Entrepreneurship is synonymous with the notion of “disruption,” a sort of badge rightfully earned when someone introduces new solutions to previously unmet needs. Politicians are increasingly trying to do the same—finding disruptive ways to serve major needs within their constituencies.

And presently in North Carolina, a group of innovators leading startup businesses and organizations believe they can extend their tactics to the public realm.

Their campaigns show a collective attitude toward promoting citizen involvement in legislative decision-making—appropriately similar to how businesses will encourage customers to provide feedback and suggestions about how to improve their products or services.

These candidates are setting objectives to bridge the divide between governmental powers and the citizenry they’re elected to serve, aiming to capture the electorate with new, innovative ways to tackle issues felt on a state and local level.

Note: Though a few of these candidates have held elected positions before, all are currently running for offices entirely new to them. No incumbents.

Pierce Freelon: Entrepreneur, musician & activist

Candidacy: Mayor of Durham
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Freelon’s campaign here.

With experience in music, beatmaking, activism and entrepreneurship and long-maintained ties to folks in each of those communities, Freelon is somewhat of a legend to the Triangle startup community, particularly in Durham where he was born and raised.

Throughout his career, Freelon has been active within multiple disciplines in North Carolina. He has been a professor at UNC Chapel Hill (his alma mater), in the university’s music department and its African, African American and Diaspora Studies department, and a lecturer in North Carolina Central University’s political science department. He’s a former board member for organizations such as North Carolina Arts Council and Kidznotes.

Freelon is also the founder and president of Blackademics, an online interviewing and discussion forum to bring the voices of young black people to the public conversations around topics in a the larger black community.

Both locally and nationally, Freelon is known for founding and hosting the Emmy-award winning PBS web series Beat Making Lab. He’s also the founder of Blackspace, a Durham-based digital makerspace for young creatives and innovators who want to launch STEAM projects. Freelon is the frontman of jazz hip-hop group The Beast.

As stated on his website, the objectives behind Freelon’s campaign are represented by the poem A Pledge to Rescue Our Youth by Maya Angelou. She notes the importance of good schools, public safety and employment opportunities for young people as they’re growing up.

Freelon’s campaign is run on the pledge that all Durham citizens should be receiving equal access to opportunity and resources. And the continued growth of the city requires new ways to develop spaces for all members of the community to have a voice.

At a Moogfest panel in May, Freelon cited the words of Durham African American Dance Ensemble Founder Chuck Davis, a legendary and well-remembered local visionary—“Peace, love and respect for everybody.”

Freelon said he wants to bring that mantra to the City of Durham if he’s elected, adding “that should be a mandate for anyone serving the community.”

Farad Ali: CEO & promoter of minority entrepreneurship

Candidacy: Mayor of Durham
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Ali’s campaign here.

Ali, who was raised in Durham, possesses a collective 25 years experience in the banking sector. And throughout his career to date, he has led several small business development and innovation initiatives for women and minority-owned businesses.

He’s the president and CEO of The Institute, an economic development agency that provides consulting services to organizations, policy makers and educational institutions to ensure the growth of diversity in business.

Ali is also CEO of the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Diversity Council, a membership organization that adheres to a similar mission by cultivating relationships between public and private sector entities and minority-owned businesses.

Running on the motto “One Durham,” Ali is committed to promoting unity throughout all aspects of the city’s future, from increasing access to public transportation and affordable housing to strengthening community-police relations to addressing the significant racial inequities that exist in Durham.

Steve Schewel: Serial founder & community leader

Candidacy: Mayor of Durham
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Schewel’s campaign here.

With a spot on Durham City Council since 2011, a 30-year run as the founder and publisher of IndyWeek, and experience teaching at Duke University and North Carolina Central University, Schewel is long-embedded in Durham’s cultural, political and educational communities. He’s also the co-founder, owner and producer of the popular Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh.

The issues he’s committed to in his campaign for Mayor of Durham reflect his role in pushing forward enthusiasm for the city’s growth.

Like many other Progressive candidates on this year’s campaign trail, Schewel is advocating for a grassroots, locally-charged effort to stand against many of the decisions being made in the GOP-led legislature, especially as they apply to policies affecting LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, the environment and Durham’s infrastructure needs.

Schewel’s run, and the policies he plans to implement if elected, is centered around a Durham-first and Durham-only objective. He has made a pledge to raise at least 75 percent of his campaign funds from folks living in Durham, and retrain from holding fundraisers or accepting contributions from PACs and developers outside of Durham County.

John Rooks Jr.: Community leader & organizer

Candidacy: Durham City Council
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7.
Follow Rooks’ campaign here.

