With its teams topping $7 million in venture capital raised last year, as well as $7 million in combined revenues and a collective workforce of more than 1,000 people, Launch Chapel Hill is starting to celebrate success.

At an event to introduce the seventh cohort of startups in its accelerator program—its largest to date—Launch director Dina Rousset revealed those stats as well as plans to double Launch’s workspace this year.

Launch Chapel Hill staff, partners and Cohort 7
Photo Credit: Launch Chapel Hill

Construction begins in March to bring the total square footage to 7,000, helping to meet a demand identified nearly three years ago in a report commissioned by UNC Chapel Hill Provost James Dean on the town and campus’s “innovation spaces.”

The committee determined, “To have a dynamic, fully-functioning I&E (innovation and entrepreneurship) ecosystem, UNC Chapel Hill needs a series of spaces, woven together to form an integrated whole.”

At the time of the study, the committee found the existing number of available “innovation spaces” on campus and in town “not sufficient to meet the current and future needs.”

With Launch Chapel Hill’s expansion, university, town and county partners are executing on the vision set forth in the 2014 report. Meanwhile, a few other spaces have opened or expanded since the report was released.

Here’s a rundown of some of the key organizations supporting entrepreneurs on and off-campus in Chapel Hill.

Launch Chapel Hill
Established: 2012
Key Contacts: Dina Rousset and Stefano Rivera
Location: 321 West Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill (off-campus)

What happens here: Launch Chapel Hill is an accelerator program for entrepreneurs of all types. Its 22-week program offered twice annually and provides early-stage startups and entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and network to bring their products to market, scale their companies or receive funding. Participants pay a small fee to participate in the program and have access to Launch Chapel Hill’s co-working or office space.

Major Milestones: Data is still rolling in from Launch Chapel Hill’s annual survey of current and alumni members, but the initial stats tell a compelling story. In 2016, 36 (of 63 total) current and alumni teams reported raising nearly $7.7 million in funding, created 252 jobs in Orange County, and employed 1,117 full-time and part-time employees across the US. Two Launch alums also exited in 2016 (or shortly after 2017 began as in Impulsonic’s case).

Impulsonic, the VR capable audio creation company was acquired by Valve Software for an undisclosed amount on January 12, 2017. And the app optimized for finding dining and and nightlife options for college students, UConnection, sold to AroundCampus Group in March 2016 for an undisclosed amount.

Launch Chapel Hill Director Dina Rousset, Cohort 7’s Nanovest Team, and Brooke DeMarco of the Richard J. Casey Foundation
Photo Credit: Launch Chapel Hill

What to expect in 2017: With its 7th cohort of 10 teams under way, Launch continues to expand its accelerator program to include more teams. The cohort contains both commercial and social ventures focused on a variety of industries, from innovating in healthcare education, to working towards social justice through food trucks, to a platform for a fantasy sports betting.

The physical expansion begins in March. When complete, the building will have more office space for Launch graduates to set up shop after the program.

Launch also received a $10,000 scholarship from the Richard J. Casey Foundation to support two student entrepreneurs in the accelerator program this year. Rousset hopes the relationship will continue past 2017.

On why the foundation chose to support the accelerator, program manager Brooke DeMarco told me, “The foundation’s role is to promote entrepreneurship and help inspire and teach young entrepreneurs in the community, Launch shares similar values and we couldn’t be happier to work with them.”


BeAM (Be A Maker)
Founded: 2015
Key Contacts: Charlie Cummings
Location: Various buildings on campus–Murray Hall, Hanes Art Center, Kenan Science Library

What happens here: A network of spaces and programming located across campus where students, faculty and staff can use the university-provided high-tech tools to tinker, innovate and create. The network also hosts workshops to learn how to use “maker” technologies like laser cutters or 3D printers. And faculty can book the spaces to host classes, incorporating the technologies into their lessons. Tools and amenities vary from space to space. For instance the makerspace at Kenan Science Library has 3D Scanners, a tool not found at the other two spaces.

Major Milestones: The 3,500 sq/ft makerspace in Murray Hall opened in November, 2016 and became the network’s central hub. Also in the fall of 2016, BeAM launched a “Maker-in-Residence” program, bringing experts to the spaces to lead a series of workshops and projects with students.


Innovate UNC (spearheaded by the Vice Chancellor’s Office of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development)
Founded: elevated to Vice Chancellor’s Office in 2015
Key Contacts: Judith Cone
Location: The Vice Chancellor’s Office of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (on-campus)

What they do: Innovate Carolina acts as the central coordinating hub of all things innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC. This team streamlines and coordinates collaborations and efforts across departments focused on increasing entrepreneurship and innovation throughout and around UNC. Cone and other staff members were key contributors to the 2014 innovation spaces report as well as the “Strategic Roadmap to Accelerate Innovation at UNC-Chapel Hill” that was submitted to then-Chancellor Holden Thorp in 2010.

Major Milestones: The elevation of the office to a Vice Chancellor level in 2015 signaled the importance Chancellor Carol Folt places on entrepreneurship and innovation. It also provides central leadership and guidance to coordinate and advance entrepreneurship initiatives at UNC.


Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
Key Contact: Ted Zoller
Location: Kenan-Flagler Business School (on campus)
What happens here: The Center houses a number of different programs and initiatives aimed at equipping the next generation of entrepreneurs with the skills needed to succeed. Some of its programs, initiatives and projects include Launching the Venture, a series of courses offered throughout each school-year designed to help UNC students, faculty or staff launch a venture; the Adams Apprenticeship, which matches students with entrepreneurial alumni both in school and beyond; and the Kenan-Flagler Private Equity Fund, a $4.4 million fund run by business students. The Center also runs the Carolina Challenge, the annual campus-wide startup competition that awards $50K each year.


Reese News Lab
Founded: 2010
Key Contacts: Ryan Thornburg
Location: UNC School of Media and Journalism (on-campus)
What happens here: Students join the Reese News Lab either through an internship or a class offered each fall. Once they join, they embark on a semester-long project with other students to take an idea through the ideation process. The lab itself is open to all Reese students and a new VR lab is also available for students to test and design content for VR technologies and equipment.

UNC-MJ Students in the new VR lab on both the Vive and Oculus
Photo Credit: Steven King of UNC-MJ School

Major Milestones: In 2015, the UNC-MJ school established the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media with a major grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It was obtained in part because of the success the Reese News Lab had achieved. The Lab is also under new leadership as of January 2017 when Associate Professor Ryan Thornburg took the reins from interim Director, Assistant Professor Steven King.

What to expect in 2017: More alignment between the Reese News Lab and the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. This semester’s Reese students are laser-focused on designing solutions for media organizations in local communities and are already working in Chatham County.


1789 Venture Lab
Founded: 2013
Location: Franklin Street (off-campus)

What happens here: 1789 is a space for UNC students and graduates to work or participate in workshops and coaching as they dream about, launch or scale their startups. There are two main “tracks”— a Venture Track and Member Track—each designed to help the entrepreneur through the initial stages of launching their business. Alums include Nugget Comfort and Carpe Lotion, both of which have gone on to become members of American Underground in Durham.


Other spaces and groups not listed include the CUBE (located in the Campus Y’s Center for Social Justice and Social Innovation), the Entrepreneur’s Lounge located in the Computer Science Department and the Innovation Labs (in the Gillings School of Global Public Health), all of which are found on UNC’s campus and encourage students to engage in innovative and entrepreneurial projects and research.