Last Sunday, Jason Kilar stood in front of a crowd of thousands at Kenan Memorial Stadium and told the story of his entrepreneurial journey as the founding CEO of Hulu and now subscription video service Vessel. The class of 2015 listened intently as the commencement speaker shared tales of living out of his car and struggling to make it through each day as friends and family questioned his decisions. 

Kilar, who earned his undergraduate degree at UNC before attending Harvard Business School and starting Hulu, was the perfect speaker for a university that has dedicated tremendous resources to entrepreneurship and innovation over the last several years. 

The 2014-15 academic year was no different. Here are some highlights from the innovation and entrepreneurship community at Carolina this past year. 

Carolina Research Venture Fund 

In January, the Board of Trustees announced the Carolina Research Venture Fund, a pool that will provide financial resources for ventures utilizing university-owned intellectual property. 
The purpose of the fund is to provide much needed capital to ventures that have high potential but are too early-stage for most venture capitalists to consider funding. UNC is a top 10 research university and churns out useful research every year that too often is consigned to a shelf. Administrators hope this fund will bridge the gap and help university faculty turn their research into commercially-viable products. 
“They (the Board of Trustees) have really proven their commitment to translating ideas into impact for society,” said Judith Cone, UNC’s special assistant to the Chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship, when she announced the fund. “This fund is one piece of that multi-pronged commitment.” 

Measuring Economic Impact 

In a public university system where state funding is tight and donors (like Eshelman) prefer knowing over hoping their money is going to be used productively, it’s important to measure success. This past year, Cone and her team set out to collect that data and the results were impressive
The 150 active UNC-born startups employ 38,000 people in North Carolina and generate $7 billion in annual revenue. Those startups fall into three categories: companies for which the university owns the intellectual property, companies that received direct support from the university from programs like the business school, the minor in entrepreneurship, 1789 Venture Lab and Launch Chapel Hill, and companies founded by UNC graduates that did not necessarily receive direct support. 22 of those companies launched in 2013, the last year for which data was reported. Here’s a breakdown of technology transfer activity for the 2013-2014 and four subsequent school years.
Cone says it’s important that the university measures that success and is able to tell a story. 
“It’s been a great initiative to know who our startups are, know how to categorize them and what their contributions are to the economy and to innovation in general,” she said.
It’s summer time in Chapel Hill now. Most of the students are gone and Franklin Street and campus are sleepy and quiet during the sultry summer days. Behind the scenes, however, there are students, faculty and administrators in the entrepreneurship community working hard to ensure the ’15-’16 academic year is even better than the last.