Campus incubators hatching ventures

In just over a year, Carolina has gone from having almost no space to incubate student or faculty ventures to a growing number of incubation spots.

In fact, the University is thinking about how it can work on and off campus to help aspiring entrepreneurs build exciting ventures. Startups on campus are just the beginning of the process, a four-stage progression described by Judith Cone, special assistant to the chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship:

  • Discovery – a place on campus to gather and bounce ideas off others and brainstorm.
  • Incubation – off campus, with access to mentors and coaching, highly subsidized rent.
  • Acceleration – off campus, at reduced rent, with easier access to market and guidance.
  • Growth – ready to go out into the marketplace.

Here’s a quick tour of what Carolina has hatching and where:

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Campus Y: Social Innovation Incubator

Budding social entrepreneurs have space in the heart of campus to build, accelerate and scale up initiatives. The Social Innovation Incubator on the third floor of the YMCA building, home of the Campus Y, provides space, seed capital and equipment for four resident teams, as well as legal, tax, communications and other expert advice. The 2012-2013 teams are:

Aquagenx (formerly KM Water Solution) is developing, evaluating and commercializing the Compartment Bag Test, which tests for fecal bacteria in water, foods and on hands using a color-changing agent that can be easily read and scored by eye. The test has the potential to improve the lives and health of the more than 1 billion people worldwide without access to clean water.

HOPE Gardens, a community space in Chapel Hill, uses sustainable agriculture to address the persistent challenge of poverty. Through the gardens, local low-income residents can develop important skills and network with other members of the larger community. The venture offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to deliver a box of fresh, inexpensive produce directly to a participant’s door.

• Musical Empowerment supports Carolina Music Outreach, which pairs children from underprivileged backgrounds with UNC students who teach free music lessons. Musical Empowerment provides a musical instrument lending program. This social innovation brings a musical education to children who would otherwise find the cost of such an education to be prohibitive. A formal instrument lending contract will also be available in Spanish.

• SEA Brand, LLC, an apparel company, raises funds for the social sector. By associating colors with causes, SEA enables consumers to tastefully identify with and support the cause of their choice. SEA donates at least 25 percent of profits to charity and makes supporting a cause fashionable.

H4, Hanes Hall

H4 is Carolina’s summer co-working space on the fourth floor of Hanes Hall. During the academic year, the space serves as the main interview suite for employers recruiting UNC students. In summer, it becomes a dynamic workspace for student organizations, entrepreneurial endeavors, distance/virtual internships and other project work. H4’s shared space has movable desks, chairs and whiteboards, and can be reconfigured to meet users’ needs. H4 also provides free coffee, office supplies, video conferencing, presentation space and 12 private offices that can be reserved for meetings or phone calls.

In summer 2012, 22 groups signed up for H4, with 350 uses of the space. These three student-led groups were H4’s most active users:

Everyday Glucose packages the glucose dose that diabetics need to carry with them into a case that fits into a wallet.

One Act, a student-led collaboration with Campus Health Services, offers training for Carolina students who are interested in preventing interpersonal violence.

Symbology, a clothing company, transforms handmade artisan textiles into fashion-forward designs. Founder Marissa Heyl discusses Symbology’s origins.

Frank Porter Graham Student Union: Collaborative Workspace

Recent renovation of the Carolina Union’s street-level floor brought 12,000 square feet of collaborative work space. Students, student organizations and other members of the Carolina community can use the area to share their ideas, talents and resources. The space includes small and large group meeting spaces “with a modern feel and look that will bring energy and excitement” to the bottom floor, said Tony Patterson, senior associate director of the Union.

Collaboration Center, Health Sciences Library

The Collaboration Center, on the second floor (Room 227) of the Health Sciences Library, features a high-resolution display wall that allows research teams to see data and images in a size not possible on a computer monitor and three different methods of video- and web-conferencing. The library also provides space for Micro-Consulting for North Carolina, a nonprofit founded by Duke and Carolina graduates to provide critical technological and strategic help for social entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs’ Lounge, Sitterson Hall

The Entrepreneurs’ Lounge in the Department of Computer Science, located off the zero-level lobby of Sitterson Hall, is a place for budding entrepreneurs to hold business meetings and brainstorming sessions. It features displays representing Computer Science Department spin-off companies as well as some of the department’s largest technology licensing deals. The facility is intended for use by students and faculty in computer science as well as colleagues in other UNC departments.

Genome Sciences Building

At the geographical center of campus, the new Genome Sciences Building has an overarching goal: to foster collaborations at the intersection of different disciplines. Any UNC scientist has access to the latest technologies that analyze whole genomes, from microbes and viruses to plants and humans. Nearly a quarter of the wet-lab research facilities on the upper levels were intentionally left unfilled and available to promote interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship. The buildings classrooms and common areas also facilitate collaboration.

