Innovate Carolina’s Innovation Showcase, an annual event which took place Thursday night at the Friday Center, acts as “a time for us all to get together, share, celebrate and then connect with the community and investors,” said Judith Cone, vice chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.
The event, which was held for its 10th year, hosted nearly 50 teams from startup companies, social ventures and research initiatives that are led by UNC students, faculty and graduates or by local innovators, allowing the teams to interact and network with investors.
“Six hundred people have registered to come and, really, highlight what they do and expose them — these companies — to investors and the general public, because you never know where a network is going to become very helpful to a person,” Cone said.
In the past, the event was smaller and focused more on faculty members’ ideas to improve treatments for disease, but over the years, Innovate Carolina has “expanded it to look more holistically at the entire campus,” Cone said. Now, the participating teams’ ideas range anywhere from educational and social ventures to scientific and technological innovations.
“The innovation showcase is really the culmination of a year's worth of efforts, and sometimes numerous years' worth of efforts, of student, faculty and alumni innovators,” said Brock Pierce, the marketing communications manager at Innovate Carolina.
Pierce talked about the importance of the event, which connects innovators to others in the innovation community and to investors while allowing them to get experience presenting their ideas.
The economic side of the startups that come out of these events has been extremely successful, Pierce said. As of 2019, Pierce said that 8,873 jobs had been created by startups affiliated with the University, many of which came from Innovation Showcases.
Additionally, Pierce noted that, alongside jobs, active startups affiliated with UNC are also responsible for generating about $10.6 billion in revenue, and 94 percent of the startups generating that revenue are headquartered all across North Carolina.
Pierce mentioned Phoenyx, “a venture that has a dual environmental and economic purpose.” While providing living-wage jobs for those struggling to find employment in the Chapel Hill area, Phoenyx uses recycled billboard vinyl to create bags, which ultimately keeps that vinyl out of landfills.