Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Nearly $1 million grant to NCGrowth will help economically-challenged communities hire locally

The grant from the SunTrust Foundation will help NCGrowth launch SmartUp programs in North Carolina and South Carolina to create jobs with equitable opportunities in rural and economically-challenged communities.

People tour a factory.

The SunTrust Foundation will give a nearly $1 million grant to NCGrowth, an affiliated center of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, to help create new jobs and stimulate transformative development in three high-potential communities in the Carolinas. These business incubators will help startup companies hire local workers in an effort to address issues such as unemployment, underemployment, low wages and significant poverty.

NCGrowth, which is affiliated with UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, will use the $950,000 grant to launch SmartUp programs in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and North Charleston, South Carolina. There are plans to select a third location in the Carolinas in the coming months. The SmartUp program from NCGrowth works to create jobs with equitable opportunities in rural and economically-challenged communities in the Carolinas.

“Through SmartUp, as in all of NCGrowth’s work, we are seeking to radically transform how communities view their role in economic development, from being passengers to becoming drivers,” said Mark Little, executive director of the Kenan Institute.

The SmartUp programs in each selected region will partner with up to 10 businesses that span a range of industries and maturity levels. The selected businesses will also reflect local gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic demographics. Together, the SmartUp teams and businesses will strive to create more jobs for local workers through financial and marketing analysis, redesign of manufacturing workflows and more. SmartUp also will partner with existing organizations, such as local development offices, universities, businesses and churches to create a support network for local job creation in these communities.

“The SmartUp initiative fits perfectly with our commitment to entrepreneurism and helping small businesses gain financial confidence and smart growth,” said Stan Little, president of the SunTrust Foundation. “The program has potential to drive broader economic development by replicating its innovative approach in other communities that need assistance.”

To maximize the opportunity for transformative development, the businesses selected to work with NCGrowth staff and community partners will develop and complete a high-impact project critical to sustainable growth and regional success. SmartUp will also work to integrate the community in that growth through semiannual workshops and showcases that are open to the public.

“By eliminating the expense of physical space, along with being rooted in an academic institution and engaging a broad base of existing local collaborators, we can keep the cost of the program low to ensure it is accessible to more communities,” said LaChaun Banks, associate director of NCGrowth.

The grant counts toward For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina, the University’s historic fundraising drive that aims to raise $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022. The campaign supports the Blueprint for Next, the University’s overall strategic plan built on two core strategies: “of the public, for the public” and “innovation made fundamental.”