UNCW, Greater Wilmington Business Journal Name Beau’s Coffee 2016 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Beau’s Coffee, founded by owners Amy and Ben Wright with the goal of providing meaningful employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was named the 2016 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year at a May 24 ceremony honoring innovative businesses in the Cape Fear Region.

The Coastal Entrepreneur Awards are presented by UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Greater Wilmington Business Journal in recognition of companies and nonprofits that have created a marketable business or product from the germ of an idea. Many of those businesses have their roots at UNCW or in the CIE.

Beau’s was one of 10 CEA finalists recognized in nine categories. The Entrepreneur of the Year is selected from among those businesses.

UNCW Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli noted that the 10 entrepreneurs honored have gained the respect of the business community for their innovative approach to problem solving and public service.

“You are part of the wave of innovation that is propelling our region’s economy forward in essential ways, and we’re all proud of you,” Sartarelli said. “Thank you for being great role models for UNCW students who dream of starting their own businesses one day.”

For the Wrights, the business plan behind Beau’s was personal. Their two youngest children were born with Down syndrome, including their son, the business’ namesake. The coffee shop opened in a small space in Wilmington earlier this year. It employs 24 people, including 19 with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and business has been brisk.

Beau’s caught the attention of TV host Rachael Ray, who featured the shop on her morning show. The Wrights have had more than 150 inquiries from across the nation expressing interest in opening a Beau’s franchise, and also plan to expand within Wilmington.

“Most of the people standing on this stage have never had a moment like this,” Amy Wright told the audience at the Burney Center. “They have been marginalized and discriminated against, so this feels like the Academy Awards for us.”

Each of the entrepreneurs honored at the CEA presentations has taken an idea and built it into a successful business. This year’s individual-category CEA winners were:

  • Biotechnology: Atlantic Biotechnology
  • Emerging Company: Lapetus Solutions
  • Emerging Company: Prone2Paddle
  • Health Care: Wilmington Orthotics & Prosthetics
  • Internet-Related Business: Likeli
  • Manufacturing & Distribution: Bradford Products
  • Nonprofit: WHQR Public Radio
  • Professional Services: Edu-Tell
  • Retail & Hospitality - Beau’s Coffee
  • Technology: LifeGait

Six of the 10 companies are affiliated with the CIE or UNCW in some way. Lapetus Solutions, which has developed facial analytics, software and “dynamic questioning” to better predict risk and longevity, was founded by UNCW computer science professor Karl Ricanek. Edu-Tell, which helps people self-mentor “and take charge of their own success,” was founded by Marsha Carr, an associate professor in the Watson College of Education. Both companies are housed in the CIE.

Atlantic Biotechnology was started by UNCW alumnus Richard Huse ’15. LifeGait is a tenant of Seahawk Innovation, which is housed in the CIE and helps entrepreneurs get their fledgling businesses off the ground. Prone2Paddle, which designs paddleboards, and WHQR are CIE members.

Last year’s winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award was mimujimi, a Seahawk Innovation company. The company’s product, an ergonomic baby bottle designed to replicate breastfeeding, is sold around the world.

--Tricia Vance