A strong innovation ecosystem requires a vibrant start-up community. In a city dedicated to “arts and innovation” and founded on entrepreneurs like the early Moravian settlers, R.J. Reynolds and the Hanes brothers, it is only fitting to carry on the city’s entrepreneurial legacy through a start-up community focused on these complementary segments of Winston-Salem.
This summer marked the start of two new start-up accelerators rooted in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter: New Ventures Challenge Accelerator hosted by Flywheel and the Creative Startups Accelerator, hosted by the Center for Creative Economy. Both accelerators focus on spurring innovation and business creation in the Southeast region of the United States by selecting promising young companies to complete multi-week programming focused on growing their business.
This September, each accelerator will host a Demo Day where some of the most innovative start-ups from the region will put their products on display for investors and compete for additional start-up capital.
And you’re invited! Community members can get a sneak-peak at the next “big things” from both creative and tech start-up companies.
New Ventures Challenge Accelerator
The New Ventures Challenge Accelerator is a five-year inception-stage investment fund that accelerates tech start-ups. The accelerator, backed by the New Ventures Investment Club, aims to launch five to eight start-ups each year.
“The local, active wealth creators of the New Ventures Investment Club are investing in their own community,” says Peter Marsh, president of Flywheel and co-founder and investor of New Ventures.
In its first year, the accelerator fielded more than 200 applications and accepted a cohort of four start-ups into the accelerator. These companies will receive an average of $50,000 dollars—in return for an equity share—to move their businesses from idea-stage to stable revenue.
To have a vibrant ecosystem, you have to create idea flow through a structural developmental process and then on the other end you have to have investment capital.Peter Marsh
The four finalists are participating in a 12-week accelerator program to move them from inception to profitable business using lean start-up methodology. Each company sets milestones that are specific to their business and adaptable based on the research they conduct during those 12 weeks.
“What sets this apart from other accelerators is that it is an immersion program,” says Joel Bennett, program director for the New Ventures Challenge Accelerator. “For 12 weeks, the start-up founders can turn all their attention to their burgeoning businesses.”
During the program, companies have access to mentors with start-up experience, as well as input from their local investors.
“The big win at the end of the accelerator is for these companies to receive more investment capital, as they create value for the company, investors and community,” says Bennett.
An opportunity for that big win will take place on September 9, as Flywheel hosts their Demo Day in the Innovation Quarter, a public “coming out party” for the companies. The four finalists will give 15-minutes presentations to a host of investors and the community, followed by a structured Q&A and networking celebration.
“To have a vibrant ecosystem, you have to create idea flow through a structural developmental process and then on the other end you have to have investment capital,” says Marsh. “And Demo Day is when it all comes together.”
The four companies participating in the New Ventures Challenge Accelerator are:
- Catalant, Piedmont Triad, offers a performance management software that engages employees in their own productivity and gives employers interactive tools for tracking and encouraging transparency and efficiency.
- Scout IoT, Piedmont Triad, designs wireless sensors for commercial building control and manufacturing plants that are used for condition monitoring and alerts.
- Petrics, Wilmington, North Carolina, helps pet owners care for their pets by creating health tracking products that improve quality of life.
- Leading Role Studios, Piedmont Triad, develops fully-realized dimensional environment content for virtual reality systems that make users the heroes of their own stories.
Center for Creative Economy Creative Startups Accelerator
The Center for Creative Economy, headquartered at Flywheel, hosts its first accelerator this summer in partnership with Creative Startups, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The accelerator has a customized curriculum to encourage the launch of start-ups in the creative industries. Over the next three years, the accelerator will focus on creative companies in Southeastern United States.
“Most creative businesses have never had the opportunity to participate in an accelerator targeted at their growth and their needs,” says Margaret Collins, director of the Center for Creative Economy.
We are building a cast of creative start-ups that will get to know each other, will grow and develop together, and then they’ll mentor the next cohort.Margaret Collins
The Center for Creative Economy accepted ten creative companies into the Creative Startups Accelerator this year, including six from North Carolina—four of them are located in the Piedmont Triad. These start-ups will compete for $50,000 in investment funding, split between the top three finalists and structured as a long-term loan.
The creative start-ups participate in a six-week online course with 12 modules facilitated by guest faculty and smaller discussion groups with other start-ups. The companies also have access to an “expert bench,” a group of financial, legal, strategic messaging and marketing experts who provide advice and support during the entire journey.
In September, all the companies will meet at Flywheel for a four-day “Deep Dive,” where they receive intense training sessions and one-on-one mentorships from business experts matched to each company. This mentorship gives start-up founders the chance to work through the issues unique to their creative enterprises.
