Here’s What Happened in 2023: Biggest Innovation Quarter Stories

7 minute read

2023 is shaping up to be a milestone year for the Innovation Quarter with significant strides in infrastructure, economic development, and community engagement.

Here’s a look at the key developments that have marked this year as a period of remarkable growth for the innovation hub.

‘The Pearl’ Breaks Ground in Charlotte

The groundbreaking ceremony for The Pearl, in Charlotte.

Just after the New Year, construction broke ground for the iQ’s “sister” innovation district in Charlotte: The Pearl. Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Charlotte campus will anchor the new district, in addition to being home to IRCAD North America. Advocate Health CEO Gene Woods was on hand to mark the occasion.

“When we conceived the idea of The Pearl, we had a few things in mind; a city within a city where entrepreneurs, scientists, students, academicians and clinicians can come together and figure out how to invent a new future together. A place where excellence lives,” Woods said. “Equally as important, we wanted to create a place where the entire community felt they were co-creators of the mission.”

As The Pearl in Charlotte continues to come to fruition, ripple effects in Winston-Salem will be seen through the expansion of education and research efforts within the Wake Forest University School of Medicine as well as new industry partnerships that will strengthen both districts.

New Ecosystem Leadership

Isaac Perry, head of life sciences and biotech ecosystem development for iQ
Isaac Perry is Innovation Quarter’s new head of life sciences and ecosystem development

In January, Winston-Salem got a new boost in the arm for promoting the life sciences. With Isaac Perry at the helm as the Head of Biotech and Life Science Ecosystem Development, a dual role he holds with both iQ and Greater Winston-Salem, Inc., the Twin City is set to continue its trajectory as a central node for biotech innovation. Perry’s task is twofold: to cement Winston-Salem’s position in the biotech industry and to oversee the expansion of life sciences within the innovation district itself.

As a testament to his leadership and impact, late in 2023 Perry was named one of the Triad Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Honorees.

Innovation Quarter’s Economic Impact

In May, the Winston-Salem Journal reported on new economic impact numbers coming out of what is the largest historic redevelopment project in the history of the state of North Carolina. A report from TEConomy Partners quantified the iQ’s annual impact at a staggering $1.66 billion, highlighting its vital role in the local and regional economies. This impact is a testament to the Quarter’s success in not only housing a vibrant community but also in catalyzing a broader economic ripple effect across Winston-Salem and beyond.

“This snapshot of our impact as a district of how far we have come gives us momentum to continue building the kinds of partnerships and creating more positive growth in the years to come,” said Lindsey Schwab, director of community relations for iQ.

Greater Winston-Salem, Inc.’s Strategic Move

What better combo than the region’s most effective economic development organization combined with one of the world’s leading innovation districts? That was the idea behind Greater Winston-Salem Inc. announcing earlier this year their new location here in the Innovation Quarter.

One aspect of the relocation will include the development of a workforce hub developed collaboratively with Forsyth Tech Community College, Goodwill Industries of Northwest NC, Forsyth County, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and other partners. The hub will provide equitable career pathways in a variety of industries with the aim of upskilling the workforce and creating a pipeline for in-demand roles. 

Regenerative Medicine Makes Bold Strides

There practically wasn’t a month that went by this year without some big announcement or piece of news coming out about regenerative medicine in Winston-Salem. In March, science from the Innovation Quarter literally went to space as research from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) was part of an Axiom Space Mission.

N.C. Governor Roy Cooper speaks during the World Stem Cell Summit.

Then in June, Governor Roy Cooper was on hand to celebrate the World Stem Cell Summit descending on Winston-Salem as the Innovation Quarter hosted the event that draws hundreds of researchers from around the world.

“The very fact that the World Stem Cell Summit is here in Winston-Salem, is a testament to our state’s and this region’s commitment to the life sciences, and making the world healthier,” said Gov. Cooper.

Between these newsworthy happenings and additional companies like Oracle Health, RTT Medical and more joining the RegenMed Hub, 2023 was the year of regenerative medicine.

Honoring Graydon Pleasants’ Legacy

Graydon Pleasants walks near Bailey Power Plant pre-development

After over two decades of shaping the Innovation Quarter, Graydon Pleasants announced his retirement in 2023. His tenure saw the assembly of crucial land for development, the establishment of vital infrastructure, and the creation of spaces that foster innovation. Pleasants’ work has been instrumental in transforming the Innovation Quarter into a global model for urban revitalization and innovation districts.

“Simply put, without Graydon and his efforts, connections, skills and foresight, Innovation Quarter wouldn’t have happened. At least not at this scale,” says Terry Hales, Executive Vice Chief Academic Officer, Administration, for Advocate Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “His positive impact on downtown Winston-Salem is immeasurable. He has been not just a part of, but has played a pivotal role in every major turning point the Innovation Quarter has had since the year 2000. 

Pleasants sat down with Fox 8 News to talk about his experience being part of one of the largest redevelopment projects in North Carolina history.

Eye Center Location Chosen

In September, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist officials announced the location of the much-anticipated Eye Institute, to be located in 635 Vine, the former Inmar headquarters.

The majority of the building will be dedicated to patient care with additional space designed for research and medical education. The location provides convenient parking with easy access for patients.

“With its combination of innovation, research and education, the new Eye Institute is a perfect fit for the Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem,” said Terry Hales, who leads all innovation district activity in his capacity as executive vice chief academic officer of administration and chief operating officer of the health sciences system for Advocate Health. “This announcement continues the great momentum we have seen in new activity here over the last year and we look forward to seeing the collaborations that will arise in the space of eye health as a result of this important addition to our innovation district.”

Renovations to the building are expected to begin in 2024. 

iQ Phase II Infrastructure Work Kicks Off

The new phase of development sits on either side of Research Parkway, bounded by East Third Street, U.S. Highway 52 and Salem Parkway.
The new phase of development sits on either side of Research Parkway, bounded by East Third Street, U.S. Highway 52 and Salem Parkway.

Just a few weeks ago, iQ officials announced the official kickoff for infrastructure construction for the district’s upcoming second phase. This stage of construction entails the laying down of physical and technological foundations necessary for the district’s future expansion, which will include new clinical, lab, and office spaces. These improvements are not just physical enhancements but also represent the growing potential of the Innovation Quarter to attract and support new businesses and industries.

The Innovation Quarter was awarded $8.9 million towards infrastructure development under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022. The grant agreements are executed between the Innovation Quarter and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“This first and vital step in the development of the next phase of Innovation Quarter is another signal of the growth and vibrancy happening here,” said Jason Kaplan, who leads planning, design and operations for Innovation Quarter. “The improvements we are beginning today will lay the foundation for a whole new era of excitement for downtown Winston-Salem.”