Rooks is a 30-year resident of Durham running for City Council on a platform centered around citizen empowerment and leadership transparency. These objectives are captured in his campaign slogans #WeAreOneDurham and #TransparencyInVoting.

His campaign focuses heavily on partnering with the Durham Public School System and using the city’s resources to provide community engagement opportunities that specifically target younger people. As such, it’s fitting that he developed a mobile app for his supporters to follow his campaign.

Rooks is the founder of local advocacy group Love Over Hate NC, which provides services and events to help facilitate healthy discussions between community members and the surrounding government departments and law enforcement.

He’s also board member for R.E.A.L. Kids United, a membership organization that provides fun events and community service opportunities for local kids ages 7-13. In the past, Rooks has organized donation drives to serve clothing, school-related items and medical supplies to kids in Durham districts.

DeDreana Freeman: Nonprofit founder

Candidacy: Durham City Council, Ward 1 seat
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Freeman’s campaign here.

Freeman, who moved to Durham in 2007, has held a number of community leadership roles to serve areas throughout the city—from Durham City and County Planning Commissioner to coordinator/organizer for Organizing Against Racism (OAR)-Durham to Northeast Central Durham Leadership Council Chair to special assistant to the president of East Durham Children’s Initiative.

She’s also the president of Inter-Neighborhood Council of Durham and a co-founder of Durham Equitable Economic Partnerships (DEEP), a startup nonprofit that creates permanent affordable housing for minority communities.

Freeman plans to create policies of economic growth and stability for the city’s neighborhoods if she’s elected. Some of her proposed initiatives include developing land use policies that foster equitable development and environmental justice for Durham citizens, supporting transportation policies that ensure access to housing around populated hubs in the city, and engaging residents and stakeholders in implementing means to boost health and safety throughout local neighborhoods.

LeVon Barnes: Youth movement founder

Candidacy: Durham City Council, Ward 2 seat
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Barnes’ campaign here.

In 2005 while he was living in Washington D.C., Barnes founded an organization with a mission to empower young men to pursue leadership and community service roles in their communities. Young Male Achievers, described as both a club and a movement, is a sort of brotherhood in which new members are guided by mentors (men who’ve gone through the program before).

After establishing the organization, Barnes moved to Durham and brought the program with him. He started with only one local participant, but has since grown the movement to more than 70 kids, who have served a collective 7,000 volunteer hours and fed more than 60 families on Thanksgiving.

Embedded in the Durham community both as head of Young Male Achievers and as a School for Creative Studies PE teacher, Barnes believes a potential spot on the Durham City Council brings forth a new opportunity to further his impact on Durham’s youth.

His campaign focuses on issues like police-community relations, local workforce training, free and fair elections, affordable housing, and protecting Durham’s designation as a sanctuary city by supporting DACA residents and opposing immigration status checkpoints.

Crash Gregg: Serial entrepreneur & publisher

Candidacy: Raleigh City Council
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Gregg’s campaign here.

As publisher of the Triangle Downtowner Magazine for more than a decade, Gregg has seen the challenges and victories Raleigh citizens face daily, and he has been instrumental in bringing their stories to print every month.

Before the magazine’s start in 2005, Gregg founded a handful of businesses, such as a jewelry shop, a marketing and media firm, and a retail venture that sold after five years. He was also publisher of the baby boomer-targeted lifestyle magazine, BOOM! for two years.

Gregg says that he’s running for city council so he can help make the needed changes “from the inside” of Raleigh’s local government. This is aimed to be an extension of his efforts bringing city-wide issues to public awareness through Triangle Downtowner.

Gregg’s campaign focuses on issues many in the city face when confronted with massive growth. An influx of new people moving into the area every month regularly takes its toll on the city’s resources and infrastructure.

He plans to address to leadership the fact that many underrepresented communities are facing gentrification in their neighborhoods. Additionally, if elected Gregg says he’ll provide more assistance the homeless and push development for safer and more affordable housing units.

Gregg wants to make sure these needs are being met with the necessary support and funding so all Raleigh citizens can benefit from the city’s growth.

Nicole Stewart: Entrepreneur & nonprofit fundraiser

Candidacy: Raleigh City Council At Large
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Stewart’s campaign here.

Stewart is a North Carolina native who grew up in Apex, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and now resides in East Raleigh where she works as development director for the North Carolina Conservation Network.

She is a co-founder of The Beehive Collective, a member organization that awards grants to locally-run nonprofits aimed to serve the city in some capacity. Since its founding in 2008, the group has provided more than $150,000 in funding to Triangle organizations such as Code the Dream, Raleigh Public Record, Girls on the Run of the Triangle and, most recently, Activate Good.