The Center for Creative Economy will host its own Demo Day on September 28 at Wake Forest Biotech Place, which is open to the community. The ten creative start-ups will give pitches on their products and have tables set-up to talk with attendants and receive feedback from the community. The day will wrap up with a concert in Bailey Park featuring the jazz band from UNC School of the Arts.
The next day, the companies will participate in a closed pitch session with angel and venture capital funding leaders before the accelerator winners are announced on September 30. Over the next year, each of the start-ups will continue to receive support from mentors and experts from the accelerator.
“We are building a cast of creative start-ups that will get to know each other, will grow and develop together, and then they’ll mentor the next cohort,” says Collins. “They are building a lot of expertise that they can share.”
The creative start-ups participating in the Center for Creative Economy Creative Startups Accelerator are:
- Alan Henderson Studio, Winston-Salem, is reinventing ideas behind printed stationery by creating hand-crafted stationery with letterpress printing. Henderson is a modern stationer, pressman and designer. He uses typography to say things beautifully and to build excitement for events, to brand businesses and to market products.
- Bodhe, Kernersville, was founded by Greg Ellington, a military veteran and healthcare professional, to develop therapeutic medical apparel that makes a difference in people’s lives by creating solutions for the day-to-day issues they face after surgical implants.
- Supporting the creative community while giving back to animal rescue organizations, Devoted Human, Asheville, was developed by Meredith Bennett to offer handcrafted, artist- and craftsman-made goods for cats, dogs and the people who love them.
- When Carrie Shaw, Erin Washington, Ryan Lebar and Thomas Leahy created Embodied Labs, Chicago, they recognized and built a company around custom-immersive, interactive, health education curricula to help healthcare providers better care for and understand the perspective of vulnerable patient populations.
- Capitalizing on their love of Tennessee, I.D. Goods, Nashville, was founded by Alicia Waters Binkley and Drew Binkley to produce silkscreened prints and goods inspired by their home state.
- Muddy Creek Café and Music Hall, Winston-Salem, is a cafe and music venue with an emphasis on hearty food, great conversation and live music. Started by Shana Whitehead and Bill Heath, they have a strong community of musicians and music lovers who consider the Café to be the “Cheers” of music.
- Founded by Amanda Sabreah and David Paull as a tool to source creators for short-term projects, Partnr, Atlanta, links creative resources in everything from app development to film, digital design, music, photography, product design and more.
- Redress Raleigh, Raleigh, created by Beth Stewart, supports independent eco-conscious designers through an educational and mentorship program, fashion shows and events aimed at growing the market for responsibly-produced fashion.
- Inspired as a design studio interested in the exploration of industrial and traditional craftsmanship processes relative to artisan fashion development, Taller Nu hails from Mexico City, Mexico, and was created by Olga Olivares and Pilar Obeso.
- Karen Cuthrell created The Feeling Friends, Winston-Salem, to produce content to guide parents, caregivers, educators and clinicians to teach children how to identify, express and manage their feelings.
It’s no coincidence that both of these accelerators are located in Winston-Salem.
“In the past 12 months, I have seen significant changes in the ingredients needed to develop a vibrant start-up community,” says Marsh. “It’s still early days in Winston-Salem, but I am seeing positive momentum.”
The city of Winston-Salem possesses unique attributes that make it fertile ground for launching start-up businesses. According to Marsh, the city is home to an increasing number of experts in a wide range of technology sectors who are finding a home at the likes of Flywheel, Inmar and Public Health Sciences in the Innovation Quarter.
Marsh says, “When that kind of talent gets amassed, there’s an acceleration of company creation that occurs.”
Pair that technology talent with the concentration of creative professionals in Winston-Salem and you have a good recipe for start-up potential. Add in a community invested in improving the economy through business development, and you’re cooking.
The people of Winston-Salem are excited to see something that celebrates our arts and innovation heritage and leverages it to grow in positive new directions.Margaret Collins
The directors of both accelerators have felt a groundswell of support from the community for their projects.
“Local institutions as well as the city itself have been supportive of these endeavors because the community has a desire to develop its innovation economy,” says Collins. “The people of Winston-Salem are excited to see something that celebrates our arts and innovation heritage and leverages it to grow in positive new directions.”
When it comes to building a vibrant start-up community, it takes a city to create the right kind of innovation economy—a challenge that Winston-Salem embraces. The community support for the start-up accelerators housed in the Innovation Quarter are setting the building blocks for start-ups to thrive. Come join that community at the upcoming Demo Days!