Wilmington’s startup scene isn’t ‘up and coming’ – it’s here, and it’s number one

Wilmington – The (New) Wilmington Entrepreneur Network celebrated its seventh anniversary with an event that sold out on Tuesday. Just hours before the event, Port City received a timely celebratory gift: a ranking on StartupBlink’s list of the Best Global Ecosystems for Startups.

Wilmington is ranked second among all cities worldwide, with a population of between 100,000 and 300,000.

Number 1 on the list was Cambridge, UK –Making Wilmington the number one ecosystem for startups of its size in North America.

Thom Ruhe, president and CEO of NC IDEA, was among nearly a hundred people who attended to celebrate the all-sold-out anniversary on Tuesday.

“The whole country should be excited about what’s happening in Wilmington,” Roh said. “Wilmington has become another vital ecosystem, among few others in the state, that collectively elevate North Carolina’s standing as the best state in the country to start and grow high-impact businesses.”

The report ranked Triangle 16th as the hub for startups in the US; Wilmington is number 2 among cities of similar size worldwide

Not just propaganda

NEW was one of 15 influential regional partners to be awarded an ECOSYSTEM Scholarship from NC IDEA in 2021. NC IDEA has also supported NEW with its ENGAGE Scholarship Program.

David Reeser, CEO and co-founder of start-up Wilmington Avi Aidhe also attended Tuesday’s celebration for NEW.

“There is a lot of hype in different cities saying they have a start-up ecosystem,” Reiser said. “But in Wilmington, we have the unicorn that started here. We have a number of really promising companies that are getting validation from the National Institute of Health, and from the banking industry, and they have proven that they have the chips.”

Sellout fans celebrate Wilmington’s rise as an entrepreneurial hub with a new event. (Photo courtesy of Jim Roberts)

opiAID was in the sixth group of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP). Tom Snyder, CEO of RIoT, was also present at Tuesday’s event. Snyder commented on Wilmington’s status as an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“There is real evidence here,” Snyder said. “There were proof points here before there was support, and now there is support on top of that. It is reaching an inflection point.”

The Triangle Investors Community of Wilmington

Two members of Triangle’s investor community spoke at a celebratory event for NEW:

  • Lee Prevost, co-founder of School Dude, and executive director of strategy for the organization where Dude Solutions became. The company was acquired in 2019 by Clearlake Capital and recently changed its name to Brightly Software. Prevost is also an investor and advisor at Cofounders Capital and an investor in Bull City Venture Partners.
  • Abby Phillips: Assistant Director of Member Services at Wolfpack Investor Network. Phillips is also a co-owner of Triangle Pet Stop, an underground pet fence company founded in 2006.

Both speakers are related to Wilmington. Prevost’s son, Smith Prevost, has The butcher’s market opened on Oleander Street.

“This is the second time I’ve been in Neo,” Prevost told me from the stage. “It reminds me a lot of… our counterpart in the triangle, CED. This is the equivalent of NEW.”

He noted the “palpable excitement” about the recent ratings and compared that to the early days of CED.

“It reminds me a lot of, sort of, the energy you have here right now,” Prevost said.

Phillips completed her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She said the Triangle investor network is “very collective,” and she’s happy to see Wilmington “grow in the same way.”

“Hopefully we can communicate more, because, at least for the Wolfpack Investor Network, we know that two of our main markets for investors and businesses are Wilmington and Charlotte, so we’re doing our best to connect more of those in both regions,” Phillips said of the platform.

Wilmington continues to evolve (rapidly) as an entrepreneurial hub — here’s an update

Supporting the Wilmington Startup ecosystem

Reser mentioned the United Nations University of Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) as a “active” partner in the ecosystem.

“There has been a lot of support, funding, communications and mentorship — CIE has been fantastic for us,” Reiser said. “UNCW has wrapped their arms around us as well. We have teamed up with their researchers who have helped us apply for federal funding because we have the best talent from UNCW on our advising team.”

WRAL TechWire contributor Sarah Glova leads a discussion at the new event in Wilmington on May 31. (Image via Jim Roberts)

He also referred to Jim Roberts, founder of NEW and Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE). Roberts was also the founding executive director of the UNCW CIE, launching the program in 2013.

“Jim is willing to rip his neck off, and a lot of people wouldn’t,” Reiser said. “And that’s why I think what he created here is unique, and it has provided an opportunity for companies like opiAID and others, to stand up to the right people to take you to the next step, or to identify an obstacle, a blind spot, or put a little bit of gas in the tank, so you can move forward. A little bit, until you get that place where you can rest and set up shop.”

Carson Jackson, a sophomore at UNCW who is also the founder of a startup, said NEW should take credit for “pioneering this growing support in Wilmington.” His startup, a company called ☆ NA (pronounced “Star-NA”), formerly known as MacroFormulation, took part in this year’s NC BIONEER Venture Challenge. Jackson said he has benefited from supporters like Roberts.

“I am so grateful for all the efforts he is making for startups like ours,” Jackson said. “I’ve had to travel to RTP for most of the project-related events, however, some of which started in Wilmington.”