The Entrepreneurship Incubator at UNC-Pembroke graduated its first business – a federal contractor called Lumbee Tribe Enterprises, LLC, Sept. 14.
The incubator, housed in the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, is designed to provide startup clients access to the resources and expertise offered at UNCP and the local area. UNCP students can also get hands-on learning experiences through internships and other learning opportunities at the center, a university press release said.
“It provided an opportunity to network with other companies that were in the incubator, and then you have the UNCP leadership that would talk to you in general about entrepreneurship and what starting a business is all about and what the incubator could do to help,” said Ron Oxendine, chief operating officer of LTE.
Ted Zoller, an entrepreneurship professor in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, said there is a similar program at UNC called LAUNCH Chapel Hill that helps students accelerate business growth.
“We have an accelerator that’s ranked in the top four in the United States,” he said. “It gives an opportunity for students to engage directly with regional businesses that are both starting and scaling so that they can learn the principles of executing entrepreneurial businesses.”
Zoller said entrepreneurs who have started a business in the past are a good resource for students in the accelerator and can help them avoid common mistakes that slow growth.
“By working together as a network, they’re able to insulate the business from a lot of outside risk by helping them avoid potential pitfalls,” he said. “They ask the tough questions — they’re prepared to understand the business risks and to give real world assessments to the founders.”
Oxendine said the incubator gave the company a head start.
“It helps you with a network and it gives you lots of opportunities to interface with other companies — and in our particular business, networking is a big key,” he said.
Zoller said networking is also a crucial part of the UNC program and that networks between students and the University are mutually beneficial.
“It gives an opportunity for students to be on the ground floor of enterprises that might grow and lead to job opportunities,” he said. “The University is a source of talent and also a source of expertise and growing business. You’re helping to provide opportunities for students to be exposed to new ventures and giving them an outlet for potential professional development.”
Students should consider the possibilities of being part of a smaller entrepreneurial startup rather than corporate job opportunities, Zoller said.
“In many cases, startup businesses will give you a better training ground because they grow so quickly and you’re asked to do things that are well past your training,” he said. “You get a lot more experience.”
Oxendine said he hoped other businesses could get started at the incubator.
“I would encourage any company that’s trying to get a start to go talk to the incubator,” he said. “Learn their capabilities, what they can do and provide, and if you’re looking for a place to call home, go work at the incubator.”
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