RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — The countdown to Western North Carolina’s first venture capital conference is at one week and counting. It’s fair to say that Jim Roberts and the folks involved with putting on “Carolina Connect” are one excited group.

“Yes, the event has exceeded expectations,” Roberts, the director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council, tells Local Tech Wire. The event is “sold out” with more than 250 people paid $100 each and registered to attend. Throw in sponsors and speakers and the event at the Grove Park Inn and Resort will draw more than 300.

Roberts cites “many factors” for the turnout. “The partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission, the multiple entrepreneur councils and technology councils who promoted the event to their members, the great speaker lineup, the registered potential investors capital near $1 billion and hosting the event at a top 10 resort like the Grove Park Inn and Resort certainly helps,” he says.
Adding to the mix, the Appalachian Regional Commission has its annual meeting on Wednesday titled “Building Entrepreneurial Communities.”

Roberts recruited a number of high-profile speakers for the venture event, which also takes place on the one-year anniversary of the founding of the BREC. He says the mountains open a new area for investors and entrepreneurs.

“Yes, the southeastern region is curious about western North Carolina,” he explains. “BREC has raised the business profile of the region within the last year for entrepreneurs and investors.”

And the curiosity is based on merit, he adds.

“There is a lot more talent here in WNC than most people realize,” Roberts explains. “According to Richard Florida’s Innovation Index, the Asheville region has more patents per person than Charlotte and Greensboro.

“Very talented people are choosing this area to escape the sprawl of more urban areas. Talented
and experienced people from California, Boston and Princeton, NJ just to name a few.

“Most people are not aware of the additional business infrastructure such as the additional Rural Internet Access Authority broadband capabilities, the new MetaPop (equal to Charlotte’s), the Regional High Performance Network Computer, the BREC and BRAIN (Blue Ridge Angels Investor Network) connections, the service provider talent, the amount of life sciences companies and biomanufacturing and much more.”

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory also is involved in the event.

“Oak Ridge National Labs reached out to us after hearing the success BREC and BRAIN had with raising money for Navigational Sciences, which is technology licensed from Oak Ridge,” Roberts adds. Navigational Sciences is one of the first funding success stories for the mountain entrepreneurs’ network.

“A local investment banking firm, Nanotech Capital in Tryon has a great relationship with Oak Ridge,” Roberts adds. “And some Tennessee service providers have been attending the BREC meetings.”

Richard Moore, state treasurer for North Carolina, is one of the top speakers for the venture conference. Other speakers and panelists include:

  • Don deBethizy, chief executive officer of Targacept
  • Dr. Terry Payne, manager of economic development for Oak Ridge National Labs
  • Brian Bailey, Carousel Capital
  • Steve Nelson on Wakefield Group
  • Doug Ellis of DecisionPoint International, who is a native of Asheville

Navigational Sciences is one of three companies selected to present at the event. Others include Chemtronix of Waynesville and BuildeRADIUS of Asheville.
Chemtronix has developed a process for removing silver from photo and image development. BuildeRADIUS is focused on wireless applications for the construction industry. Navigational Sciences is working on marine navigational data applications.

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Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.