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A home for entrepreneurial-minded Tar Heels

1789 is Carolina's central hub of innovation. The space combines mentorship and workshops with working space and a collaborative setting to help Tar Heels develop the skills to be entrepreneurs and innovators.

1789 written on a glass window.

Whether they are looking to launch a new venture or explore opportunities in the startup world, entrepreneurial-minded Tar Heels have a home at Carolina’s 1789.

Operated by Innovate Carolina, the program serves as a community of mentors and students and provides professional development opportunities for our students, who will soon be leaders in the workforce.

The program originally began as a venture lab – a place for students who wanted to launch startups – and expanded to include all students at UNC-Chapel Hill who have an interest in exploring an enterprising idea or finding new ways to experience entrepreneurship and innovation. As a community of mentors and students, 1789 helps budding innovators build entrepreneurial skills that they can use to launch new ventures or to work in inventive ways inside larger companies or organizations.

“1789 is an amazing hub of mentors and students, social activities, events, competitions and funding,” said Kimi Yingling, student engagement and events manager at Innovate Carolina. “A lot of the programming comes to life through student interns whom I manage. We’re trying to connect all the students who join our community to resources about innovation entrepreneurship on campus and in the Triangle.”

Since 2014, 1789 has supported 287 student ventures and teams. This year, 1789-support ventures have earned $33.3 million in revenue and employed nearly 470 people.

Keep reading to learn more about the 1789 student innovation community from Yingling

 How does Innovate Carolina benefit from this program?

Innovate Carolina is Carolina’s central hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. We help people at the University and in the community improve innovation strategies and use entrepreneurial tools so that they can make the greatest social, economic or human impact.

1789 is the student program of that office. It’s a space to help students from all different majors and stages. About 30% to 40% that join the community have an idea that they’re working on, and the other 70% are still looking to get involved, get inspired or explore some careers. I work to create opportunities that match the needs of the students.

What are some of the programs at 1789 that support students?

Because our Innovate Carolina team not only has our own programs and services but also an extensive network of campus and community partners, I’m able to create opportunities and resources that are within and outside of Carolina. Within our own team, we offer the 1789 Venture Fund, which is seed funding for students who have ideas for startups that they want to create and grow. Then there are a couple of big competitions that are hosted outside of the University: Map the System and the ACC InVenture Prize. Our team helps students prepare to participate in those competitions, which gives them the chance to match up against and learn from other top student innovation teams from around the country and world.

What is the 1789 Student Venture Fund?

The 1789 Student Venture fund is a resource for students who have an established idea and want to get their concept up and off the ground. You can make significant progress with a little bit of money, and then come back for more. It’s small amounts of money that keeps you moving along.  The 1789 Student Venture Fund webpage outlines the specific criteria and how to apply. Our entrepreneurial mentors – who range from faculty to business leaders to social and tech entrepreneurs – review the applications. Over the years, we’ve funded some amazing student ventures that have focused on everything from turning recycled billboard materials into fashion items to helping sports arenas improve how they staff their concession stands. The possibilities really are as limitless as the creative minds of our students.

 Why is it important for Carolina to support student entrepreneurship?

There are a lot of skill sets and mindsets that you gain through innovation, entrepreneurship, research and experiential learning. I think it’s important because entrepreneurship is the next big thing. I think Generation Z is more interested in working for themselves or working for a cause that they care about.

If we don’t care about supporting these student entrepreneurs and student innovators and helping them research solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems, we wouldn’t be living up to our reputation of being a top university.

What keeps you motivated to work with our students in programs like this?

There are students who care about big problems that are overwhelming. They really believe that they can solve these problems. What motivates me is seeing their drive and helping them. Even if they aren’t successful in their venture, I see them learn something along the way that they can apply to the next problem they work to solve.

It’s amazing to see students graduate from Carolina and pursue their own venture. But it’s also great to watch them present in-depth research about important topics, ideate solutions to problems, and give them funding as a step along the way.

For students interested in the program, what do you hope they take away?

I hope that they take away the power of a network. And I think that has been especially challenging in a post-COVID world because the network looks different. I think we’ve all discovered there are other ways of connecting that are sometimes more convenient and efficient. So, I hope that they learn to do things that push them out of their comfort zones, like shoot an email to a mentor that’s listed on the website or approach a startup founder at the meet and greet. It can be intimidating to talk to people who you don’t know and to share an idea with them. But taking that step to connect with someone who shares your passion or who can help you is often the first step toward solving a problem and making a positive difference.

Learn more about 1789