Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of


DURHAM, N.C. – Entrepreneurs, inventors and researchers wanting to capitalize on the new business startup program announced Monday by the Blackstone Group, take your time and polish up your business plans.

The Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network won’t be getting off the ground any time soon.

With a great deal of pomp, circumstance, political speeches, free food and luscious cupcakes adorned with a tasty chocolate “B,” the world’s largest private equity fund with $150 billion under management said its charitable foundation would fund the network with $3.6 million over five years. The program has set a goal of mentoring 30 startups a year over five years, and the Triangle’s four major universities will be involved as will the Council for Entrepreneurial development.

However, a lot of spade work still needs to be done before any startups are selected, begin receiving advice from what Blackstone is calling “master entrepreneurs” and champagne corks are popped to celebrate any venture funding. (Read more about the program here.)

First, the partnership must find an executive director, according to Joan Siefert Rose, president of the CED. The national search will last through June or so. Then an additional staff of two people must be hired, Rose said.

The Entrepreneurs Network does have a home – the staff will be based at the CED’s office in The American Underground at the American Tobacco Historic District.

The universities also have to settle on who will be their point people in the effort. But the most powerful players are already in place – UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, N.C. State and N.C. Central’s chancellors are already on board. Their support and commitment is a major reason why Blackstone picked the Triangle for its first such “Network,” according to executives interviewed about the project.

Then the “master entrepreneurs” will have to be found. Just how many will volunteer remains to be seen, and as Fred Hutchison, a veteran Triangle venture capital attorney, noted: “We already do a lot of mentoring.”

One sure selection should be Geomagic’s Ping Fu, a successful entrepreneur who is a big backer of President Obama’s Startup America program. She said she would help Blackstone if she is asked.

Of course the most important step to be taken in determining the long-term success of the program is selecting the participants.

According to Rose and Blackstone, entrepreneurs from both inside and outside the universities will be considered.

“We will be looking for the best applications,” Rose said.

One key point: This program is not about technology transfer from universities to the private sector for commercialization. That tightly wound Gordian knot will be left to others.

“This project is all about company formation and job creation,” Rose said.

The program has set very lofty goals – 150 companies over five years that draw $800 million in venture capital and create more than 17,000 jobs.

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.