RALEIGH — After holding last year’s annual summit virtually in the wake of the pandemic, Innovate Raleigh was back in person.

On Friday, more than 350 leaders and community members gathered – masks required — at the Raleigh Convention Center to celebrate the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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The event took on extra import as it celebrated the non-profit’s 10-year anniversary since Mayor MaryAnn Baldwin and Dr. Terri Lomax founded it as a vehicle to support the Triangle’s startup ecosystem.

“There were growing pains, just like a startup,” quipped Baldwin, touching upon the summit’s theme “Then. Now. Next,” in her keynote address.

Mayor MaryAnn Baldwin and Dr. Terri Lomax

But that was quickly followed up by tally of the group’s successes over the years.

Among them: creating the Triangle Innovation Hub, a comprehensive list of resources for entrepreneurs; establishing the annual Innovate Raleigh Summit; and forming a partnership with the Raleigh Chamber in 2017, among others.

“It’s not just about startups, but it’s how it fulfills our community. This is our collective mission impossible,” Baldwin said.

The lineup of speakers also included Johnny Hackett Jr., CEO of The Black Dollar Corp., who shared his personal journey as an entrepreneur and community leader.

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He also chronicled the hardships of minority entrepreneurs during the pandemic, and the support he received from the City of Raleigh.

“One of our biggest accomplishments of 2020 was connecting a large demographic of business owners to information from the city that they might not have received,” he told the crowd.

The event also held breakout sessions with a focus on ideation and problem solving, connecting startups and early-stage business to the broader business community, and the future of funding.

Reify Media, Leaf & Limb, EDJX, Murphy’s Naturals, Wake Technical Community College, H.U.B.B. Kitchens, Pendo, the News & Observer, Global Data Consortium, Incolo, Lithios, Coworks, Reborn Clothing Co. and CoFounders Capital represented.

“I’m so excited by the energy that we are seeing today,” Michael Haley, Wake County Economic Development’s executive director, told TechWire. “It reinforces why we focus on innovation.”

Going forward, he envisioned Innovate Raleigh continuing to be the region’s “catalyst, convener and collaborator.”

“That’s the role that they are going to play,” he said.

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