By Laurie Paolicelli
A partnership between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill, Launch has been serving the local community by providing area startups with the support and resources they need.
Initial funding for the program was donated by Baltimore’s Becker Family, founder of Caretta and Sterling partners, in memory of their daughter Cara Gwen Becker who died in 2012 of leukemia at the Johns Hopkins Hospital at 21 years of age. Their son Greg is a member of UNC class of 2012.
“From the moment I heard the idea–that there was a need for a place where companies of young people and members of the Chapel Hill community could get mentorship, help, and a space to grow their businesses, creating jobs and prosperity, I knew we would be a part of it,” said Eric Becker.
Today, Launch offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to immediately get plugged into the entrepreneurial community in Chapel Hill, UNC, and the Triangle through networking events and shared space with other entrepreneurs.
Many participants say one of the best things about co-working with other start-ups is the ability to crowdsource common problems and quickly deal with questions that might otherwise take days or weeks to solve.
Launch Mentor Program
Launch also offers access to mentors, entrepreneurs in residence, and a Program Manager as well as a multitude of resources and information.
Those needing help from seasoned entrepreneurs also have access to these local leaders:
- William Hoos is a venture partner at Pilot Mountain Ventures and founder and CEO of NQ Oncology.
- Scott Maitland is a military veteran, serial entrepreneur, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill.
- Scott Albert, who has more than 30 years of venture capital and operating experience, primarily working with early stage and growth companies.
The spring 2020 crew includes a mix of tech-driven start-ups trying to make meeting planning easier process; an enterprise working to channel the knowledge of cancer survivors to curate products and content that helps make going through cancer easier. There’s a bookmaker using technology for storytelling and a group working on unique parking technology, healthcare communications and Veteran outreach.
Velvet Nelson is the Program Director. Velvet is responsible for the overall management of the accelerator and co-working space. Prior to Launch, Velvet was the Program Manager at Queen City Fintech and co-founded an edtech startup in Charlotte, NC. Velvet graduated from Lynchburg College and has a Masters Degree from NC State.
Since the COVID 19 virus has impacted every aspect of business as we know, we asked Velvet about the impact on current operations.
“We’ve seen less people at Launch due to the shelter in place order which is completely understandable,” said Nelson.
“However, we’re still open to our members to use the space while responsibly social distancing. Most of our companies are researching funding opportunities such as SBA loans and grant programs to help offset some of the unexpected revenue losses due to COVID. We’re working with each company to understand their options and to provide informational webinars to help answer some of their biggest questions during the pandemic.”
According to data from the International Business Innovation Association, there are now roughly “7,000 business incubators and accelerators. More than 90 percent of them are nonprofit and focused on incubator programs for community economic development.”
Their passion for making a difference would surely make Cara Gwen Becker smile. Says her dad:
“Cara was a regular kid who faced some incredible life challenges. Yet, she still had the heart and capacity to be interested in and to think of others who also faced life challenges. I believe the future of our nation and our world depends on citizen leaders who, beginning at a young age, develop compassion and empathy as life skills. Our initial investment in Launch was our family’s way of ensuring more young people have the chance to do just that.” – Cara’s father, Eric Becker
While The House at Gatewood was a success since its soft opening in December 2019, the coronavirus has brought a harsh new reality to its bucolic grounds, as it has to almost all restaurants in Orange County.
“It’s been terrifying to lose all of our weddings and high school graduation parties and spring celebrations,” Ron says. “But we quickly moved to a take-out, delivery-to-your-car platform, and that’s working well. But nothing beats a large gathering of people who want to enjoy each other’s company while relaxing in a beautiful country setting with food and drink.”
Since arriving in North Carolina just over a year ago, the kids have settled into local schools, Jennifer took a new position with Accenture, and Ron has been deluged with friends, community, and demand for his steak (on a griddle), shrimp and grits, pork chops, and open-air hospitality. It’s what Jennifer likes to call “Newstalgia.”
The House at Gatewood is one of a kind. Diners come from all over to experience the place, and the food. The business community has embraced it, as well. Guests come from Chapel Hill, Roxboro, Mebane, Durham, and Raleigh and the surrounding counties.
Denise Lisdahl, a Raleigh resident, puts it well: “It’s a stunning place and I love to dine outside and feel as if I’m in the country while sipping a good drink and indulging in one of the best steaks around. I feel as if I’m taking some time off in the country.”
That feeling is just a memory now: until Covid-19 runs its course, the dream of dining again in this grand and classical venue is put on an indefinite hold. But there are still ways to enjoy the incredible food and support The House at Gatewood until that day returns.
Anyone interested in connecting with Launch to attend webinars or find out more information should contact Velvet Nelson at email@example.com
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.