Editor’s note: Thom Ruhe is CEO of the NC IDEA Foundation.

DURHAM – Most of us will conclude that 2020 has been a year like no other. For one thing, it has strained our confidence in civil society and COVID has damaged the economy, threatened public health and safety, and made us question our sense of community and shared values.

Frankly, 2020 has seen us more divided than united.

Despite the angst and uncertainty of the coming days, weeks, and months, I am hopeful knowing that most of us want similar things. We want the pandemic to be conquered – not tolerated. We want a recovery that is diverse and inclusive. And, we want an economy that rewards hard work and risk taking.

So, we can choose to focus on the things that divide us, or we can embrace a common catalyst for change; namely, economic empowerment through entrepreneurship. Supporting the entrepreneurial potential of people is non-partisan and can be THE path we share toward recovery.

We know entrepreneurs are exceptional members of our communities, with an optimism that each new day, even in a pandemic, is another chance to make the world a better place. Our recently awarded $10,000 MICRO grant recipients are proof of that. They are pressing ahead now, despite the extraordinary challenges. And we couldn’t be prouder to support their efforts.

Encouraging and nurturing these exceptional individuals is in the best interest of our economy and our communities, and has the power to unite us. Which is why I can’t wait to share with you the Fall 2020 SEED grant recipients, to be announced LIVE at our 2nd Annual Statewide Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Summit. Right now, twelve exceptional entrepreneurs are preparing for final pitches, after which, at least half of them will receive $50,000 each.

The Summit will feature conversations with State and National leaders in economic development, as well as shine a deserving spotlight on several communities and specific projects that are pushing forward to ensure North Carolina emerges from this year stronger than other states and better prepared for the future.

The Summit may be virtual this year, but the effort and optimism is as real as ever. You won’t want to miss our first ever LIVE grantee announcement, and celebrate these brave folks working very hard to create the jobs we need now more than ever.