Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Blue Tech Ventures 

Blue Economy Innovation and Entrepreneurship

UNCW and Southeast NC are positioned to grow a world-class Blue Economy and the CIE is taking action to implement a strategy to make that happen. The Blue Economy is comprised of the businesses, technologies, and activities contributing to sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth and improved livelihoods and jobs.

Our mission is to establish the region as a global leader in the innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to challenges in the marine environment.

At UNCW, we have more than 100 faculty that are directly in the marine sciences, or in some way affiliated with the work being done to preserve ocean and coastal environments. Marine Science accounts for the majority of our university’s sponsored research. Among the universities in the UNC system, UNCW has the greatest number of undergraduate and graduate students in marine biology, marine science, and environmental sciences – and is the only university with a degree program in Coastal Engineering and plans for a PhD program in Applied Coastal Ocean Science.

Today, one in six jobs are in our region are in the Blue Economy. The CIE Blue Economy workgroup is actively developing initiatives to launch and grow more businesses, attract growth-stage ventures from around the country, and entice international companies to select Southeast North Carolina for their bluetech expansions.

Our core priorities are 1) Marine Engineering and IT: Robotics and Advanced Data Science Analytics; 2) Marine Biology: Marine Ecosystems, Sustainable Seafood, and Aquaculture; 3) Marine Biotechnology: Pharmacology, Natural Products, Water and Waste Systems, and Testing , and 4) Coastal Resilience: Hospitality and Recreation, Economic Durability, Infrastructure, and Disaster Recovery.

To gain traction in entrepreneurship related to, Marine Engineering and IT, the CIE is has developed a semester-long, inter-university program with NC A&T with the first cohort launching in January 2021. UNCW students in marine and environmental sciences will work in teams with engineering and computer science students from A&T to develop new products and software solutions needed by the Center for Marine Science, NC Ports, environmental agencies, and local marine businesses.

The Blue Economy Workgroup includes:

Troy Alphin, UNCW Center for Marine Science, Research Associate and Adjunct Faculty

Hon. Glenn Anderson, Principal, Strategikon Ventures

Susan Bales, Managing Partner, Bales Innovation Group

Diane Durance, Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship  

Joan Keston, Attorney, J.A. Keston Law, PLLC

Sam McCall, COO, SeaTox Research Inc.

Jay Schach, UNCW Cameron School of Business, Adjunct Professor; Mentor, Seagrass Consulting, LLC

Bill Wilson, Principal, Envision Strategies, LLC

Blue Economy Resources 

Please check out this article by Oceans Caucus Foundation and Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Rebuilding The U.S. Economy Through The Blue Economy

Watch waterloop#59 podcast with Diane Durance on Growing the Blue Economy in North Carolina!

Please contact us to learn more and receive updates on our progress. We welcome volunteers for the Blue Economy workgroup and to participate in community forums.

IT/Tech Ventures

The CIE has always been enthusiastic about technological ventures, from Mack Coyle's portable solar generators to Lapetus Solutions's work in biometrics. In December 2016, we partnered with tekMountain to send Sarah Ritter of Turnip Learning and Dr. Debbie Powell of Uni-SPIRE to the NY EdTech Week Conference. In April 2017, VR technology tenant Brilliant Sole won the first annual NC Tech Madness event. Some of the current ventures we’re working with include Electronic Lab Logs (winner of an NC IDEA Seed Grant), IndiOmics, Isosceles Pharmaceuticals, MyKinfo (winner of an NC IDEA Micro Grant), Neatcap, and OpiAID (recently received a $276,000 NIH grant).Both Brilliant Sole and OpiAID were successful participants in the Riot Business Accelerator program. 

We want to do more to connect our tech entrepreneurs with their industry and with industry experts and to give them the support and space they need. We will focus specifically on educational technology (edtech) and healthcare technology, but all tech innovators are welcome and well provided-for at the CIE.

Creative Ventures

Creative Economy Community Convening

Southeast NC is home to a strong and growing creative economy that has been hard hit by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. UNCW CIE recognizes it is more essential than ever to support these creative activities and businesses that contribute to the quality of life and dynamic economy in the Cape Fear Region.

In October 2018, the CIE initiated the Creative Economy Convening, bringing together stakeholders from across the region to advocate for increased funding opportunities, financial support, and other key resources for creative-based business ventures and non-profit organizations that support the arts in all its forms. The group meets monthly and all creatives and interested residents are welcome to participate.

The creative economy has many definitions. It is an evolving concept which builds on the interplay between human creativity and ideas and intellectual property, knowledge and technology. Essentially it is the knowledge-based economic activities upon which the 'creative industries' are based.

The creative economy includes the businesses and individuals involved in producing cultural, artistic, and design goods and services. It consists of creative professionals and enterprises that inspire us with their artistry or take powerful, original ideas and transform them into practical and often beautiful goods. It also includes organizations that provide a venue for artists to share their work with the public such as museums, art galleries and theaters. Finally, it includes activities one does not instinctively associate with creativity such as apparel, landscaping, toy and furniture manufacturing – all industries that depend on good design.

