CHAPEL HILL – Simultaneously, 18 new businesses opened their doors Wednesday evening with the official grand opening of LaUNCh Chapel Hill.
***Listen to the Ceremony***
“Government, business, and higher education can come together to create a great economy,” says Chapel Hill’s Mayor, Mark Kleinschmidt speaking just outside the business incubator located on Rosemary Street. “That’s how Chapel Hill got where it is today, and it’s the only way we’re going to meet the future our community deserves.”
He along with LaUNCh’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Jim Kitchen, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, and Orange County Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs symbolized the finalization of a process Downtown Partnership Executive Director Meg McGurk says was almost exactly a year in the making.
“We have all of these ventures that have already been in here for a few months that are already growing with these fantastic ideas,” McGurk says. “There’s some of the most creative ideas inside of LaUNCh right now. We all talk so much about what we want, but we actually made this happen.”
The grand opening came on the day when Orange County’s unemployment rate for March was released and once again came in as the lowest in the state. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson says it’s opportunities like LaUNCh that will continue to bring that number down and help all of Orange County thrive.
“Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County have a great economy,” Nelson says. “We were late into this recession; we are first out; and entrepreneurship is going to be our future. We’re going to focus on the University’s growth and expansion, the hospital, education, and then things like this, like LaUNCh Chapel Hill where small/mid-size enterprise can thrive here in our community.”
And while jobs are statistically increasing in Orange County, Chapel Hill relies heavily on the creation of jobs from UNC. But, as Chancellor Thorp says, the continuous budget cuts handed out by the State Legislature put a kink in that plan.
“These are the jobs that will move the meter in terms of the unemployment rate,” Chancellor Thorp says. “The University is luck if we can keep our budget flat right now, so there’s not going to be huge amounts of hiring there. But the entrepreneurial businesses can grow quickly, and the more we start here, the more they can do that and contribute to Orange County’s economy. So, great news on the unemployment rate, and this is certainly part of the whole picture.”
The venture lab is 3,500 square feet, so all 18 businesses are literally right next door to each other. While there are mentors and coaches helping them to eventually reach their goals of getting outside the four walls of LaUNCh and helping them to be self-sustaining, Kitchen says some of the help has to come from one another.
“A key part of this is really going to be getting these businesses to create this culture where they do support one another,” Kitchen says.
Each business startup signs a six-month agreement with LaUNCh. If needed, that contract can be extended to one year. Then, it’s out into Chapel Hill where Kitchen says there are a lot of opportunities just around the corner.
“We have 140 West; pretty soon we’re going to have 123 West, which is the former University Square space,” Kitchen says. “These companies will move to these other places across the street, so it’s an incredible new ecosystem that we’re creating here.”