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The newly recruited head of UNCW’s entrepreneur-boosting program boasts he brings a “blue-collar work ethic in a white-collar industry,” an energy blend he says is right for the Port City’s vision of growing innovators.
Appointed executive director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) last month, Jim Roberts said Monday his connections and experience with business and investors has even given him a lead with a company that could become one of New Hanover County’s top-20 employers if it decided to move here.
Roberts gave no further detail about the prospect during a Monday morning presentation to Wilmington City Council–later identifying it only as a “life sciences” company, which fits into a category with biotechnology and pharmaceuticals–but the reference served as a point about his qualifications as chief of CIE, a program to incubate and provide vital know-how to local startups.
According to his bio from UNCW, Roberts’ credits include starting the FirstRound entrepreneur council in Charlotte in 2000 before he moved to Asheville and initiated the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and Blue Ridge Angel Investor Network. He later became a business development manager for the N.C. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Division.
“I get my hands dirty with everyone,” he said Monday. UNCW announced his hiring at CIE in late May.
CIE, itself a relatively new initiative that spun off from UNCW to become its own limited liability corporation, would house promising new companies in a building at 803 S. College Road, next to UNCW’s campus, with a soft launch planned for later this summer and full steam by fall.
The idea is to give the entrepreneurs–so new that their ideas could be considered “napkin-stage”–floor space and smart support so they can grow to thrive independently in the Wilmington area.
Roberts said Monday the unnamed life-sciences company considering Wilmington was part of a separate recruitment effort, it being already too large and successful for CIE’s aid.
That aid for baby businesses is to include a recently announced, privately operated venture capital fund called the Seahawk Fund. Its goal is $20 million in private investments.
“This is not like anything that I think Wilmington has ever seen,” Councilwoman Laura Padgett noted during Roberts’ presentation Monday.
“It really is a magnet for the entrepreneurs,” Roberts said. “Because if you don’t have venture capital, they go, ‘Well, I’ll go where the venture capital is.’”
The hotspot for that, lately, has been Durham, home to what Roberts described as “multiple” venture capital funds that draw talent there.
It’s CIE’s goal to make Wilmington the new hub.
But in its early stages, CIE has asked for help, too. A request for $70,000 from the City of Wilmington is currently included in the proposed budget for fiscal 2013-14.
That money, officials said, would cover expenses related to operations and events that would help encourage participation with CIE.
“I can’t promise you any deliverables [yet],” Roberts told Wilmington City Council when members asked for numbers to show the city’s investment would be worthwhile. He said he’s still learning about the needs of entrepreneurs here so CIE can accommodate.
“We don’t expect immediate results, but we would like to know what the specific results are down the road,” Councilwoman Margaret Haynes said.
CIE’s public funding request to the city may repeat over the next few fiscal years, staffers indicated, but they emphasized the program’s goal is to become self-sufficient, much like the goal for the entrepreneurs the center will work with.