At Carolina, innovation efforts are converging in a central location called the Innovate Carolina Junction. With the Junction’s Sept. 27 dedication, Carolina became the nation’s only Top 4 public university with a hub located in a downtown innovation district immediately adjacent to its campus.
The Junction occupies 20,000 square feet on the ground and first floors of the seven-story building at 137 E. Franklin St./136 E. Rosemary St. The onetime home to NCNB and the Flower Ladies is being redeveloped as part of Chapel Hill’s Innovation District.
With its main entrance on Rosemary Street, the Junction will anchor the district as the home of Innovate Carolina, the Launch Chapel Hill startup accelerator and several University-linked ventures. BioLabs, a provider of lab and co-working space, leases the entire third floor.
Speakers at the Junction ribbon cutting event included leaders in education, government and innovation. More than 100 researchers, business professionals, students and citizens attended, eager to explore the Junction’s flexible workspaces and learn more about its services and programming.
Welcoming them was the person who shepherded the Junction project to its completion.
“The Junction is a result of the imagination, hard work and persistence of many people. We started down this path pre-COVID, and here we stand more than five years later, in deep gratitude,” said Sheryl Waddell, the Innovate Carolina director of economic development and innovation hubs.
The Junction will “bring our entire network of innovators and entrepreneurs together to solve problems, providing important connections between campus and the community,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Today we are opening our new innovation home.”
The Junction is a key part of Carolina’s larger economic development strategy to amplify the University’s impact by translating research, creating jobs and serving the public, he said.
“It’s clear that commercialization and innovation initiatives at UNC are having the effect that we want to see happen at our universities,” said Jordan Whichard, chief deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “The Junction is here to help catalyze more companies, more jobs and more economic growth.”
New partnership, new VC
Two of the Junction’s earliest tenants also spoke. J.B. Buxton, president of Durham Technical Community College, announced a partnership agreement with Carolina and the opening of a Junction office where Durham Tech staff will focus on workforce development initiatives. An apprentice program will build on an established UNC Research internship program that offers Durham Tech students experience as clinical trials research associates.
Dedric Carter of Washington University in St. Louis also attended the dedication. Named Carolina’s vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development and chief innovation officer in June, he will move into his new office Oct. 30.
Carter looked beyond the Junction’s physical space to its opportunities for programming, like this fall’s Spotlight Signature Series on the future of work, and of services to help researchers impact “real lives and real people.”
“Through our partnerships we can find creative solutions that increase the speed of impact on the human condition — from patents to patients, from laboratories to life,” Carter said.
More to come
Mayor Pam Hemminger outlined more changes coming in the next two years:
- A life science center next door (150 E. Rosemary St.) with 238,000 square feet of wet lab facilities and offices for scientific and biotech companies.
- A life science lab building on West Franklin Street.
- A 1,100-space parking deck across Rosemary Street, with a retail porch.
- Adjacent urban park and green spaces.
- A hotel and conference center at East Rosemary and Columbia streets.
The Junction will host an open house for the community Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Register online for a free bagel, coffee and a guided tour.