Launching the Venture, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Since 1999, Launching the Venture has helped more than 60 UNC students, faculty and staff turn their ideas into successful new businesses and nonprofits. Launching the Venture is a series of courses designed to teach, empower and inspire entrepreneurial teams at UNC to launch commercial businesses and social ventures. Teams may comprise any mix of students, faculty and staff at UNC. Courses combine lectures, workshops, guest speakers and hands-on expert coaching and mentoring. Classes meet Mondays from 5 to 8 p.m. in the McColl Building. Success stories include:

• Equal App is an award-winning online admissions counseling program proven to get students admitted to the colleges of their choice.

• Altometrics is a new way of managing server performance in a large network, based on a computer science student’s doctoral dissertation.

• Windsor Circle offers eCommerce Intelligence Software that increases revenue by freeing data locked in the eCommerce ecosystem.

Carolina Launchpad at RENCI

Through Launch Pad at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), companies have access to an intensive summer program that helps them define an action plan for commercial launch. The customized program includes mentor meetings, pitch sessions and a speaker series to help participants navigate the early hurdles of commercial launch. The program also offers topical panels, workshops and local company visits. After completing the program, participants have nine more months of free space and support to execute a launch plan. Resources include private workstations and storage space, printer and fax machine, parking, conference rooms and office supplies.  Here are a few companies that started at Launch Pad:

• Gift Boogle helps customers find thoughtful and memorable gifts using a social media analytics-driven application. The system uses social media data, text analytics and information from users to identify gift-giving occasions and match users with the perfect gift.

• HeroMe enables kids to create the hero they want to be through an entertaining online experience that expands their imagination, builds self-esteem and produces their own high-quality, “open-ended play” action figure. The focus of the company is the kids’ creativity and imagination. Each customer creates the hero’s powers, battles, secret identity, friends and foes.

Impulsonic Inc. provides software tools to synthesize and propagate sound in video games and for acoustics design. The company’s proprietary tools — including three patented sound technologies — are the result of six years of research and development by faculty and students in the UNC computer science department.

Students and Teachers Employing New Criteria in Learning (STENCIL) developed cloud-based software that analyzes student attendance, behavior and course performance data and compares it to high school drop-out warning signs. When a student is at risk, the software sends an alert to parents, teachers and administrators, giving them the chance to intervene at an early stage.

• TerraHub puts the platform to create, collaborate and communicate via maps in the hands of the people who need it and leaves the expensive work of analysis and modeling to the professionals.

Franklin Innovation Center, 133½ E. Franklin St.

In 2009, UNC alumnus Jim Kitchen founded Franklin Innovation Center, a business accelerator for student entrepreneurs. Kitchen, who teaches entrepreneurship at Kenan-Flagler, made this upstairs office space on Franklin Street available to UNC student entrepreneurs and coached these budding CEOs. (The success of Kitchen’s venture inspired the Town of Chapel Hill to set up another incubator downtown.) Four student-run companies currently occupy Kitchen’s incubator:

•ABAN trains girls in Ghana to transform trash into treasure as they sew discarded plastic bags into handbags and other items. ABAN on video.

Sweeps is an easy, safe way to hire college students to do odd jobs at $25 per hour. Job posters fill out an online form and are matched with the best “Sweeper” competing for the job.

•FilmLab, an online media company, creates premium videos and content channels for online publishers, agencies and brands across the world using a web-based production platform.

•BaseBald for the Cure, a charity created by former UNC baseball player and brain cancer survivor Chase Jones, is spreading across the nation as people shave their heads to raise money to fight cancer.

3 Birds, 321 W. Rosemary St.

When 3 Birds marketing-communications company settles into its new nest at 505 W. Franklin St., a new downtown small business incubator will open in its former space on Rosemary Street. A collaborative project funded by the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County, the Downtown Partnership, 3 Birds and rental revenue with programming and coaching/mentoring support from UNC faculty and staff, the incubator will offer low-rent space for start-up companies. The hope is that this option will attract start-ups (especially those spun off from campus) and encourage growth in Chapel Hill.

Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program, Center for Global Initiatives

The Global Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program seeks to address the world’s most pressing problems by pulling together a wide range of people with seemingly unrelated interests to spur creative insights. For the 2012-2013 school year, Global Social is partnering with the Campus Y and the Entrepreneurship Minor to host Dennis Whittle, co-founder of Global Giving, as UNC’s global social entrepreneur-in-residence.

Global Giving is a charity fundraising website that gives social entrepreneurs and nonprofits from anywhere in the world a chance to raise the money that they need to improve their communities. Through monthly visits to campus, the global social entrepreneur-in-residence meets with students and faculty to explore global social entrepreneurship and gives public talks and guest lectures in classes.

Published January 25, 2013.