Editor’s note: Emily Wells is Sales and Marketing Manager for Greenlight and Gig East.


WILSON – The Gig East Summit returned to Wilson on May after a 3-year hiatus. The Summit originated in 2016 as the City of Wilson’s effort to encourage conversations focused on innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Since then, Wilson has seen much growth in the downtown area well as the opening of the Gig East Exchange coworking space and Wilson Arts Center, where the 2022 Summit was held.

The theme of this year’s Summit was “Transforming E.A.S.T.”, with “E.A.S.T.” standing for entrepreneurship, art, science, and technology. The event was designed to highlight opportunities, resources, and advances in Wilson for innovators and entrepreneurs.

This year’s keynote message was delivered by Kenia Thompson, Master Communicator, and creator of WordCrumbs. Delivering a message on “How to Tell Our Stories,” Thompson touched on what makes effective storytelling and why it is important. A communication structure is made up of three things: a narrative, visuals, and data. When you combine the right visuals and the narrative with the information, you create a story that can drive change. In a tech hub city like Wilson that cultivates innovation and entrepreneurship through forward-thinking, stories have to be part of the effort and, more importantly, plant the best perspectives.

Panelists discuss success stories during Gig East event. (Photo courtesy of Gig East)

RIoT, a longtime partner of Gig East and the City of Wilson, took the stage to showcase their recent grads of the tenth RIoT Accelerator Program, which was based at the Gig East Exchange. In a shark tank-ish environment, seven participants pitched their businesses to a panel of judges. After some deliberation, the pitch competition winner was TraKid, a Raleigh-based startup, led by Brandon Kashani, which offers a safety tracking bracelet to help amusement parks recover lost children more quickly.

“RIoT was excited and proud to be a part of not only the return of the Gig East Summit but to be part of the Wilson community” shared Frank Dees, RIoT Wilson Lead. “Like everyone else, COVID caused us to cancel or postpone several events over the last two years. One of the events we have been looking forward to hosting again is the RIoT Accelerator Program’s Pitch Event.  After each 12-week cohort, startup teams compete in the pitch contest. Unfortunately, we have not been able to have these contests in over two years. We were glad to finally host this event again and especially proud to have it as part of the 2022 Gig East Summit here in Wilson.”

Filmmaker Cat Brewer finds a home in Wilson

In the second half of the day, local innovators had the opportunity to share their own stories about how they have found opportunities to succeed in their E.A.S.T. fields in Wilson. Filmmaker Cat Brewer represented the art sector. Brewer created a documentary called Sign the Show which highlights deaf culture in entertainment, specifically in music, comedy, and theater. Raoul Chinang from Collins Aerospace represented the technology sector. He is the program manager in Wilson and oversees the making of safety components within the aerospace industry, specifically devices that detect and extinguish a fire in air crafts. Representing the science sector of the panel was Noah Parsons, the City of Wilson’s Water Infrastructure Manager. One of the success stories he shared was about developing a watershed plan that had multiple objectives as to how to better ensure water quality by reducing inflows in a storm water event and help improve water quality from a treatment standpoint as well.

To end the day, Summit attendees had the opportunity to participate in two interactive breakout sessions. Session topics varied from branding strategy with Capitol B Creative Studios to how art and tech can intertwine, to innovations from Cisco, the presenting sponsor of the event. Summit attendee, Andy Cockrell, appreciated the opportunity to dive deeper and make new connections during the breakouts.

“When the schedule came out, I was specifically interested in the breakout session by Capitol B on rebranding, and that session alone made the entire day worth it for me” he shared. “I walked into the room that Friday morning knowing that there were a couple of people who would be there who I wanted to meet. I did that, but I was also able to connect with a couple of other folks I’ve been wanting to meet for a while. The chance to do some networking is about a lot more than what happened on that day, it extends into the future.”

When reflecting on the day, Brittany Smith, Customer Support Manager for Greenlight Community Broadband and Gig East, shared: “We were pleased with attendance at the Summit this year. The morning of the Summit began with multiple power outages and street closures due to a severe storm in the early morning hours. The RIoT cohort pitch panel was a new addition this year and seemed to be the show stopper. Kenia’s message was also well-favored, along with the Local Success Stories panel. The Summit brought awareness to not only the amazing stories that are being created within Wilson but also the resources that are available here, especially through the Gig East Exchange. We already have ideas for next year’s Summit and look forward to implementing them for another great event.”

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