UNCW’s CIE celebrates growth, looks ahead to future leadership

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File photo.
File photo.

Business is booming at UNC-Wilmington’s hub of cutting-edge companies.

Since forming as a business accelerator in 2013–and in the recent absence of a front-and-center leader–the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) now houses five faculty start-ups, three student start-ups and 29 local businesses, according to UNCW’s Dr. Ron Vetter.

Vetter has overseen the administrative side of the center after director Jim Roberts’ decision to leave his post in March.

He said CIE has also recently moved in Lapetus Solutions–a UNCW-born biodemographics company that now has three offices and nine employees—and has co-located companies backed by Seahawk Innovation, a merger and acquisition firm.

And one of those Innovation-backed companies, Mimijumi, was just honored with the 2015 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented by the CIE and the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. The overall winner was selected by a panel of judges from the winners in 10 individual categories.

Mimijumi, which manufactures an ergonomic baby bottle designed to replicate the breastfeeding experience, was brought into the CIE family from outside the area through Seahawk Innovation’s strategies. The company now sells its product to approximately 300 retailers in 30 countries.

“[Mimijumi] therefore is adding to the economic base of the region and expanding the region’s economic footprint,” Vetter said. “The CIE wants to help grow local companies, as well as bring resources, talent, people, innovation, etc. from outside the area.”

Without a full-time director in place at CIE, Vetter has stepped in to handle oversight and planning, and he said administrative assistant Laura Brogdon has ramped up her responsibilities, with an additional support staff of four student employees.

“In addition, other CIE tenants and client companies were invited to be more involved in the center, providing mentoring and ‘office hours’ to share their knowledge and wisdom with newer entrepreneurs,” Vetter noted.

But, he added, there are plans to name an interim director in the coming weeks—and to more clearly define what the next leader’s role should be.

“The director of the CIE needs to interface well with university, businesses, and government leaders. He or she needs to also relate well to entrepreneurs at all levels of development,” Vetter said. “When UNCW’s new chancellor arrives, we will be developing a new job description for the center director as we want to give the Chancellor a chance to add his vision and list of qualities needed to the position.”

In the meantime, Vetter said CIE is already looking ahead, working this summer on a business plan for the center, developing new programs and refining existing ones and getting ready for a “reinvigorated” launch in August.

And, he said, representatives from CIE, Seahawk Innovation, Elite Innovations, tekMountain, Ignition and the Small Business and Technology Development are in talks about collaborating on a web portal of community entrepreneurial resources to help support local entrepreneurs and businesses.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.