InnovateNC, a private-public partnership between Forward Cities and the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Office of Science, Technology & Innovation, that helps communities and regions in North Carolina expand their innovation economy and foster greater economic inclusion. The first cohort of cities, launched in 2015, included Asheville, Greensboro, Pembroke, Wilmington, and Wilson.



Image of Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is to become a global center of innovation for products and services that accelerate climate resiliency. Through the InnovateNC process, they have identified several strategies for success. These include building the brand of Asheville as “Climate City” USA and growing talent retention and attraction in the climate solutions field that is demographically representative of the Asheville community, such as through internship programs. Ultimately, they want to grow the number of climate solutions jobs in the region and increase private and public investment in local climate science enterprises. Thanks in part to their work under the first phase of InnovateNC, the City of Asheville hosting this conference to explore innovative climate solutions and business opportunities. More details can be found here. Asheville is also home to the Collider, a unique incubator for climate-based enterprises, that is working to strengthen the region’s climate economy and national reputation for climate innovation. Watch InnovateNC: Asheville episode on UNC-TV.


Image of Greensboro, North Carolina

InnovateGSO has focused their efforts on purposefully engaging under-connected populations to unleash design innovation for economic growth. Under-connected populations—college students, people of color, immigrants, millennials, encorepreneurs (boomers looking for a next gig), retirees, scientists, artists, academic professionals, and international visa holders—lacking those key relationships and connectivity to the people, information and resources necessary to successfully launch and sustain desired entrepreneurial efforts. And Greensboro aims to change that. Their vision is to create a design destination that attracts, develops and retains diverse creative talent and enterprises to establish Greensboro as an epicenter for inclusive innovation. One initiative emerging from the InnovateNC efforts is the launch of a high-tech/ high-touch “Ambassadors” program to help connect currently under-connected communities with the city’s growing wealth of entrepreneurial support resources and organizations. More information can be found at Watch the InnovateNC: Greensboro episode on UNC-TV.



University of North Carolina at Pembroke, photo by PilotGuy

Pembroke believes there is a strategic opportunity to create new jobs and foster new enterprise development while reducing costs and increasing quality of life for the community behind new technologies in sustainability in three key sectors. These include “green” construction, home health care that enables seniors to “age in place”, and agribusiness using the latest in technological advances. Their vision is to become a model micropolitan entrepreneurial economy through this innovative work. In recognition of their proactive efforts to accelerate their local innovation economy, The North Carolina Rural Center bestowed the honor of 2017 Small Town of the Year to Pembroke at its annual gathering in December, 2017. The award recognizes communities that embrace citizen engagement, value diversity and foster strong partnerships. The selected town must show progress through innovative economic development projects and programs, and foster an entrepreneur-friendly environment, and participation in InnovateNC was a key factor in helping Pembroke to make these changes. Watch the InnovateNC: Pembroke episode on UNC-TV.


WILMINGTON/Carolina Coast (InnovateSENC)

Image of Carolina Coast

InnovateSENC is working to develop a support system to enhance cooperation among the region’s business, educational, government, and economic development organizations and cultivating the ecosystem by promoting the growth of small businesses. Specific strategies include building a talent pipeline to grow, recruit and retain marine and life science entrepreneurs; developing a network of resources that enable innovators to launch and thrive; exploring ways to measure the impact of marine and life science innovations on local communities; coordinating economic development government policies to cultivate entrepreneurs; and driving global PR attention to the marine and life science stories coming out of the region. More information can be found at Watch the InnovateNC: Wilmington episode on UNC-TV.



Image of Wilson, North Carolina

Wilson is better networked to the Internet economy than many of its peers and is therefore positioned to catalyze its growth as a next-economy community– made up of both import-substituting businesses that meet local demand as well as scalable, innovation-based ventures that will increase jobs and investment—all at the speed of gig. Wilson’s second strategy is to play a supporting role that will endorse and reinforce Historic Downtown Wilson’s creative renaissance and celebrate the community’s signature take on craftsmanship: the whirligig. Strategies include building talent and widely-shared opportunity, supporting and scaling existing and emerging enterprises, producing “great gigs” – events that strengthen networks between entrepreneurs and the broader business community, encouraging imagination, creation, and collision through creative placemaking, and marketing and branding the city and region as a great place for business and entrepreneurship. Wilson’s efforts are starting to pay off—attracting significant philanthropic capital from leading funders like the Golden Leaf Foundation that is helping put Wilson’s bold vision into action. Watch the InnovateNC: Wilson episode on UNC-TV.