Last week, the headlines heard around the state were focused on the ranking of Wilmington, NC, as the #1 City on the Rise in the South by Southern Living Magazine. Knowing that the Wilmington leadership is obsessed with selling more real estate, this is new marketing content to share.

But the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) is more focused on the funding for entrepreneurs so their startups can grow and create new jobs at the coast.

Our April 4 event is the 2nd Annual Wilmington INVESTOR BUZZ IN event at the Beach and serves as the closest thing we have to a venture capital conference. This event happens during the traditional annual Azalea Festival with concerts, parties and parades.

Wilmington startups riding wave of funding

Is the frozen venture capital industry of 2023 starting to thaw with the warming weather? Recent funding announcements by OpiAID, Lab Logs, Ohanafy and Boreas Monitoring Solutions would signal a good start to the year for Wilmington startups.

While Ohanafy Software and OpiAID presented at the 2023 version of the INVESTOR BUZZ IN event, Lab Logs and repeat presenter Boreas Monitoring Solutions will present again to the participating investors at this April event. Boreas Monitoring Solutions was successful in finding additional investors at the recent SEED2TABLE event. Lab Logs recently announced a round of funding from VentureSouth.

How can Wilmington keep this momentum with investors? Well, INVESTOR BUZZ IN will have a panel on that with the Rise of the Rest Fund investor Mahati Sridhar, part of Revolution Capital in Washington, DC. (Fund Manager David Hall spoke in Wilmington in November in a riverside chat.) She used to work with Bull City Venture Partners. David Jones of Bull City Venture Partners is the moderator of this panel as a Wrightsville Beach native.
Also involved in that panel of investors is Triangle Business Person of the Year Bill Spruill of 2nd F Foundation, who sold his company and is now investing that money as an investor and investing in the modern evolution of startup ecosystems like the Triangle and Wilmington too. Spruill is also involved on the board of Wilmington based nCino who had an IPO.

The most active venture capital fund in North Carolina will also be involved in this panel with Tim McLoughlin of Cofounders Capital. (Scot Wingo was the keynote speaker at this event in 2023 to discuss the Tweener Fund and 12 insights into scaling a startup.)

Guest opinion: Buzzin’ about the investor BUZZ IN event in Wilmington

What caused this momentum?

Yes, the evolution of the Wilmington economy is one of the reasons North Carolina has become the No. 1 state for business. If you are not aware, two years ago, Wilmington was named No. 7 city in the USA for job growth and salary growth just four slots behind Raleigh. Wilmington is now the No. 1 Startup ecosystem in the world for small cities under 300,000 people and now only one spot behind Charlotte, a city of 879,000 people.

If you consider the growth of the Live Oak Bank family (branches) of business, this should be very  clear. While a bank normally supports business growth, Live Oak Bank has been spinning out new startups. nCino is the big winner with an IPO on Wall Street of course, but another recent spinout called Apiture won Best Fintech company of the year in 2023 from the NC Technology Association.

That success with funding startups has led to investors putting money into Canapi Ventures who recently announced their second fund with $750 million fund. Yes, the largest venture capital fund in the South is based at the beach in Wilmington, NC.

And for the first time at a public event in Wilmington, these three companies with founders and current executives will be on the same stage on a panel to open the public sessions at the 2nd Annual Wilmington INVESTOR BUZZ IN event.

Momentum at the beach: Event shows Wilmington ecosystem is reaching NEW peaks

Did I mention the fun of Azalea Festival?

So besides the business of reverse pitches by six venture capital funds, six local startup pitches during the private sessions and the great panels during the public sessions mentioned above, there is also a lot of warm weather fun during the annual Azalea Festival.

I talk about the Azalea Festival as all of the fun of the Kentucky Derby just without the horses. The annual private Garden Party has all of the bourbon, dresses and hats. Downtown has great concerts for all tastes of music with hip hop and country acts lined up. So April 4 is a great time to visit your beach house for a “business trip.”

This column was written by Jim R. Roberts, the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the WALE Angel Network.  In addition, Roberts is a core reviewer for NC IDEA and the recipient of multiple NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grants.  Roberts is the founding executive director of the UNCW CIE incubator, and previously worked at the Durham-based Center of Innovation for NanoBiotech (COIN), funded by the NC Biotechnology Center.  He is a former employee of the state of North Carolina, having served in the International Trade Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.