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Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Launch-ing the latest entrepreneurs

A collaboration between Carolina, the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County and a private donor helps launch entrepreneurial careers for Tar Heel students and alumni.

Most students dream of having a job lined up after graduation. Not Roger Nahum. He’d rather be the boss.

Roger and his partners at SWAP Socks, which sells uniquely mismatched socks with a mission to generate aid and awareness for the global visual impairment epidemic, are ready to expand their business – almost. First they’ll take up residence with six other companies as the latest cohort at Launch Chapel Hill.

The teams, ranging in ideas from a geo-connecting app to a financial analytics service to textile waste reduction, will spend 22 weeks in the structured accelerator program at Launch, receiving tools, resources and connections to help the entrepreneurs build their burgeoning businesses.

“We are excited to be part of a driven community that fosters high impact, local entrepreneurship. We are most looking forward to engaging with other like-minded entrepreneurs who are driven to create and collaborate,” said Naham.

Launch Chapel Hill is a collaboration between University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County and a private donor. Each semester, the accelerator uses a competitive process to select their newest residents, many of them UNC-Chapel Hill students or alumni.

The latest cohort moved in July 20, but most have already experienced some early success, including competition wins, grant funding, customers and sales.

Earlier this year Seal the Seasons, led by UNC students and alumni, won the $50,000 SECU Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation, and will now get the mentoring and connections they need to expand the business. The company strives to extend the local food season from harvest to year-round by processing, freezing, and distributing produce to local stores.

To be selected for Launch, teams had to demonstrate a viable product or service, and a strong business model. Now they can focus on building their teams, acquiring capital, and scaling their business to reach a wider market.

“These teams are as diverse as they can be in terms of their ideas, but they all have something in common. They have the drive, confidence and eagerness to learn that make them well-suited to run a company,” said Dina Rousset, Launch Program Manager and Associate Director of the Kenan-Flagler Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “We’re thrilled to welcome them to the our space and look forward to seeing these companies come into their own over the course of the next six to twelve months.”

The benefits to participating in the accelerator beyond just the office space itself includes participation in courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, a mentor network of more than 250 entrepreneurs and experts, networking events, consultation with support provides like accountants and lawyers and collaboration with their fellow residents. Each team is also assigned an Entrepreneur in Residence, who can offer their life experience and connections in coaching the teams.

Austin Helms will join Roger and the others at Launch this week as co-founder of Waterless Buddies, a waterless car detailing service.

“We’re looking forward to growing as a company while we’re at Launch, really learning to run a business, so that we can be successful entrepreneurs,” said Helms, a UNC-Chapel Hill student.

Jed Record is veteran of the Launch program. A Carolina alumnus of both the undergraduate and MBA programs, Record completed the structured program in June and his company Likeforce, which trains college students to manage social media accounts, continues to use the co-working space at Launch as he builds his business.

“One of the greatest benefits of Launch is getting to work side by side with other really smart people starting their ventures,” Record said. “It gets you out of the garage, offers great connections to University resources, and the Entrepreneurs in Residence help you build your message and test your ideas.”

After completing the structured program, the teams like Likeforce can continue to benefit from shared office space, access to mentors and special programming for an additional six months as they implement their business plans.

Launch has served a total of 42 teams through its accelerator program of all different industry types and including both non-profit and for-profit models.

To date, those businesses have raised more than $5 million in outside funding, created 40 full-time paid positions and 21 part-time positions – many in the Triangle area.

This comes at a time when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports about half of all startups fold within five years, and only one-third make it to 10 years.

With additional support from programs like Launch, businesses are much more likely to succeed.

“More and more students have great ideas and are interested in going into business for themselves, but it can be difficult to access the funding, resources, even office space these companies need when they are just starting out. Through UNC’s partnership with Launch, we provide access to classes and support to help these promising businesses succeed,“ said Judith Cone, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Innovation  and Entrepreneurship, and Interim Vice Chancellor of Commercialization and Economic Development at UNC Chapel Hill.

As Austin Helms, Roger Nahum and their fellow entrepreneurs stake out their desk space, they no doubt are confident that they too will be a Launch success story.

The complete list of new Launch residents includes: BlipMe, Seal the Seasons, SWAP Socks, Textile Solutions, Tribal Intel, Trill Financial and Waterless Buddy’s.