What does it take to launch a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem? It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t always — if ever — easy.
Dan Roselli, founder of Charlotte-based Queen City Fintech and Packard Place, a hub for entrepreneurs in Charlotte’s uptown area, appreciates the long-range view it takes to launch a viable entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“The entrepreneur community here is very robust and growing,” Roselli said. “I think the connection of the ecosystem to the broader Charlotte community still has work to do. But I also believe in the philosophy that, in building an entrepreneurship community, you have to take a 20-year vision of what you are going to do.”
Brian Formato, principal and founder of Groove Management, a human capital consulting firm, has a similar, albeit galactic, view.
“The entrepreneur ecosystem in Charlotte is like a constellation. There are a lot of stars, but it is not well-connected. There is no overarching solar system, so it can be confusing to navigate,” he said. “But, there are also a lot of resources. [There are] very accomplished people who are open to sharing their knowledge and experience.”
And sometimes the stars align without all of the players knowing it.
Entrepreneur Justin Witz was on a mission to solve the inefficiency problem of the manually intensive request for proposal (RFP) process. Witz’s machine learning-driven answer became Catapult, a company he launched in February 2017. Focusing first on fintech companies, Witz was selected a month later to participate in Queen City Fintech.
QC Fintech is a microcosm of the entrepreneurial support mission behind Packard Place, Roselli explained. Almost 300 community mentors help guide, test and applaud participating startups.
One element of the intensive program is presenting at Charlotte’s Pitch Breakfast, a supportive environment for startups to practice their pitch for funding, without dollars on the line.
“You never know who may be listening,” said Juan Garzon, executive director of Pitch Breakfast and founder of StartCharlotte. “We have had connections made even via social media during Pitch Breakfast’s monthly events. One startup offered a software solution in the home-improvement market. People in the audience were talking about it on Twitter and the head of Lowe’s noticed and asked for an introduction. Those are the neat things that can happen, even when people aren’t in the room. So I encourage entrepreneurs to be on social media, and we encourage those connections as best we can.”
Witz is beyond appreciative for the opportunity. In its first year, over 4,000 customers joined Catapult’s subscription-based web app platform.
To Charlotte entrepreneur ecosystem trailblazers like Kevin Giriunas, founder of Advent Coworking, it’s not so unexpected to hear stories like this one about successful, organic collaborations.
“At the end of the day, we want to create, nurture and build collaboration among our members and the community,” Giriunas said. “Advent is an empowering space. Everyone here chooses to be here every day so they are already in a very different, embracing mindset. We’re really about giving individuals the platform to connect and collaborate, whatever that may look like.”
Still, some point out that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Charlotte lacks significant corporate involvement and investment. Roselli offers another perspective from his long-range entrepreneurship stargazer.
“If you ask me, are we on the right path? Yes. Are we there yet? No. But I’m not sure we’ll ever be ‘there,’” Roselli said. “It’s a continual journey of improvement and advancement. So if we’re thinking there is an end, that’s the wrong way to think of it.”
This story originally appeared in CLTstories.com.
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