WILMINGTON – Last week, the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) hosted a full house, sold out event at the coast to discuss three new technology tools to help Wilmington entrepreneurs get a head start to disrupt their industries. This was our largest event in the eight year history of NEW, an independent non-profit entrepreneur support organization with more than 250 people registered.

(Our March event with former nCino executives had 167 people and the April Wilmington Investor BUZZ IN event with Scot Wingo was sold out at 185 people including 53 investors.)

While this was the monthly event for NEW at the coast, we invited the NC Technology Association to partner with us to co-host this BREWS and BYTES event so they could promote the November 1st Tech Awards annual event to the Wilmington crowd. Finalists for the awards were announced on the same day as this event and Wilmington companies were announced as finalists in several categories such as AI Company of the Year, FinTech Company of the Year and Top Ten Startups to Watch winners.

While the BREWS and BYTES series of events from NC TECH is usually a networking only event, that is not how NEW chooses to roll with our events. We prefer “EduTainment” with speakers who have valuable content to move entrepreneurship forward at the coast. We named this event the “ABCs of NEW Tech Tools”.  So we invited three local technology entrepreneurs who are also experts in their fields.

  • A –  Artificial Intelligence – Dr. Karl Ricanek, co-founder of Lapetus Solutions and a Professor at UNC Wilmington
  • B – Blockchain – Nathan Snell, founder of Raleon.io and past co-founder of nCino
  • C – Chat GPT – Gareth Harte, founder of Telios and former tech executive with Live Oak Bank

Drawing a crowd in Wilmington. (Photo by Jack Fleming, Socialry Marketing)

Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Karl Ricanek gave a broader perspective on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Ricanek gave insights about the UNC Wilmington concentration on AI within the computer information department where Dr. Karl Ricanek works.  Ricanek also works with AI at Lapetus Solutions to analyze health through selfie pictures to look at aspects of health including cancer and BMI (Body Mass Index) in Asian countries for health insurance policies. AFLAC Insurance is one of their investors. I believe Lapetus Insurance is the only black founded tech startup ever funded in Wilmington.

According to Dr. Ricanek, the three biggest trends of AI are growing in the areas of:

  1. Democratization of AI – Use of these new tech tools with limited tech skills.
  2. Generative AI – This AI can create new content such as images, text and music. This can be used in healthcare and entertainment.
  3. AI for Good – How AI can help society with social and environmental challenges.


Nathan Snell talked next about blockchain and Web 3 while introducing his company Raleon.io at his first local presentation. Nathan did a great job of clearing the hype and setting the tone for the audience to clarify that these are just tools of the industries and not really an industry unto themselves. These are technology tools that can be used by a wide variety of industries.

Snell set the definition as “Blockchain is a decentralized database that anyone can add to that used digitized assets.” Blockchain can help people eliminate the “middleman” or financial institution and FEES in transactions between parties.

Snell gave four examples of where Blockchain technology is disrupting industries such as trading, cryptocurrencies, financial lending and even marketplaces for objects of Art.

CHAT GPT as a tool in financial technologies (FINTECH

Gareth Harte started the event with helpful insights on ChatGPT. Telios recently made a pivot in their business model to become a firewall solution for private information when using ChatGPT for financial transactions. When a user enters financial information while using ChatGPT, that personal data can become part of the ChatGPT data so the privacy is lost. Telios has a firewall solution to keep the user’s private financial data more confidential and anonymous.

Is the future of ChatGPT more in favor of Microsoft with their $10 BILLION dollar investment into OPEN AI (the creator of ChatGPT), a new solution from Google or more for an Open Source (META / Facebook) effort for Large Language Models (LLM)? LLAMA 2 is the name of this Open Source effort. Soon, maybe within a year, these LLM efforts will also include pictures instead of just text.

What is Next for Momentum of Wilmington Startup Ecosystem?

The crowd was buzzing at the end of the content presented at the event and that is not because of the cold adult beverages at the Ironclad Brewery provided by NC TECH sponsor RapidScale. The content was fantastic but it just led to longer conversations between the smart presenters and the audience eager to learn more about these disruptive tools.  That is how our events work to benefit the entrepreneurs at the coast.

Our next event is October 19th with two long term entrepreneurs who have raised more than $150 million dollars combined and each company is more than ten years old. Dr. Tony Atti of Phononic and Richard West of BAEBIES will be our presenters.


About the Author

Jim Roberts

Jim R. Roberts is the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the founder of the WALE Angel Network. He was the founding Executive Director of the UNCW CIE incubator where the facility was named one of the top 50 incubators in the USA by the SBA and the White House. Jim started similar organizations in Charlotte, Asheville and Durham. Jim serves on several statewide committees to advocate for Wilmington entrepreneurs.