Aligning with her own organizational development career, Stewart also understands the needs and challenges local small business owners face—her husband, Les Stewart is a founder and head brewer at Trophy Brewing, a craft beer startup based in Raleigh.

Stewart’s campaign focuses on several issues crucial to Raleigh, and she has laid out specific ways to tackle them. One is to expand on Raleigh’s role in the existing Wake County Transit plan by providing online project updates and ways Raleigh citizens can provide input on which areas are in need of transportation improvements.

She plans to expand the City Council’s recent affordable housing investments to bring more housing units to the thousands of people on the waiting list. Stewart also hopes to enforce the city’s strategies to improve the environment, by ensuring follow-through on plans like protecting the Falls Lake drinking water or cleaning the city’s greenways.

These objectives surround one all-encompassing goal to involve Raleigh citizens in the future of their city, promoting citizen engagement and helping bridge the gap between local leaders and communities.

Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi: Nonprofit founder

Candidacy: Raleigh City Council At Large
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Alamin-Khashoggi’s campaign here.

Alamin-Khashoggi is a native of Raleigh who serves as an advocate for local communities suffering from poverty, gang violence and crime, and drug and alcohol abuse. From her own first-hand experience, she understands the complex challenges of gaining independence from the welfare system.

That understanding led her to craft a solution, forming the J.T. Locke Resource Center (JTLRC), an organization that provides skills training, social behavior adjustment, communication and support to children, youth and adults.

One of the center’s initiatives includes F7 Development and TRUE Products, two programs that help guide 13-18-year-olds and adults through the process of starting a company, from researching and developing a business plan to startup fundraising to marketing a product or service.

Alamin-Khashoggi’s campaign for Raleigh City Council is built off of the same passion represented in JTLRC’s mission. She aims to build a more inclusive community throughout the city, with plans to tackle issues related to affordable housing, transportation and employment.

On her website, Alamin-Khashoggi states she’s committed to meeting the needs and desires of the community, and encourages folks to reach out and share them. She has organized a series of regular meet and greets leading up to the primary in October, and welcomes the public to attend and discuss issues directly impacting their lives in Raleigh.

Vijay Kapoor: Consultancy founder

Candidacy: Asheville City Council
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Kapoor’s campaign here.

Kapoor was born in Chicago, but grew up in Asheville after his father was transferred to the city to be a manufacturing plant manager. His father was later transferred to a different area, but Kapoor held onto the memories he’d developed as a child living in Asheville, and eventually moved back to the city to raise a family and run his own company.

He’s the founder of a financial consultancy, The Kapoor Company, which advises government clients (from cities to municipalities) on how to improve their workforces and save money.

On his campaign platform, Kapoor says he made the decision to run for office to make sure the Asheville community is granted input in important decisions made by the local government.

If elected, Kapoor plans to address concerns about issues like irresponsible infrastructure development and Asheville’s increasing dependence on non-resilient economic sources like tourism and real estate.

In all, Kapoor wants to engage residents and neighborhoods in sharing their thoughts and concerns with the supporting government entities, ensuring citizens are heard, understood and ultimately satisfied with how local leaders are serving them.

Pratik Bhakta: Hotel owner

Candidacy: Asheville City Council
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Bhakta’s campaign here.

Bhakta and his family migrated to the U.S. from India in 1978. In the 80s, Bhakta’s father visited Asheville and decided to buy a small 13-room hotel in the city, running it for a short time before selling it.

His father had begun building a 49-room Days Inn when he suffered from health challenges. Bhakta had just completed an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at North Carolina State University and was starting graduate school when he took on his father’s project.

Since his entrance in the hotel industry, which he refers to as becoming an “accidental hotelier,” Bhakta has spent his years running the Days Inn North in Asheville and the Budget Hotel in Fletcher, North Carolina.

Bhakta has served as North Carolina regional director for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and is on the City of Asheville’s Board of Adjustments. He’s also an elected member of the Days Inn Franchise Advisory Committee (FAC).

On his website, Bhakta prioritizes a handful of issues he feels need to be addressed with the budget the Asheville City Council receives every year. Among them are preserving the city’s environmental assets and continuing its sustainability and energy efficiency efforts, and movement toward green jobs. He also plans to boost the quality of education in Asheville, citing his experience as the son of a teacher, a student who learned English as a second language at a young age, and a child coming from a lower income family before his father’s hotel business took off.

He’s focused on fiscal responsibility, including reducing spending on tax dollars and maintaining a city with strong workforce talent, while also addressing citizens’ concerns. Bhakta states he wants to improve the economy to reflect Asheville’s positioning as a smaller metro area, but larger than a town. He advocates for wise spending efforts to improve the economy and ultimately yield return in areas such as affordable housing, greenways and traffic congestion.