Our mission: To strengthen Southeast North Carolina’s creative economy and fuel our diverse arts and cultural community.

Strategic Goals:

  1. Generate Financial Support to Advance the Creative Community (Funding)
  2. Foster Political Support for the Creative Community as a Fundamental Component of Economic Development (Advocacy)
  3. Develop a Collaborative Effort Among Stakeholders and Pool Resources to Form Mutually-Reinforcing and Collaborative Relationships (Community)

Creative industries are valuable to the U.S. economy, contributing over $700B. In North Carolina alone, the creative job sector continues to increase year over year. According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 report, New Hanover county’s nonprofit arts and culture industries:

  • Generate $56 million in annual economic activity
  • Support 2,076 full-time job equivalents
  • Produce $44 million in household income for local residents
  • Generate $5.6 million in local and state government revenues

Our first public event was a Candidate’s Forum on February 24, 2020, for candidates running for New Hanover County Commissioner. All candidates running for local office were invited to participate in the forum to promote the bipartisan issue of economic development through the arts. Additional Candidate Forums are planned for fall 2020.

Following the lead of the Center for Creative Economy in Winston Salem, we’re including the industries listed below as examples of the diverse make-up of the creative economy. There is a concentration of design, artisanal skills, and creative technologies that serve various industries.

table of examples of creative economy businesses
Advertising Art & Health Animation Animatronics Apps (creative industries)
Architecture Augmented & Virtual Reality Crafts & Artisan Creative Health Tech Culinary Arts
Data Visualization Digital Design Educational Tech Fashion Film Production
Graphic Design Industrial Design Landscape Design Museum Tech Music
Performing Arts Photography Planning/Design Publishing Software (creative industries) 
Studio & Fine Arts 3D Printing (creative products) Toys & Games TV & Radio Video Games

The Creative Economy workgroup includes representatives from local government, non-profit organizations, and private businesses, as well as artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, and those passionate about preserving and growing our arts community. Active and key members of the workgroup include:

  • Rhonda Bellamy, Executive Director, The Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County
  • Kevin Blackburn, Executive Director, DREAMS
  • Dan Brawley, Chief Instigating Officer, Cucalorus Foundation
  • Jenny Callison, Board Member, Opera Wilmington
  • Erris Dunston, Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development, City of Wilmington
  • Ross Copenhaver, Videographer, Rossco Innovations
  • Amy Grant, Owner, Art in Bloom Gallery
  • Clark Henry, Owner, CIII Associates
  • Bill Knowles, Owner, ideawrks
  • Paul Lawler, former Wilmington City Council member
  • Kevin Maurer, Director of Community Engagement, Cape Fear Collective
  • Cordelia Norris, Senior Designer + Principal, Luna Creative
  • Fidias Reyes, Director of Arts Engagement, UNCW Office of the Arts
  • Deni Sindel, Artist
  • Phil Sindel, Independent Consultant
  • Ruth Ravitz Smith, President, RR Smith Strategic Solutions, LLC
  • Rob Zapple, Commissioner, New Hanover County

Please contact us to learn more and receive updates on our progress. We welcome volunteers for the Creative Economy workgroup and participants for community and candidate forums.

Creative Economy Resources: 

*Check out this video from Lighthouse Films! The Arts Council in Wilmington and NHC

Diversity in Entrepreneurship

Applied Learning

CIE’s applied learning project in 2020


4 UNCW art students participated in CIE’s applied learning project beginning in January. You can imagine the challenges they had to overcome this year. To schedule your own self guided visit, please contact The files you’ll need for your tour are below. OR, if COVID-19 has you stuck at home for awhile, check out Bradleigh giving a tour here.

Wilmington Way 

Wrightsville Ave.

Seahawk Alley

Youth Entrepreneurship 

The CIE launched the Youth Entrepreneurship Program Experience (YEPex) in 2018 as a year long experience consisting of monthly meetups for 9-12 graders to connect with local entrepreneurs and learn more about the entrepreneurial process and what it takes to startup a business.  The experience culminates with the Youth Summit in the spring at Kenan Auditorium with a keynote speaker, the Chancellor's competition, awards, and lunch on Kenan Lawn.  This program is for 9-12 graders who have any interest in innovation and entrepreneurship. We host a brief program followed by an engaging hands on activity each month, September-March and is offered for FREE to students from 18 counties (Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Hoke, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Robeson, Scotland, and Wayne).

The annual Chancellor’s High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition is the final program of the academic year for our high schoolers. This competition was an amazing opportunity for thinkers, dreamers, and innovators to explore their inner entrepreneurial spirit. This is a high school “lean” business competition for Southeast North Carolina and takes place end of April/early May.