UNC-Chapel Hill Innovation Center Gets Green Light, Accelerating Downtown Economic Development

This time next year, Chapel Hill will feature an Innovation Center that will be a magnet for those seeking UNC-Chapel Hill’s inventive research and entrepreneurial drive and connections to community partners and businesses. who come to town.

This week, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a major step in launching a large-scale innovation center as UNC’s Board of Governors approved the university’s lease for approximately 20,000 square feet of space in the building at 136 East Rosemary Street being renovated and reimagined by Grubb Properties in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill. The University’s Innovation Center will house Innovate Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill’s core team that provides strategic advice and practical tools and resources to support people and organizations on campus and in the community who have economic and social impact through innovation, entrepreneurship and the economy. development. The building will also house other life science and high-tech companies, creating new opportunities for university-industry collaborations.

The UNC-Chapel Hill hub will bring together the University’s programming that supports innovation, entrepreneurship, and its research-to-market pipeline with a startup accelerator, coworking space, and collaborative business environment for partners industry and community. The hub will provide opportunities for large enterprise innovation centers to team up with Carolina researchers and connect with the University’s large pool of innovation talent to create cross-functional solutions to business and social challenges. Startups, small businesses, nonprofits, corporations, and investors will use the hub to work closely with students, faculty, and inventors to build new businesses, products, services, and technologies. This space is expected to open in the second quarter of 2023. Innovate Carolina is now accepting requests for interest from organizations and individuals who may join the hub through individual subscriptions and program memberships.

“Collaboration drives innovation, especially when we combine the knowledge and research expertise of faculty and students with the market-driven experience of business leaders, alumni and key industry partners. “said Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. “Downtown Chapel Hill is brimming with opportunities for strategic collaborations, and the work our local Carolina community leaders are doing together will make the new Innovation Center a place where we can cultivate talent for the future workforce. of North Carolina. Our teams of innovation strategists and practitioners move research and ideas from campus to the world to have real impact.

The hub is part of Carolina’s Economic Development Strategy, which is designed to create a downtown innovation district that will retain, attract and grow more innovation-driven businesses and talent in Chapel Hill. This effort is led by Innovate Carolina and two city committees made up of university, city and community leaders. The new Innovation Center will serve as an anchor for the district and drive job creation, industry partnerships that accelerate the creation of new research-driven products, experiential learning for student entrepreneurs, as well as as the creation and growth of new businesses and non-profit organizations focused on creating social networks and economic good.

“The Innovation Center is a central part of our joint plan to make Chapel Hill an even more inviting place for businesses and individual professionals looking for a place to develop their ideas and grow their businesses,” said the Mayor. of the town of Chapel Hill. Pam Heminger. “We have made great strides in improving our infrastructure and increasing available office space to begin transforming downtown into a vibrant innovation district where people from across our community can gather and find new avenues to thrive. »

BioLabs, a premier coworking space for life science startups, will also be located in Grubb Properties’ 136 Rosemary Street building and the adjacent 137 East Franklin Street address. Announced last fall, BioLabs and the University are developing a strategic partnership to create more startups based on UNC-Chapel Hill faculty research. The partnership will involve collaboration with Innovate Carolina’s on-campus KickStart Accelerator for life science companies. BioLabs’ presence in the Downtown Innovation District provides an attractive avenue for faculty-founded startups seeking larger shared office and lab environments as they outgrow their first corporate spaces on the campus.

An innovation hub for everyone

Members of the Chapel Hill Innovation Center will be able to choose from a variety of workspace options, including floating offices and coworking spaces, private offices, conference rooms, a training room, a business center and spaces for events and networking. Through these creative environments, the hub will provide programming and opportunities to connect and collaborate with a wide range of people and organizations interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • Startups and small businesses.Startups and small businesses can participate in startup accelerator programming, use collaborative workspaces, and connect with an extensive network of entrepreneurial advisors, talented students, researchers, and strategic business partners.
  • Companies.Large companies can explore opportunities to partner with university researchers on new discoveries from on-campus labs, reduce research risks that may be tied to commercial avenues, and connect with innovation-driven students.
  • Faculty and students.Through the hub, faculty can forge inventive partnerships with the research and development divisions of business leaders, while students can discover learning opportunities by working with other student entrepreneurs and businesses in need of scholarship holders, interns and future employees.
  • Elders.Carolina alumni can use the hub as a physical space to stay connected to college, securing a regular remote office for themselves or their businesses, or reserving a professional space to use when traveling to Chapel Hill.
  • Remote workers.The hub will also provide local remote workers – whether corporate or freelance – with flexible workspaces where they can work independently or in collaborative groups.

Innovation programs and services

Beyond physical workspaces, the hub will offer a full range of programs and services focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. These will be provided by Innovate Carolina’s team of experienced entrepreneurs and a group of campus and community partners.

Large corporations and industry partners will find opportunities to work with students and faculty through experiential learning, emerging technologies, and new business avenues.

“The New Town Center is where we will put innovation into practice by equipping all types of organizations and people in the Chapel Hill community with the tools, skills and entrepreneurial methods they need to enable and scale their ideas,” said Sheryl Waddell, Carolina’s acting director of economic development. “Whether you’re an individual entrepreneur, a small startup, or a multinational, the hub will offer programs and services that will help you move new products and services to commercial market or to faster, more targeted social impact.”

Programs and services offered at the Innovation Center will include:

  • Startup accelerator program. The Innovation Center will be the new home of Launch Chapel Hill, the award-winning accelerator created through a partnership between the university, the city of Chapel Hill and Orange County that provides workspaces, business mentors entrepreneurs-in-residence, technology resources, networking and access. to professional services.
  • Design thinking. Experts in human-centered design will deliver workshops and custom sessions that will help individual innovators and organizations of all sizes use proven methods to identify customer needs earlier and create technologies, products and services more targeted.
  • Prospecting for patents and market studies. A team of research experts who have worked with hundreds of inventors, startups, and entrepreneurs will deliver custom analytical reports and insights that assess market readiness, competitive landscape, pricing models, and potential partners and funding.
  • Business development services.Innovate Carolina’s venture capital services include event-related programs such as industry workshops and panel discussions, advisor pitch meetings and reverse pitches, as well as project-based initiatives such as student scholarship programs, grant writing support, and business development.
  • Talent recruitment. Innovate Carolina’s student innovation programs help start-ups, small businesses, and innovation-focused organizations connect with some of the most enterprising students to explore internships, experiential learning, and other avenues of professional development.

Organizations and individuals interested in learning more about the Innovation Hub or participating in the Downtown District can contact Innovate Carolina via an online interest form. Innovate Carolina strives to connect interested parties with potential opportunities to get involved.

Margie D. Carlisle