Entrepreneurship Push

Diane Durance aims entrepreneurs to the future

Diane Durance sets forth a goal and a challenge to prospective entrepreneurs: Go above and beyond to find solutions to the global challenges we face.

Durance is the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and as an entrepreneur herself, having started three separate businesses, she knows what it takes.

In her initial entrepreneurial endeavor, Durance ran a company that designed long-distance phone networks for phone companies that led to a partnership with Lexicom Publishing Group Inc., a telecommunications company providing custom marketing materials for clients nationwide.

Durance spent time across the country until the desire to settle down to raise her two daughters led her to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she started yet another business venture.

While working on her third business, a general contracting firm, Durance became involved in what would lead her to her true passion: helping others start businesses.

“I became a part of the New Enterprise Forum, mentoring companies on their new ventures, and I got to know about entrepreneurial support organizations,” Durance says.

The team-based approach intrigued Durance, who was able to use her experience with the organization to transfer to her next big career move as president of the Ann Arbor IT Zone, now known as Ann Arbor SPARK.

“This is when I went full time into the work I do now,” Durance says. “I helped create relationships with the university and bridge relationships between entrepreneurs from the community and the university.”

Next, Durance became the director of the Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest, whose mission is to help support the formation of high-growth companies in Michigan.

Durance was able to connect entrepreneurs from all the public universities in Michigan with grant investors.

“We provided free services to interesting people doing great stuff,” she says.

While in Michigan, Durance became an investor in aquaculture, supporting small farmers who were struggling to make ends meet from farming their land alone.

“There are more children living in poverty on family farms in Michigan than in Flint and Detroit combined,” Durance says. “Fish are in high demand, and it can mean $30-$40,000 in revenue for a family farm.”

The opportunity for expanding such ventures was just one of the many prospects that drew Durance to UNCW’s CIE.

Under her leadership, Durance has helped host workshops connecting U.S. South Atlantic fisheries and aquaculture businesses with Fish 2.0, an organization that creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet potential investors and industry experts to learn about emerging technologies and trends.

“There are so many challenges and huge global issues, and this is an area where we can excel with our local talent,” Durance says.

“University research centers focus on driving policy, but with quotas, can’t solve these problems with grant-funded resources. We can solve them with entrepreneurship and innovative technology.”

Durance’s 2020 challenge to potential entrepreneurs is to focus on what is to come.

“I challenge them to think more deeply about what we are facing in the future,” she says. “Think about the serious problems to solve and take tech forward to the next level.”

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for WILMA newsletters and announcements.

Categories: Women to Watch