Editor’s note: Emily Wells is Greenlight Community Broadband’s Marketing & Sales Manager.
WILSON – The Gig East Exchange hosted its first event, “RIoT LVIII: Connecting Rural Communities to the Global Economy” recently.
The June 15 event was led and organized by Gig East’s partner, RIoT (Raleigh Internet of Things). RIoT is a North Carolina-based economic development nonprofit focused on creating IoT opportunities for businesses. RIoT is a longtime partner of Gig East and has deepened their investment in Wilson this year by making the Gig East Exchange home base for Frank Dees, RIoT’s Wilson Community Lead.
The purpose behind RIoT LVIII was to celebrate the opening of the Exchange and share how RIoT has helped Wilson enter today’s data economy. In 2020, RIoT held its first Wilson-based RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP). Although COVID-19 forced virtual participation after the cohort began, that did not stifle the success of its participants.
Rachael Newberry, RIoT Program Director, opened by saying, “Wilson is poised to really take advantage of the data economy and become a hub for entrepreneurship and technology and a center for interesting solutions that leverage data.” This year, RIoT was able to host a hybrid cohort from the Gig East Exchange. Since 2020, RIoT Wilson programs have spawned 18 startups that have raised $740k in capital, $6.55 million in revenue, and have created 21 jobs.
Tom Snyder, RIoT Executive Director, emphasized that because the data economy is moving and changing at a rapid pace it is more important than ever for entrepreneurs to harness the power of that data. “You are a technology business” stated Snyder, “Our role is to be a resource to help people figure out what this means, who they should partner with, and how to take advantage of these opportunities.” He also made a point to note that Wilson was chosen to be a RIoT base for significant reasons. “When we looked around the nation and said
‘Where will we put a RIoT facility, where will we hold our programs?’ this was a natural place for us to come because of Greenlight’s broadband service. Broadband is that fundamental utility.”
Will Aycock, General Manager of Greenlight Community Broadband, gave attendees a history of Wilson’s broadband infrastructure and legacy of using innovative thinking to ensure that resident’s needs are met in the future. Rebecca Agner, Marketing and Communications Director for the City of Wilson explained how Greenlight’s infrastructure inspired Gig East— conversations and events centered on innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic advancements in Wilson. Those conversations and events needed a home, which led to the construction of the Gig East Exchange.
Wilson RAP alumni Shawna Moses, CEO and Founder of Kinky Tresses, and Marcus Aman, CEO and Founder of Shyft Auto spoke to how RAP helped them build solid foundations for their startups and determine their priorities and advantages. Since participating in RAP, Kinky Tresses and Shyft Auto have significantly increased their revenue and expanded their customer bases. Moses’s retail location, Samora Naturals, is located at 108 Tarboro Street West in Historic Downtown Wilson.
Shyft Auto has been located in the Gig East Exchange since its opening but is in the process of renovating their own building near Wilson’s historic downtown area. Following Moses’s and Aman’s remarks, attendees had the opportunity to mingle, speak with RAP alumni, and tour the Exchange. “The energy in the room was electrifying,” said Moses, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the next big idea comes right out of the Gig East Exchange.”
The Gig East Exchange is accepting individual and corporate members and planning a full slate of meetups and events, most notably this year’s Gig East Summit, which will be held on October 14-15. With such encouraging participation at RIoT LVIII, the Gig East team recognizes that this is only the beginning.
“It was amazing to be a part of such a magnificent event after over a year of social limitations” shared Ashley Harris, Gig East Exchange Community Coordinator. “We had a phenomenal display of courage, accomplishment, and collaboration present in the Exchange. The networking and connections made during this event made every second of time and effort worth it. I know that this is a beautiful start to many events that will take place here at the Exchange. I cannot wait to be a part of each one of them.”