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A place where innovators thrive

Innovate Carolina is focused on helping students and faculty put their ideas to use for the public good.

As the nation’s first public university, UNC-Chapel Hill has always been – both figuratively and literally – a laboratory and incubator of ideas. We believe that ideas are the currency of a better tomorrow. Over time, we’ve seen the evidence. Inklings of new possibilities born in Chapel Hill turn into innovative pathways that improve the lives of millions of people across North Carolina and beyond.

In 2010, UNC-Chapel Hill made a declaration that it wanted to systematically help solve some of the most significant issues facing the world. In doing so, we found that our to-do list as a University is long:

  • Feed 7 billion people worldwide and provide clean water.
  • Invent and adopt clean energy solutions.
  • Strengthen our local and global economies.
  • Prevent diseases.
  • Discover new treatments and cures.
  • Replace conflict with understanding.
  • Prepare students in our schools.
  • Inspire through art, music, writing and sport.
  • Prepare innovators of tomorrow to tackle issues we can’t even imagine today.

Over the past decade, we’ve been on a journey to help tackle these problems by increasing and accelerating innovations created at the University – and moving them into the world, where they can help the most people possible.

Early on, it became clear that to address these issues in North Carolina and globally, we needed to infuse innovation and entrepreneurship into every corner of the university. We had to connect people. We needed to support innovators at every stage of their idea.

To meet these needs, the University launched Innovate Carolina, which now leads the network of more than 200 people and programs working together across campus. Innovate Carolina makes sure that faculty, students and staff have the tools and resources they need to put their ideas to use for the public good. This campus-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship is now making the University a place where innovators thrive.

Today, people from different disciplines are joining together to find novel solutions that would never surface in isolation.

Carolina is now where innovators converge and collaborate: Public health experts partner with engineers. Pharmacists team with computer scientists. Doctors sync up with musicians. Scientists venture into makerspaces to build prototypes. And nutritionists work with social entrepreneurs to make a global impact. A spirit of cross-collaboration and inventiveness abounds.

To meet tomorrow’s challenges, Innovate Carolina will build on the culture of innovation and continue to provide — and expand — the tools and resources that our students and faculty need to make their ideas work: funding, workspaces, courses, co-curricular programs and mentors.

We want to equip our community to make purposeful transformations. By teaching people a set of proven principles and approaches – an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset – we give them the fundamentals to make change possible. And by providing our faculty and students with the right resources, we allow their ingenuity and hard work to take over.

That’s how innovators at Carolina change the world.

The fact that U.S. News and World Report ranked our undergraduate entrepreneurship program No. 4 in the country — its highest ranking ever in this category — shows that we’re on the right path.

In the future, we will also foster new relationships with industry partners that help us innovate at scale. Our partnership with Deerfield Management to create the company Pinnacle Hill is a shining example. By combining the talent of our researchers with the funding, operational know-how and connections provided by partners like Deerfield, we can speed the delivery of medicines and treatments to patients.

Through the Campaign for Carolina, the University is actively working with donors to bring to life one of the most vital initiatives in Carolina’s history – the Institute for Convergent Science. The institute will be a physical building, where different scientific departments cross-pollinate in close proximity. Our vision is to harness the diversity of knowledge, opinions and experiences from hybrid scientific teams to create innovations that can make tangible differences in the lives of many.

The institute will be a cornerstone to a master plan of innovation spaces. From co-working areas, makerspaces and labs to incubators and accelerators, we envision a constellation of spaces where ideas can take root and grow. A prime example is a new wet lab incubator that we plan to create in downtown Chapel Hill. This will be where life science faculty launch early-stage startup companies, just steps from campus. These companies will make an economic impact in Orange County – and, most importantly, a human impact through life-saving breakthroughs.

Our focus on using ideas to make this kind of difference in the world will define the future of innovation at Carolina. We’re already being recognized for our efforts. For example, the Association of Public Land Grant Universities awarded UNC-Chapel Hill with its Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation. This high honor celebrates how Carolina uses innovation as a driver for economic engagement. Carolina is one of only 60 universities – and one of only six AAU institutions – to achieve this recognition.

Such recognition comes from the fact that the ideas and research developed by our students and faculty don’t languish in classrooms or labs. By making innovation fundamental to all that we do at Carolina, we move important ideas into the world, where they transform our communities for the better. By making Carolina a place where innovators thrive, we help the world thrive, too.