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Major gift from Lee-Moore Capital will expand access to Launch Chapel Hill

The $230,000 gift will amplify entrepreneurial support, enhance technology and upgrade workspaces for local startup companies.

The interior of Launch Chapel Hill.
The Launch Chapel Hill startup accelerator is a partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County. Since 2013, it has accelerated 136 companies. An analysis in 2020 showed that Launch Chapel Hill startups earned $84 million in annual revenue and created 1,007 jobs.

As part of a growing innovation hub designed to support the innovation and entrepreneurial community, Innovate Carolina has received a $230,000 gift from Lee-Moore Capital Company to expand programming at Launch Chapel Hill, an award-winning accelerator created via a partnership between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County.

The gift from Lee-Moore Capital, a real-estate and investment firm headquartered in Sanford, will bring more access to accelerator programming, venture-based consulting, investor networks, entrepreneurial mentors and innovation workspaces to the downtown startup community.

“Carolina is committed to innovation and entrepreneurship in downtown Chapel Hill, and we accept this gift on behalf of the partnership between the town, county and University,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “This investment by Lee-Moore Capital will help us drive economic growth together, assist entrepreneurs as they emerge from the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and give people at Carolina and in our community new ways to turn their inventive ideas into companies that generate jobs and revenue.”

The donation will allow Launch Chapel Hill to invest in software and technology to upgrade its physical workspaces, expand startup support services available through its accelerator program and hire a community manager to implement a wider set of programming to directly support the growth of local ventures.

“We are dedicated to promoting entrepreneurial development in communities around the state, connecting those communities to future development areas and supporting programming that retains entrepreneurial workers in North Carolina,” said Kirk J. Bradley, CEO and president of Lee-Moore Capital. “By providing Innovate Carolina and Launch Chapel Hill with this donation, we are enthusiastic about making a positive difference for local startups and economic development in the region.” Both Frank E. Proctor and Bradley, the principal owners of Lee-Moore Capital Company, are committed to spreading the entrepreneurial spirit instilled in them by their late father and uncle, Truby G. Proctor, Jr., throughout North Carolina. Both Proctor and Truby are graduates of UNC-Chapel Hill.

The funding from Lee-Moore aligns with broader efforts of Chapel Hill leaders to spark increased startup and entrepreneurial activity in the town. It also builds on the momentum established by the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s Big Bold Ideas initiative, which supports accelerating innovation and workforce development.

“From being actively involved with Launch Chapel Hill for the last five years as mayor, to starting the town’s entrepreneurial council several years ago, I’ve been working to encourage the startup community to get invested in Chapel Hill as a great place to grow a business. I’m thrilled that Innovate Carolina and Launch Chapel Hill remain invested in our community and will attract many entrepreneurs to downtown,” said Pam Hemminger, mayor of Chapel Hill.

“Orange County and the surrounding region are home to many talented entrepreneurs, and this contribution to Launch Chapel Hill from Lee-Moore Capital helps make our county an even smarter innovative choice for people who want to start and grow a small business here or who need support recovering from the pandemic,” said Steve Brantley, economic development director of Orange County. “Our partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill and the University will allow us to fuel a diverse workforce and continue to make our region a great place to work and live.”

An expanded hub of innovation services for local startups

Launch Chapel Hill startups will also receive greater access to innovation services and resources through Innovate Carolina, which is the University-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship that manages the accelerator and workspace with the town and county. Many of these resources are available through Innovate Carolina’s campus and regional network of program partners. These include mentors connected to the Carolina Angel Network, professional service providers, investors and entrepreneurial alumni. Launch Chapel Hill adds to an already significant hub of services provided directly by Innovate Carolina, including startup consulting, design thinking, patent/market landscape research, competitive analysis, startup accelerator and coworking spaces, social innovation programs and data impact services. These resources bolster Launch Chapel Hill startups during the difficult economic period caused by the coronavirus pandemic while attracting more businesses and foot traffic to downtown Chapel Hill.

