University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Launch Chapel Hill wraps cohort 15, expands economic impact

At any given time, startups at Launch Chapel Hill’s accelerator in downtown Chapel Hill are collaborating to solve some of the community’s most pressing challenges. From offering affordable, inclusive housing options for adults with developmental disabilities, to helping small businesses create and manage an online presence, to simplifying personal finance, the ventures that participated in Launch Chapel Hill Cohort 15 tackle a range of commercial and business problems.

Launch Chapel Hill, an international award-winning startup accelerator and co-working space, was created in 2013 through a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County and a private donor. In less than ten years, Launch companies have generated more than $69 million dollars in revenue and raised $38.4 million in total funding. Its ventures employ 802 people, including 684 in North Carolina and 435 in Orange County. In late April, the accelerator released its annual report and held its demo day event, spotlighting the 10 companies that recently completed its latest cohort through a series of brief pitches.

“Our mission at Launch is to help accelerate business owners and entrepreneurship in the local area,” says Velvet Nelson, director of Launch Chapel Hill. “Through each Cohort, we aim to give individuals business skills, mentorship and the network they need in order to grow their businesses.”

Managed by Innovate Carolina, the accelerator focuses on mentorship and educational programming and offers tech resources, office space and amenities to innovators and entrepreneurs who need a steady foundation to grow their startups. Company founders immediately get plugged into the Triangle and University entrepreneurial community network through programming that includes lunch-and-learns as well as workshops with experts in various fields such as marketing, legal services and accounting.

“Launch was a dream we had and is an exciting aspect of economic development in Chapel Hill,” says Dwight Bassett, economic development director at the Town of Chapel Hill. “We’ve seen 153 companies accelerated since 2013 and 98 companies are still active. It’s important to grow and continue this work. Combined with the great work done by Innovate Carolina, we have a bright future.”

Each cohort cultivates and guides startup companies over 13 weeks. And startups that participate are founded by entrepreneurs in the local community as well as those with connections to UNC-Chapel Hill. In Cohort 15, teams affiliated with Duke University and North Carolina State University also participated. As the latest cohort of companies wrapped up their time in the accelerator, Launch’s annual report highlighted successes of previous alumni companies, including Eats2Seats, EmpowerRT, Get Spiffy, KeonaHealth, Seal the Seasons, and others.

“This experience has been above and beyond anything I could have expected it would be,” says Ginny Dropkin, co-founder of Hope NC, a nonprofit from cohort 15 that offers affordable, inclusive housing options for adults with developmental disabilities. “Thanks to all the mentors and members of our cohort for so much help and support.”

“We love this partnership and love being part of this community,” says Michelle Bolas, associate vice chancellor for innovation strategy and programs at Innovate Carolina. “As an innovation and economic prosperity designated campus, we are using our research, knowledge and expertise that we create here at UNC to make a difference and have an impact in our community. Innovate Carolina is committed to doing everything we can to continue to support entrepreneurship and future collaborations with the town and the county.”

The accelerate program typically occurs twice each year — from January to May and from August to December. But due to the generosity of a donation in 2018, Launch will again offer a summer cohort, which will run on an accelerated ten-week timeframe, kicking off in June. The summer accelerator focuses exclusively on student-founded ventures and offers founders a $5,000 stipend, plus workspace, mentorship, events and other programming available through the Launch community.

“Innovate Carolina is committed to growing the startup community and vibrancy of Chapel Hill by connecting the resources of UNC’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to the talent that needs support,” says Bolas. “Launch is a key asset in that effort.”

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