As the Wilmington innovation and startup ecosystem evolves and matures, new connections with statewide organizations are paying off for regional startups with connected devices for the emerging life sciences industry sector at the coast. The participating Wilmington startups have received grants, investments, awards, press coverage and validation from these organizations and helped Wilmington become the #1 startup ecosystem in the WORLD in only 10 years. (Yes both StartupGenome and StartupBlink have ranked Wilmington #1 for small cities.)

What is the Coastal Corridor?

The Coastal Corridor is the simple, two-way flow of resources, ideas and talented people on I-40 between the new Wilmington startup ecosystem and the top ecosystem in the South: Raleigh/Durham. Wilmington entrepreneurs are invited and encouraged to participate in programs and conferences in the Triangle and coastal entrepreneur support organizations invite VIPs and investors from around the state to speak at Wilmington events. Over 100 active investors have spoken in Wilmington since 2015. And yes, some have actually invested in coastal startups.

Through the entrepreneur support organizations in Wilmington, we have made introductions for local startups to organizations such as the First Flight Venture Center, NC IDEA, CED (Council for Entrepreneurial Development), NC TECH Association, RIOT and more.

How can startups find resources not available in Wilmington?

When the UNCW CIE incubator opened in 2013, Wilmington entrepreneurs expressed they felt very isolated from the ecosystem resources in North Carolina. The first event before the building even opened to the public was with the NC TECH Association where leaders of NextGlass / UnTappd met with executives to discuss the programs, events and opportunities. Soon after, NextGlass / UnTappd was named as “Most Promising Startup in the State”. In 2023, OpiAID was named Best AI / Data Analytics company in the state by NC TECH in front of 800 technology executives in downtown Raleigh. OpiAID uses wearable devices and biometric data to help rehab clinics retain clients who have Substance Use Disorder.

Soon after, we invited Durham-based NC IDEA to add Wilmington to their statewide tour so our coastal entrepreneurs could develop relationships with the staff members and increase their chances to win the valuable $50,000 SEED grants and now the $10,000 Micro grant and programming resources. NC IDEA has recently given grants to OpiAID and Boreas Monitoring Solutions among previous winners. Boreas Monitoring has added a weight factor to the temperature factor to ensure safe storage of reproductive samples for families in clinics.

I personally worked with Wilmington based OpiAID to line up their presentation to the 1 Million Cups event at the RTP Chapter. After OpiAID leaders gave an excellent presentation that impressed the smart crowd in RTP, I texted First Flight Venture Center (FFVC) executive Emil Runge to see if we could arrange a quick meeting to help OpiAID get assistance with the federal SBIR grants. Eventually, FFVC helped OpiAID win a $2.7 m grant and other significant grants. The First Flight Venture Center is now helping a new startup called Nuream, a connected textile / pillow cover that measures brain activity to improve the sleep quality and health of the customers.

Wilmington based startup Brilliant Sole has a product for balance in the elderly and was helped by Tom Snyder and the RIOT organization based in Raleigh / Wilson for Internet of Things connected devices. RIOT has over 80 corporate partners who contribute to the organization to push new product development among young startups in North Carolina. RIOT has also helped OpiAID, Boreas Monitoring Solutions and just announced that Predicate HPG is part of their new cohort in 2024. Predicate HPG uses a connected device for people with SEPSIS problems.

Ok, but local startups need to find more capital …

And for the biggest wins, several Wilmington based startups have presented at the prestigious CED Venture Connect investor conference with over 200 investors that attend this 40 year old venture capital event. This year local startups Lab Logs and Predicate HPG will represent Wilmington on this stage in front of 1,100 attendees. The entrepreneurs get plenty of local presentations skills coaching locally and even more in the Triangle before the event.

We also use the Triangle organization’s events to find new investors to bring down to the coast for our events. Last year, 53 investors attended our inaugural Investor BUZZ IN event that starts with Reverse Pitches where five investors discuss their funds to the audience and then local startups will be able to present to the room of investors. (These investors ALWAYS agree to travel to the coast because they ALL have beach houses they rarely get to visit due to busy schedules.) And yes, investments in Wilmington startups have occurred as a direct result of this event.

As of April 2023, the Wilmington INVESTOR BUZZ IN event at the beach was the largest event in the history of our organization with 185 people participating. We had even larger events with 250 people with NC TECH in September and another 200 person event in November with the managing director of the Rise of the Rest Fund from Washington, DC-based Revolution Capital from AOL founder Steve Case. Last year, we had the most active VC funds in South Carolina and NC speak on stage at the Wilmington INVESTOR BUZZ IN event.

On April 4, we will host our 2nd annual Wilmington INVESTOR BUZZ IN event at the beach. Several investors have confirmed they will speak and participate in the event that is held during Azalea Festival so the participants can enjoy the warm weather and concerts. Please join us this April and make a business trip to the beach. Yes, you read that right.

Jim Roberts is the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the WALE Angel Network. Jim also started the first tech entrepreneur support organizations in Charlotte and Asheville and worked for COIN, a nanotech org funded by the NC Biotech Center.

Jim has been writing OpEds and freelancing for WRALTechWire for 20 years.