Editor’s note: Adam Shay is owner of Adam Shay CPA, PLLC, a CPA firm that focuses on working with entrepreneurs by utilizing technology, a fixed price approach, and custom options to partner with their clients. In addition, he is an entrepreneur in residence with Seahawk Innovation.

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Five of the larger employers in the Wilmington area agreed to reveal some of their challenges in hopes of connecting with some of the entrepreneurs in the room at UNC Wilmington’s Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurships (CIE) “Pains that Keep Us Up at Night” event.

State Treasurer of North Carolina Janet Cowell delivered the welcoming remarks and cited entrepreneurship as the “gift that keeps on giving.” She also commented on the energy, talent, and inspiration in the room and during her visit to Wilmington. In addition to speaking at this event, she took a tour of the UNCW CIE, Live Oak Bank, tek Mountain, and the NextGlass lab at MARBIONC.

Jim Roberts, executive director of the UNCW CIE, mentioned that a handful of people meet with him daily with a solution looking for a problem. Instead, in Roberts’ mind entrepreneurs should identify a problem and then come up with an innovative solution.

Some of the other takeaways from the event were that large and small companies don’t live in their own worlds, to remember that most of the larger organizations started as small entrepreneurial companies and that many of those larger company executives still pull for the little guys.

It must have been tough for the executives to stand in front of a room with over 170 people in attendance and admit that they needed external help with their pain points. However, GE Hitachi, PPD, Castle Branch, the NC Military Business Center, and UNCW were all willing to do so.

Some of the presenters gave suggestions on possible ways to solve their problems while others decided not to influence the audience and to leave it completely open ended.

  • The Castle Branch View

Joe Finley, president of Castle Branch, a company that uses innovative technologies to attract and retain clients in the screening services for businesses and universities, started the session with mostly technology related challenges. They were looking for a quick way to integrate the various client company HR software with their Castle Branch solutions, to have a rapid web portal solution for university clients, to provide universities with a third party graduate employment verification systems, to provide a tool for students to transition to careers, and for a tool to help connect students and mentors. Finley also talked about the launch of Castle Branch’s tek Mountain- a community driven, incubator/accelerator for both Castle Branch employees and external technology entrepreneurs.

  • The PPD View

Paul Colvin, Executive Vice President with PPD, a leading contract drug research organization, started out by highlighting that they have 13,000 employees in 84 global offices. Most of their challenges appear to be people related. They are looking for the special sauce to help them win the talent competition, managing information overload in the multi-tasking world, navigating the global environment, finding and developing talent with good writing skills, and finding ways to operate more quickly so that drugs can be delivered to market faster and cheaper.

  • The NC Military Business Center View

Mickey Finn, a consultant with the NC Military Business Center, charged with leveraging military and federal business for NC economic development and quality of life, gave a presentation of five solutions that the Marine Corps needs. They included energy storage solutions (lithium batteries cannot be used as they explode when they come in contact with salt water), tactical solar solutions, energy efficient auxiliary power units, waste to energy conversion, and portable water systems.

  • The UNCW View

Charlie Maimone, Vice Chancellor of Business affairs at UNCW, highlighted that most people do not realize how big UNCW is and that it operates like a small city. They have a $300 million budget and spend $16 million a year on outside goods and services. UNCW defines its success by student success, funding, and regional economic development success. As a result, its headaches focused on employee recruitment and retention, IT and data analytics, fostering private sector collaborating, and managing all its compliance reporting regulations.

  • The GE Hitachi View

Mark Varno, Vice President with GE Hitachi, wrapped up the session by highlighting some of their needs. He did also start with some legal disclaimer and groundwork with which GE Hitachi operates with crowd sourced ideas. GE Hitachi’s three needs were with economically replacing/reusing obsolete parts, new ways to manufacture faster and at less cost, and new ways to leverage big data.
At the end of the meeting, the UNCW CIE provided a box for those in the room to suggest their ideas and solutions for each company. Hopefully, some good matches will be made and opportunities pursued. One thing is for sure—the entrepreneurial momentum that we have seen in the Wilmington area in the last 12 months continues with its forward movement.