UNCW’s CIE Supports Veterans on the Road to Entrepreneurship

Monday, December 22, 2014

At UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), veterans have found camaraderie, a common sense of purpose, and the support they need to succeed as inventors and start-up founders.

“Being around like-minded individuals who can help you develop your ideas further is important,” said Tepi Technologies Inc. founder Edward Hall, who graduated from UNCW in 2013. “You get a lot more traction in a place like this.”

Hall, a U.S. Navy veteran who served on the USS Mahan, has a patent-pending pet bowl in the works. It is an autofeeding device connected wirelessly to a pet’s collar that can be programed to dispense specific amounts of food to specific pets. He thought of the idea “a while ago, but I made a lot of progress once I became a member of the CIE.”

Hall met Andrew Williams, a product developer and founder of Elite Innovations LLC, through Jim Roberts, executive director of the CIE. Roberts introduced them, knowing that Hall and Williams share an interest in product development as well as a background in the military.

“The networking at the CIE has been incredible. That’s what this community is all about,” said Williams, a Wilmington native and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He is the inventor of TacLace, a rapid boot-lacing system for military personnel and outdoors enthusiasts. He also developed ORIGOSafe, a mobile-phone docking system that promotes driving safety.

In October 2014, Williams and Hall opened Maker Space, a 6,000-square-foot workshop on South 18th Street in Wilmington. The Maker Space provides innovators and entrepreneurs with access to the room and equipment needed for metalworking, 3-D printing, drafting, woodworking and more.

“We have 18 original projects underway in the space,” Williams said. “All of them are local products and, at first glance, many of them are rock-star ideas.”

The opportunity to bounce ideas off other entrepreneurs like Williams and Hall brings Jefferson Beaucicaut to Wilmington from Jacksonville, N.C., several days a week. A Marine Corps veteran who lives in Jacksonville, he launched his second start-up operation, Pawn-O-Gram, in 2014. The business, an online marketplace for pawn shop operators and customers, builds on a digital pawn shop-thrift store idea he previously pursued. 

“The CIE has experienced entrepreneurs with different expertise than my own,” Beaucicaut said. “I’ve been introduced to many people here, and I’m learning how they operate their businesses.”

Beaucicaut hopes to recruit more pawn shop owners and customers to Pawn-O-Gram in 2015 by promoting usage of the company’s mobile app for iPhone and iPad.

“In addition to providing entrepreneurial support services for veterans, the CIE also serves to connect veteran entrepreneurs to relevant best-practices and other resources necessary to guide these former military members in every step of business development,” said Ron Vetter, UNCW associate provost for research and dean of the graduate school.

John Panaccione, chief executive officer of LogicBay Corp., leased an office in the CIE as soon as UNCW opened the center on South College Road in September 2013. His company offers cloud-based software solutions to global clients including Caterpillar, Daimler Trucks North America and Texas Instruments. Panaccione, a U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm, led LogicBay through its start-up in 2003, its early investment fundraising efforts and its transition to “software-as-service” model in 2006. He moved the company to Wilmington in 2010.

Being a part of the CIE has increased his involvement in the regional business community. He said, “The CIE has connected me to investors and community stakeholders.”

With LogicBay’s proven success as a base, Panaccione is translating his experience into a training model for other veterans-turned-entrepreneurs. He is one of two directors with VetToCEO, a nonprofit organization that encourages veterans and military personnel to consider entrepreneurship as a career path following their service.  

“I’m trying to help veterans with start-ups and emerging companies follow best practices in setting up their businesses,” he said. “We find that veterans don’t need the usual business training. We don’t focus on leadership and teamwork. The military puts that into your DNA. Veterans know how to assess and manage risk and make decisions. We focus on finance, budgets, sales and marketing – things you typically don’t pick up in the military.”

The CIE’s role in building a regional community of entrepreneurs is important, especially to veterans, he added.

“In the military, you have a strong sense of teamwork. When you take off the uniform, you lose that in a way, and you miss it. By providing us with a place to gather as veterans and entrepreneurs, the CIE encourages us to continue engaging in that military culture of teamwork, of helping each other, and that supports entrepreneurship in the area.”