UNCW, Greater Wilmington Business Journal Name PlayerSpace Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who are the rising stars in the region’s business community? Each year, the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Greater Wilmington Business Journal aim to find out by recognizing innovative businesses and nonprofits in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties with the Coastal Entrepreneur Awards.

Since first winning a Coastal Entrepreneur Award in 2013, Todd John’s Wilmington-based tech company PlayerSpace has emerged as a leader in sports program management software, earning it the title of 2017 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year. Founded in 2007, the company is the exclusive provider of swim lesson management software to YMCAs across the country.

Ten local businesses, many with ties to or roots in UNCW or the CIE, were finalists for the 2017 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Community engagement, including partnerships to enhance innovation and regional growth, is a key component of UNCW’s Strategic Plan.

“Each of these companies has much to be proud of,” said Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli, who gave remarks at the May 24 awards ceremony. “At UNCW, we strive to do our part to keep the Cape Fear Region’s economic engine running through the contributions of our employees, our students, our centers and our outreach, particularly with events like these that recognize entrepreneurial success.”

This year’s individual-category winners, which were announced in the GWBJ, are:

Cucalorus Connect, a five-day business conference that runs in conjunction with the popular Cucalorus Film Festival, was founded and is sponsored by the CIE and tekMountain.

Nonprofit organization paws4people pairs custom-trained assistance dogs with those living with serious illnesses or disabilities. It’s directed by Kyria Henry, an instructor in UNCW’s Assistance Dog Training Program.

The CIE provides Vavaroom, Half United and PlayerSpace interns and employees and the companies provide advising and mentoring for CIE startups in return.

Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, established and owned by Ben Wright ’98 and his wife, Amy, was the 2016 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year. The couple started the coffee shop to provide employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s named after two of their children Bitty, 7, and Beau, 12, who have Down syndrome.

Group photo

--Caroline Cropp