Editor’s note: Jim R. Roberts has worked for over 20 years in North Carolina with entrepreneur support organizations in Charlotte, Asheville, Durham, and Wilmington. Jim is the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and WALE Angel Network and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire.


Wilmington’s startup scene: Successful events all year long

Could you imagine 10 years ago that Wilmington, N.C., would be ranked one spot behind Charlotte in the international rankings of startup ecosystems? I mention “10 years ago” because that is widely recognized as the start of the formal startup ecosystem in Wilmington when I was the founding executive director of the UNCW CIE incubator.

Wilmington is now ranked No. 1 startup ecosystem in the world among small cities under 300,000. When we mention this ranking, we must mention the positive impact of the Live Oak Bank related branches of scalable companies such as nCino (IPO), Apiture and also Canapi Ventures, the largest venture capital fund for tech and fintech in the South.

In 2023, Wilmington ranked No. 7 nationally for job growth and salary growth. Wilmington also ranked No. 51 in the Tech Index, moving up a few spots but more than 100 spots above our population ranking. (Wilmington is No. 158 in population size.) These new, better-paying, tech jobs are from entrepreneurial growth not recruited jobs.

Also consider this, the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington hosted 250 people with our event with the North Carolina Technology Association in September for the Bytes and Brews event. NC TECH CEO Brooks Raiford was shocked. We had a great event with three local speakers. 250 people in a city of 125,000 people. Similar NC Tech Bytes and Brews events were held in Raleigh, Charlotte and the Triad; Wilmington had the largest audience.

In November, we followed that event, without outside partner orgs, and had 200 people when we hosted “The best damn startup event in the UNIVERSE during Global Entrepreneurship Week” with the Managing Partner of Revolution Capital / Rise of the Rest Fund David Hall with Tim McLoughlin of Cofounders Capital on stage. Charlotte Ketelaar did a fantastic job with her presentation on due diligence.

Back in April, we had the event people are still talking about. The inaugural Wilmington Investor Buzz In was attended by 185 people, 53 investors and featured an unforgettable 90-minute MBA class by Scot Wingo. There were five reverse pitches by investors and six local startups presented. The Wilmington Investor Buzz In event was an overwhelming success. (Save the date for April 4, 2024.)

Yes I get it. We need more than big attendance numbers. We need outcomes.

Wilmington startups won big in 2023 on statewide stages

New startup Boreas Monitoring Solutions won the Big Launch Challenge, a multistate pitch contest held in Durham. Boreas won in front of members of the Angel Capital Association from a variety of states. (WALE is an investor.)

Wilmington’s OpiAID won “Best AI and Data Analytics Company” in North Carolina in a NC TECH awards event in Raleigh. (WALE is an investor.) At the same event, Apiture also won “Best FinTech Company.”

Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) fought for Wilmington startups in 2023

As you know, I am very vocal about the five things NEW does for Wilmington entrepreneurs within the startup ecosystem. Add that to what we call the “Coastal Corridor” as the “umbilical cord” to the bigger city ecosystem in Raleigh / Durham.

  1.  Events – We have the highest monthly attendance of any startup org across the state of NC.
  2. Communications and Media Relations
  3. Preparation to meet investors and investor intros
  4. Mentors
  5. Advocacy – participation on the three most important statewide startup committees

At the annual NC IDEA Ecosystem Summit in Raleigh, I made sure the crowd of 500 plus people knew that I had the “receipts” (proof) and Wilmington data to let them know about our international ecosystem rankings, No. 7 economy ranking and Tech Index ranking 100 spots above our population ranking.

I also had the chance to introduce David Reeser of OpiAID to the whole NC IDEA Summit crowd with my twisted sense of humor.  (I was clean in my language.)

We had a crowd from the beach at the First Flight Venture Center Awards lunch (Thanks to our sponsor Kymanox.) and a chance for Wilmington Life Sciences startups to meet investors, mentors and the founders of the NC Biotech ecosystem like Charles Hamner and Art Pappas. This is a great example of what we call the Coastal Corridor, or the two-way flow of resources and people between the coast and the bigger ecosystem in the Triangle.

Could 2024 be the year Wilmington becomes the 2nd best startup ecosystem in North Carolina? Stay tuned or better yet, get involved and join us. Wouldn’t you rather stick your toes in the sand than be stuck in traffic?