“The startup accelerator programming and workspaces offered by Launch Chapel Hill are critical parts of the University’s comprehensive innovation space strategy, which Innovate Carolina continues to lead and expand through engagements with University leaders, local officials and industry and development partners,” said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development at UNC-Chapel Hill. “In the time of unprecedented economic challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, a direct connection to Innovate Carolina’s innovation services and spaces – including the new KickStart Accelerator that offers on-campus wet lab facilities for faculty life science ventures – will provide Launch Chapel Hill startups new avenues of support.”

As a non-profit created through a public-private partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County in 2013, Launch Chapel Hill has established a track record of making an economic impact in the local and regional community. Since its opening, Launch Chapel Hill has accelerated 136 companies, including 104 that are still active. An analysis by Innovate Carolina in July 2020 shows that the accelerator’s companies had raised a total of $38.2 million in total funding. As shown in a snapshot analysis from this summer, Launch Chapel Hill companies currently provide 1,007 jobs, 358 of which are in Orange County. As of June, Launch Chapel Hill companies earned $84 million in total revenue in 2020 alone.

“Welcoming entrepreneurs and startups remain a key focus for Chapel Hill, and since becoming the town’s first economic development officer more than ten years ago, I’ve been pleased to see how Launch Chapel Hill has helped to attract, grow and keep businesses in our community,” said Dwight Bassett, economic development director for the Town of Chapel Hill. “This new gift will not only improve the experience of startups as they go through the Launch Chapel Hill accelerator, but also create stronger companies in our area now and over the long term.”

“Launch Chapel Hill has had great success with startup companies that are doing amazing work and contributing to the economic and social fabric of our community,” said Velvet Nelson, director of Launch Chapel Hill. “The strengthened relationship between Launch Chapel Hill and Innovate Carolina will create a more direct connection between student and faculty innovator talent at Carolina and startup companies at Launch Chapel Hill. It also brings new opportunities for our alumni companies that have already found success in completing the accelerator program and remain active members of our Launch Chapel Hill family.”

A campus-community innovation network for student, alumni entrepreneurs

After completing the Launch Chapel Hill accelerator, companies remain engaged in many ways: as mentors to other founders, through continuing education and speaking opportunities, and through a soon-to-be-launched $1,000 microgrant program available to support Launch Chapel Hill alumni companies. The Entrepreneurship Center at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School is a strong partner and offers programming through the accelerator, including its new Scale School program. Through these and other efforts, Launch Chapel Hill will provide a more extensive hub of innovation space, talent and programming for Carolina alumni entrepreneurs who want to live, work and grow companies in Chapel Hill.

Current students participating in University-based programs that are part of the Innovate Carolina network will have increased opportunities to engage with Launch Chapel Hill. For example, students who pursue startup ideas via the 1789 innovation community and co-working space, the CUBE social innovation incubator, or the Entrepreneurship Center are well-positioned to apply to Launch Chapel Hill’s 10-week summer accelerator program for student startups.

Emily Newman, who graduated in May 2020 with a master’s degree in public health from the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is a recent participant in Launch Chapel Hill’s summer accelerator. She initially worked with her co-founder and fellow graduate student Kathryn Carpenter to develop the idea for their company Newman Carpenter via the Startup UNC course at the business school, the Carolina Challenge Pitch Party, 1789 and other programs.

“Tapping into the UNC innovation network has been an invaluable resource for us,” added Carpenter and Newman. “We got – and still get – support and someone with an answer to our endless questions at every step of the way.”

Innovate Carolina will also connect entrepreneur-oriented students to the leaders of Launch Chapel Hill companies for experiential learning and career opportunities. One such opportunity will take place in November, when 1789, Launch Chapel Hill and University Career Services collaborate to host virtual Startup Meet and Greet events that bring together Carolina students and local startups to explore jobs and internships.

“Having the support of an undergraduate intern allowed Grace + Ease to supercharge our efforts to undertake Customer Discovery interviews, develop an MVP and launch and analyze the MVP,” said Travis Brady, co-founder of Grace + Ease, an organization helping people confront cancer through stories and products.

Through the combined strength of the University, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County, the gift from Lee-Moore Capital will immediately impact innovation and entrepreneurship in the community, bolstering growth of the region by giving local startup ventures and businesses the boost needed to be successful in this new and changing economic environment.