UNCW CIE’s Diane Durance to Pursue New Venture

Monday, August 02, 2021

Diane Durance, director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, will leave UNCW effective Aug. 13 to return to her home state of Michigan. In her new job with a group of “angel investors,” she will help entrepreneurs start their businesses on solid footing.

Under her leadership, the CIE greatly expanded its mission and footprint, building a mentor network for entrepreneurs and startups, bringing together support groups to better serve entrepreneurs and helping to build a local Blue Economy network.

“One of Diane’s huge impacts has been to help grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Stuart Borrett, associate provost for research, innovation and commercialization. “The greater Wilmington region is different than it was five years ago, and Diane’s work has a lot to do with that. The university will miss her energy and creativity.”

With support from Chancellor Jose Sartarelli, Durance and the CIE also mentored very young entrepreneurs, establishing the Chancellor’s High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition and the Youth Entrepreneurship Program experience (YEPex).

Durance said she is especially proud to have helped build a team-based mentoring group that now has more than 140 volunteer members, many of whom have moved or retired to the area and want to use their expertise to help others launch their own businesses. The network was built with funding from UNCW’s first “NC IDEA” grant as a way to support and grow the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

She was also instrumental in bringing “Fish 2.0” regional workshops and competition to UNCW in 2017 and 2019. The workshops brought sustainable fisheries and aquaculture ventures together with mentors and potential investors. As a former Fish 2.0 finalist, she knew about the opportunity and was able to organize the regional workshops, representing entrepreneurs from multiple states.

“Through those programs, we started developing what we call the Alliance for the Blue Economy, or All Blue,” Durance said. The group, which includes about 120 community volunteers and more than 30 UNCW faculty and staff, is planning a week-long “All Blue Week” in November that will feature events at UNCW and throughout Wilmington.

“Among the projects we have been involved with includes our second NC IDEA grant, which brought NC A&T engineering students together with UNCW students in environmental science, marine biology and business to work on solutions to some of the challenges we have in the marine environment,” she said. “One of our goals is helping to develop more businesses that have a positive impact on the ocean and marine life.”

Durance was hired in 2016 after a national search for a leader for the center, which interacts with students, faculty and the local business community. When she arrived, there were many local groups working with entrepreneurs. Through the CIE, she helped form a coalition among those groups, which partnered with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal to make it easier for entrepreneurs to find the support they need.

The university will conduct a national search for a new director. Selection of an interim director and details about the search will be announced as that information becomes available.

- Tricia Vance