investment takes time and trust and both of those are facilitated by consistent interaction.
If you represent a local investment group, family office, or maybe a local chapter of an investment group, please know that Wilmington’s local start-ups would love to better understand how we may earn your investment. This information is incredibly valuable and if you are local, I promise we do not bite. We are decent folks trying to build something. At worst, you can see us as we build and over time maybe we become “investable”. Even advice is valuable, so we hope to see you more in 2023.
Here's Johanna’s article in the WilmingtonBiz Journal.