RALEIGH – As Innovate Raleigh gets ready to celebrate its 10-year anniversary during its annual summit today, the group is looking to reflect on where’s it has been, and where it is going.

Leading the helm is its interim executive director Clark Rinehart. He stepped up to the role back in August when Bridget Harrington stepped down to return to the private sector.

The theme for this year’s summit is “Then. Now. Next.” The lineup includes Johnny Hackett Jr., CEO of The Black Dollar Corp. and Mitchell Silver, principal and vice president of Urban Planning for McAdams, along with remarks from Innovate Raleigh founders, City of Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and Dr. Terri Lomax, former Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at NC State University.

Over the last few years, Rinehart has earned a reputation as a passionate leader and equity advocate after serving as community manager of Raleigh’s co-working space, The Loading Dock. WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam had the chance to pose a few questions ahead of the Innovate Raleigh Summit to be held at the Raleigh Convention Center starting at 1pm today. Here’s what he had to say:

TechWire: You’ve kind of had to jump into the role at the last second, during a pandemic, no less. How has it been to organize the Summit under these circumstances?

Rinehart: Things are busy, but the team has really done a phenomenal job of bringing everything together.

TechWire: What is the Summit’s overarching message that you wanted to convey with your speaker lineup?

Rinehart: The overarching message of this year’s IR Summit speaker lineup is: we have a vibrant and diverse entrepreneurial community. We are known for being a startup tech hub for good reason, but we also have innovators and mavericks across industries. From Fayetteville (“Main”) Street, to the Park, in the ‘Burbs, and across our region, people are not just living, working, and playing; they are also starting and building things. Really great things that will shape the future our region and world.

TechWire: It’s the group’s 10-year anniversary. How do you plan to honor that?

Rinehart: We will narrate how our region and entrepreneurial community have come a long way over the last decade. We should be proud of our accomplishments and celebrate all of the awesome things that are happening. But we also face some serious challenges in the coming years. Those will require everyone’s input and participation to ensure our region continues to flourish.

TechWire: What’s your view on the ground?

Rinehart: From my perspective, we cannot truly be a world-class region without making sure people, tech workers and non-tech workers alike, have space in our community to thrive personally and professionally. In other words, we cannot forget about our neighbors at the margins who are not benefitting from all of “The Lists“ that we’re making annually.

TechWire: Where does Raleigh’s ecosystem and Innovate Raleigh go from here?

Rinehart: In my opinion, Raleigh’s ecosystem “levels up” in the not-too-distant future. I think we’re ready to emerge as the leading region for innovation. A region where founders and C-suite leaders represent the whole Community, not just a subset of it. This is the future of the Triangle. This is us at our best. And, we are building this future now, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The next few years will afford us an opportunity to lead conversations about how regions and entrepreneurial ecosystems grow well in a new era.

TechWire: Where does Innovate Raleigh come into play?

Rinehart: Innovate Raleigh will be a leader in the “leveling up” of the region. Most people associate Innovate Raleigh with the annual Summit. But, in the future, there will be more gatherings, more sharing of ideas, more strategic connections made, and more input from across the ecosystem. There will also be more action. We will welcome new founders and companies. We will help the homegrown companies along with other amazing entrepreneurial support organizations in the area. And, we will connect the business and social fabric of our region through dynamic partnerships. Innovate Raleigh will have the same energy and spirit of its founding team, but it will position itself to address the challenges of a fast-paced region.