Support for Entrepreneurs
Heather McWhorter takes on CIE director role
After serving as interim director of the University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, HEATHER MCWHORTER was named director by the university.
The organization seeks to support entrepreneurs in the region through mentorship, incubator space, grant application assistance, networking, and more. McWhorter brings experience as the former UNCW Small Business and Technology Development Center director.
During her time as interim, taking over after former director DIANE DURANCE from August 2021 to June, McWhorter says she was able to achieve significant milestones.
“First, in November 2021, CIE launched its first Alliance for the Blue Economy (All Blue) Conference, which had seventeen events, 750-plus attendees, 8,000 volunteer hours, and reached 27,000-plus people through digital media,” McWhorter says. “Second, in late 2021, CIE and the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington were awarded an NC IDEA Regional Impact grant to offer a new, innovative program to startup founders and teams called StartupEQ.”
StartupEQ is a program that teaches business resiliency to entrepreneurs and small business owners. That grant also allowed the CIE to launch a new Business Coalition website to increase reach and inclusivity.
WILMA talked to McWhorter about her goals in her new role, helping entrepreneurs, and women-focused initiatives at the CIE.
WILMA: Why did you want to take on the role of CIE director?
McWhorter: “This is a decision that I did not take lightly, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was not going to let pass by. It has been an honor to work with the North Carolina SBTDC, which is one of the best SBDC programs in the nation. In my five years with the UNCW SBTDC, the team helped small businesses survive Hurricanes Florence and Dorian – not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic. Creating the statewide SBTDC Business Launch initiative in the UNC system and SBTDC Taking the Leap program was a lot of fun and creates huge results for business startups. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with the SBTDC as a partner. But the CIE is something special. In my travels across the nation to similar Centers, I have not come across another university-based entrepreneurship center that was created as a gift to the community. It is loved by the entrepreneurs that we serve, as well as our hundreds of mentors and volunteers. CIE is about letting people live their full entrepreneurial potential, while also building an entire region that is vibrant and innovative.”
WILMA: What are some goals you have for the center as its new director?
McWhorter: “The initial focus of my directorship will include supporting entrepreneur success, building an entrepreneurial talent pipeline, and enhancing inclusivity and sustainability in emerging high-growth startups. Building on existing momentum, I aim to position Wilmington as a global destination for entrepreneurs solving big problems.”
WILMA: How will the center continue to help area entrepreneurs?
McWhorter: “Some of the favorite programs and services for entrepreneurs will continue – for example, the CIE Membership program, coworking, incubator space, the CIE Mentors, and the CIE Media team. Some new programs are already in the works, such as Welcome Wednesdays, which will be the first Wednesday of each month starting in September, and any community member can stop by CIE between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a tour or ask questions about starting a business or community resources for entrepreneurs. Anyone working on a startup can also cowork for free on Welcome Wednesdays. Another example of a program that is in the works is Entrepreneur Day, when we will match UNCW classes with our region’s entrepreneur speakers, so UNCW students have the opportunity to learn about business ownership and entrepreneurial ventures, and the community has an opportunity to give back to UNCW and student learning. Entrepreneur Day will be in November.”
WILMA: You mentioned that you are passionate about bringing programs to help women interested in venture capital-backed companies. Why are you passionate about that and what initiatives do you hope to bring for women?
McWhorter: “Despite existing strengths, the region’s participation in business ownership and high-growth entrepreneurship does not represent its Census-based population of people of color, nor of women. Compounded on the gap in business ownership is the inclusivity gap in high-growth entrepreneurship, with several reinforcing data points such as less than 10% of venture-backed companies having a female founder (Pitchbook) and 1% of venture-backed companies having an African American founder (HBR). There are many reasons for the inclusivity gap, but some of them, such as access, culture, and understanding are some of the items I plan to lean into as the CIE director.”
WILMA: Anything else you would like to mention about your new role?
McWhorter: “CIE is going to be hiring a full-time program manager! I am looking for a rock star who is dedicated to entrepreneurial success and the Wilmington region. Watch for the position in the UNCW jobs site.”
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
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