Sam Searcy: Vodka entrepreneur

Candidacy: U.S. Congress, 2nd District
Dates: General election will be held on November 6, 2018.
Follow Searcy’s campaign here.

Searcy, a Holly Springs resident and vodka distillery owner, announced his candidacy with the underlying goal to fill gaps that haven’t been addressed by 2nd district Congressman George Holding. Searcy believes there’s a disconnect between Holding and his constituents, and he pledges to keep them involved in discussion around key legislation, particularly within the context of the GOP’s health care efforts.

Searcy has stated his experiences and career give him an advantage to better understand the needs of communities across the second district, which covers central and eastern North Carolina areas in Wake, Alamance, Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Moore and Randolph counties.

He is the co-owner of Graybeard Distillery, a new “grain to glass” distiller in Durham that recently debuted its brand, Bedlam Vodka, earlier this year at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America’s Convention & Exposition. It was presented with the Hot New Now Media Award (voted by the attending media audience) and it won first place in the event’s Brand Battle pitch competition appearing before celebrity and industry judges.

Badlam Vodka is distilled from rice using a centuries-old Irish technique. The brand formally launched in May at ABC stores, bars and restaurants throughout North Carolina.

Dan McCready: Solar entrepreneur

Candidacy: U.S. Congress, 9th District
Dates: General election on November 6, 2018
Follow McCready’s campaign here.

McCready is a Charlotte entrepreneur, cleantech investor and former Marine. He previously worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company before founding This Land, an online platform carrying a collection of handcrafted products made by artists and designers across the U.S.

In 2013, he co-founded Double Time Capital, which invests in clean energy projects in North Carolina and beyond. According to its website, the firm has invested more than 300 Megawatts of power capacity in solar farms and projects.

Double Time also provides growth capital for tech companies in the clean energy, energy efficiency and sustainability markets. These include waste solutions providers like WasteZero of Raleigh and ride-sharing/transportation industry companies like Silicon Valley’s Lyft.

McCready has been a board member for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association since 2014.

Since announcing his run in the 2018 election in May, McCready is focusing his campaign around concerns that Washington politicians are prioritizing their own interests and parties before the needs of their constituencies and as such, they aren’t serving the American public as they should.

Richard L Watkins: Scientist & nonprofit founder

Candidacy: U.S. Congress, 4th District
Dates: General election on November 6, 2018
Follow Watkins’ campaign here.

Watkins, born in Texas, first moved to North Carolina at seven years old when his father started teaching and coaching baseball at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (NC A&T).

He attended Fayetteville State University with a full-ride academic scholarship, played on the football team and helped lead several university programs including the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the Psi Chi chapter. He graduated with honors, receiving a degree in psychology with a minor in sociology.

Watkins then earned a PhD in UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine in Microbiology and Immunology, specializing in Virology. His research projects studied the factors influencing disease progression to AIDS in patients infected with HIV. Watkins was inducted into UNC’s Sigma Xi scientific honor society, where he would later serve as president and member of the board of directors.

He’s the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Science Policy Action Network, an organization that aims to bridge the gap between North Carolina stakeholders and scientific advocacy and outreach initiatives. Watkins is also the program coordinator for UNC Chapel Hill’s Chancellor’s Science Scholars program.

Watkins’ seasoned research and scientific expertise fuels his drive to increase the field’s presence in North Carolina. In his campaign platform for the 2018 fourth congressional district seat—which covers part of Raleigh and Durham, and all of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough—Watkins has stated a commitment to advance the area’s science and innovation fields for job growth and economic development.

Victor Jones: Serial entrepreneur

Candidacy: High Point City Council, Ward 5 seat
Dates: Primary on October 10; general election is November 7
Follow Jones’ campaign here.

Jones’ entrepreneurial journey began in seventh grade, when he opened his first business operating at a local flea market. Since then, he has built three companies—Royal Limousine, USA Financial Group and Jones Legacy Transportation, all of which employ more than 200 people in High Point.

Serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. for 13 years, Jones was a part of one of the first units deployed in Iraq. As a sergeant, Jones served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He now spends his time running his three businesses and volunteering in local children’s programs and ministry events.

Jones’ campaign runs on the slogan “Pushing High Point Forward,” and is directed at economic development, community involvement with the local police department, boosting school safety efforts, reducing taxes, attracting more businesses to invest in High Point, and using government spending to create more jobs and increase the quality of live for citizens living in the city.

**This is only a select roundup of candidates, and is not meant to be exhaustive. As such, if you have suggestions for folks that can be added, feel free to reach out to us.**

—This post has been updated with the addition of High Point City Council candidate Victor Jones—