Jim Roberts has new plans for entrepreneurship and startups in the Wilmington area even though his tenure as head of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNC-Wilmington ended in March.

What’s he up to other than putting on two events designed to drum up investor interest?

“I am working to attract a real estate partner for a private accelerator facility and I need to stay relevant to the local startup community,” Roberts tells WTW.

“There are still some missing pieces here and this facility would allow me to fill those gaps.”

Part of remaining “relevant” is organizing and securing some pretty big names in the startup community to journey to Wilmington for networking events. The one scheduled this week, which includes Chris Heivly of The Startup Factory in Durham, already has drawn 123 reservations with only a few tickets left.

His first event secured N.C. State Treasurer Janet Cowell and drew close to 100 people.

For well over a decade, Roberts has been a wiz at organizing and putting on successful events from Charlotte to Durham and then in Wilmington. (He’s also been a regular blogger for WTW over the years.)

So why has he chosen to remain in Wilmington?

“Because if we can get a few of these startups to an exit event like $75 m [million] acquisition or better, then why wouldn’t every startup want to be at the beach instead of stuck in traffic?”

“Silicon Beach” is a term bandied about for Wilmington, and as time goes on it makes more and more sense.

Look at the stunning growth of Next Glass and banking technology-focused nCino.

Both clearly could be headed for significant exits at some point – or big rounds of funding for growth should the owners choose those routes.

Roberts also wants to see the spade work he has done in Wilmington deliver a real harvest.

“I have done so much work in North Carolina but I have moved on before the results were achieved,” he says. “And that is frustrating.”

Roberts, who received one of WRAL TechWire’s “Editor’s Choice” awards in April in recognition for his contributions to startups across the state, says he thinks he can help Wilmington’s startup community to grow even though he’s no longer at UNCW. (Roberts won’t discuss what happened.)

He sees three strengths he can bring to what he describes as “economic gardening:”

  • “Seeds – believing in the early stage ideas in a conservative market and bringing my contacts and experience to help the local startups.
  • “Soil – fertile environment and startup community.
  • “Water – capital.”

“I am not trying to be critical of the local Angels when I say they did not invest in the three local startups, but we need to continue to work with local startups so they are more prepared and attractive to the local angel network,” Roberts adds.

Three local startups recently have raised nearly $5 million in funding, and Roberts says that success points to the talent Wilmington has.

Roberts also points to the exposure the region received last September at the “Coastal Connect” conference, which drew more than 300 people.

“The goal was to bring in people who could “witness the four most promising startups we can find. All have had some level of success.

“Everyone knows about NextGlass

“EasyVote Solutions will make a big announcement soon

“Lapetus Solutions just announced funding and hiring

“MimiJumi – Just won the Coastal Entrepreneur Awards and have been selling baby bottle products at events.”

Roberts’ next step is Wednesday’s event with Heivly and at least two startups participating: NextGlass, EasyVote and Xii Mobile.

For event details, see:


If you are looking for an excuse to head to “Silicon Beach,” sign up.