Major Gift Boosts Startup Accelerator

Launch Chapel Hill

BUSINESS

By Shellie Edge and Brock Pierce, Innovate Carolina

A $230,000 gift from Lee-Moore Capital will expand access to a downtown Chapel Hill innovation space that serves as an accelerator for local business startups.

The gift to Innovate Carolina will help expand programming at Launch Chapel Hill, a partnership among UNC, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County. It will amplify entrepreneurial support, enhance technology and upgrade workspaces for local startups. The funding is designed to bring more access to accelerator programming, venture-based consulting, investor networks and entrepreneurial mentors to the downtown startup community.

“Carolina is committed to innovation and entrepreneurship in downtown Chapel Hill, and we accept this gift on behalf of the partnership between the town, county and university,” said UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. “This investment by Lee-Moore Capital will help us drive economic growth together, assist entrepreneurs as they emerge from the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic and give people at Carolina and in our community new ways to turn their inventive ideas into companies that generate jobs and revenue.”

The donation will allow Launch Chapel Hill to invest in software and technology to upgrade its physical workspaces, expand startup support services available through its accelerator program and hire a community manager to implement a wider set of programming to directly support the growth of local ventures.

“We are dedicated to promoting entrepreneurial development in communities around the state, connecting those communities to future development areas and supporting programming that retains entrepreneurial workers in North Carolina,” says Kirk J. Bradley, CEO and president of Lee-Moore Capital, a real estate and investment firm based in Sanford.

“By providing Innovate Carolina and Launch Chapel Hill with this donation, we are enthusiastic about making a positive difference for local startups and economic development in the region.”

The funding from Lee-Moore aligns with broader efforts of Chapel Hill leaders to spark increased startup and entrepreneurial activity in the town. It also builds on the momentum established by the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s Big Bold Ideas initiative, which supports accelerating innovation and workforce development.

“From being actively involved with Launch Chapel Hill for the last five years as mayor, to starting the town’s entrepreneurial council several years ago, I’ve been working to encourage the startup community to get invested in Chapel Hill as a great place to grow a business. I’m thrilled that Innovate Carolina and Launch Chapel Hill remain invested in our community and will attract many entrepreneurs to downtown,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.

“Orange County and the surrounding region are home to many talented entrepreneurs, and this contribution to Launch Chapel Hill … helps make our county an even smarter innovative choice for people who want to start and grow a small business here or who need support recovering from the pandemic,” said Steve Brantley, economic development director of Orange County. “Our partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill and the university will allow us to fuel a diverse workforce and continue to make our region a great place to work and live.

Launch Chapel Hill

Launch Chapel Hill startups will also receive greater access to innovation services and resources through Innovate Carolina, which is the university-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship that manages the accelerator and workspace with the town and county

Launch Chapel Hill adds to an already significant hub of services provided directly by Innovate Carolina, including startup consulting, design thinking, patent/market landscape research, competitive analysis, startup accelerator and co-working spaces, social innovation programs and data impact services.

These resources bolster Launch Chapel Hill startups during the difficult economic period caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while attracting more businesses and foot traffic to downtown Chapel Hill. 

“The startup accelerator programming and workspaces offered by Launch Chapel Hill are critical parts of the university’s comprehensive innovation space strategy, which Innovate Carolina continues to lead and expand through engagements with University leaders, local officials and industry and development partners,” said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at UNC.

“In the time of unprecedented economic challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, a direct connection to Innovate Carolina’s innovation services and spaces — including the new KickStart Accelerator that offers on-campus wet lab facilities for faculty life science ventures — will provide Launch Chapel Hill startups new avenues of support.”

As a nonprofit created through a public-private partnership between UNC, the town and the county in 2013, Launch Chapel Hill has accelerated 136 companies, including 104 that are still active. An analysis by Innovate Carolina in July 2020 shows that the accelerator’s companies had raised a total of $38.2 million in total funding. Launch Chapel Hill companies currently provide 1,007 jobs, 358 of which are in Orange County. As of June, Launch Chapel Hill companies earned $84 million in total revenue in 2020.

“Launch Chapel Hill has had great success with startup companies that are doing amazing work and contributing to the economic and social fabric of our community,” said Velvet Nelson, director of Launch Chapel Hill.

“The strengthened relationship between Launch Chapel Hill and Innovate Carolina will create a more direct connection between student and faculty innovator talent at Carolina and startup companies at Launch Chapel Hill. It also brings new opportunities for our alumni companies that have already found success in completing the accelerator program and remain active members our Launch Chapel Hill family.” 

For more information, contact Sheryl Waddell from Innovate Carolina or Velvet Nelson from Launch Chapel Hill.

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