Cucalorus launches business conference alongside annual film fest is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Cucalorus executive director Dan Brawley and area partners announced Thursday the launch of a new start-up and tech conference, a la South by Southwest, this year. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Cucalorus Executive Director Dan Brawley and area partners announced Thursday the launch of a new start-up and tech conference, a la South by Southwest, this year. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Looking back, Cucalorus executive director Dan Brawley believes the secret to the film festival’s success was that, since he was often not sure what he was doing, he was never really afraid to take chances.

It’s that same spirit of experimentation and exploration that has led to Cucalorus Connect, a first-of-its-kind emerging business conference and showcase for the Wilmington area.

Teaming up with local game-changers–CloudWyze, tekMountain and UNC-Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), among them–and city officials, the weeklong event will be held in November, in conjunction with the annual film fest. They gathered at Cucalorus’ hub, Jengo’s Playhouse, Thursday to make the announcement.

A bit like the longstanding South by Southwest in Austin, Texas–and a lot like CIE’s inaugural Coastal Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference, which was held in September–Cucalorus’ conference is aimed at bringing together entrepreneurs and leaders in a variety of fields to network and share ideas among themselves and with the public.

Brawley calls it “radical inclusivity.”

“I’m interested in recreating the myth of the artist in the twenty-first century,” he said.

Extending beyond the obvious creative types that come along with the film festival–directors, actors, musicians, dancers and the like–Brawley said he hopes Cucalorus Connect will put the spotlight on people breaking ground in areas like hair, textiles and technology.

And though it may seem like a break with tradition, Brawley said from the start, Cucalorus, which turns 21 this year, has always been about shattering the mold and thinking outside the box.

“We have really always been interested in supporting people who are taking risks,” he noted.

Just like the festival, which was born in 1994 out of the scene of independent filmmakers in the region, the Connect showcase has arisen “organically” from Wilmington’s own evolution, Brawley said.

For one, the downtown landscape is changing, with the addition of two new hotels in the next several years and the ever-growing number of performance spaces and venues, including Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station and soon-to-open Humanities and Fine Arts Center.

Brawley also pointed to CFCC’s Small Business Center and UNCW’s CIE, along with incubators like tekMountain, that have helped shape an “emerging scene for start-ups.”

And, he said, city officials are working toward a more forward-thinking vision for Wilmington as a perfect spot for investing capital and getting a business off the ground.

“They want to make it not just a destination for tourism but a destination for business, as well,” Brawley said.

Organizers are still nailing down this year’s Cucalorus Connect speakers and guests and fine-tuning the line-up of panel discussions, workshops and other events–which will include a whole section on spirits and how to start a brewery–but Brawley said, like Cucalorus itself, the conference is an experiment.

“Success, to me, this first year is really small,” Sean Ahlum of tekMountain added. “It’s bringing 25 to 30 really amazing people to Wilmington who have never been here before…You can’t measure the success of that, because the success could come five years down the road in a local start-up.”

Cucalorus Connect will begin alongside the annual film festival on Tuesday, Nov. 10, with a kickoff event and VIP Sponsor party announcing this year’s 10×10 entrepreneur and filmmaker pairings for short films to be produced over the following five days.

The conference continues on Nov. 11-15, with specific scheduling and programs to be determined.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or