North Carolina Spaces for Innovation Challenge Finalists



Spaces for Innovation Challenge Finalists

Innovation thrives when people, organizations, and cultures come together and mix things up, often in the context of supportive policies and programs. Thriving centers of innovation take different forms. Most feature a critical density of ideas, people, and resources. Proximity tends to correlate positively to enhanced innovation capacity, but the interplay of physical location, virtual connections, and innovation is complex. IEI’s “North Carolina Spaces for Innovation” Challenge will showcase the best example among North Carolina’s most promising innovation spaces.  IEI featured the winning space for innovation prominently at our 30th Annual Emerging Issues Forum, “Innovation Reconstructed,” set for February 9-10, 2015, at the Raleigh Convention Center. A full description of the contest can be found here.


Asheville Climate Collider

Asheville has long had a reputation as the place to visit for its special climate.  Now, through a multi-sector collaboration, Asheville’s climate reputation is poised to grow anew.  In 2015, Asheville will stake its claim as the place for the climate data services industry and the center of a worldwide climate services network.

The development of a 26,000 sq. ft. entrepreneur center two blocks from NCDC will provide the space, support and resources the industry needs to grow. The Callen Center, the private component, will be a Gold LEED office hub, and The Collider, the nonprofit engine at the core of the collaboration, will provide the strategic support through B2B networking events, resources and workshops.

The project includes 11,000 sq. ft. of leasable office space, a technology theatre, conference rooms, lounges and coworking.  Key partners in public, private and institutional economic development sectors are joining resources to maximize the potential. The site opens in 2015.

Durham Innovation District

The Durham Innovation District — or Durham.ID —  achieves a first for North Carolina: situating a world-class life sciences research and technology hub amid a vibrant downtown while also being directly connected to a major university. As Mayor Bill Bell explains, “There are so many researchers in secluded areas. Now we can bring them together downtown.”

Nestled in the heart of the Bull City, Durham.ID now counts 500,000 sq ft of Class-A research and office space, including a Duke lab specializing in personalized medicine. An additional 1.5 million sq ft is under development that will both house research and technology AND better knit together downtown Durham. Apartments and retail will welcome creative professionals. Tree-lined lanes will connect neighborhoods.

Already Durham is seeing ancillary benefits. A Longfellow Real Estate Partners grant of $260,000 created a community partnership that will open a pipeline of future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

HQ Raleigh Co-working SPace

HQ Raleigh is a shared workspace designed to empower, foster, and cultivate companies that produce long-term job growth and positive social impact. HQ Raleigh addresses two challenges that entrepreneurs face: building a trusted support community and gaining access to flexible, affordable work space.   Founded in October 2012 by four serial entrepreneurs – Brooks Bell, Jesse Lipson, Christopher Gergen, and Jason Widen – its original 5,000 sf space on Hillsborough Street was at capacity in less than six months.

In March 2014, HQ Raleigh opened a renovated 15,000 square-foot space in Raleigh’s Warehouse District that is home to nearly 100 companies at varying stages of development.  HQ Raleigh has played an integral role in the entrepreneurial growth the area. Its member companies have raised $20 million in venture capital and angel investment and created over 150 jobs. In the two years since its inception, HQ Raleigh has formed partnerships with organizations such as the Wireless Research Center of NC, the RTP, and CEDNC. The NC State Office of Technology Transfer and Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network both have shared offices within HQ Raleigh.

HQ Raleigh also facilitates several entrepreneurial initiatives, including Startup Madness, a pitch competition for ACC students; NC DataPalooza, an open-data startup competition; the ThinkHouse, a 9 month living and learning accelerator for recent graduates pursuing entrepreneurial ventures; and Innovate Raleigh, a non-profit dedicated to making Raleigh and the Triangle a top 5 center for entrepreneurship in the nation.

Manufacturing Solutions Center, Conover

In 1990,  executives from family-owned hosiery manufacturing companies in the Western Piedmont area of North Carolina determined that a technology center was needed to support existing businesses that were facing a need for skilled labor.    Manufacturing equipment was transitioning from mechanical to electronic with use of computers. Marketing challenges were growing as retail consolidation required companies to compress lead time from orders to shipments.  The hosiery industry supply chain also faced similar demands.  In 1992, with Dan St. Louis as director, the Hosiery Technology Center was created at Catawba Valley Community College.  The center was funded by the North Carolina General Assembly and industry contributions as an independent entity.

Survival of the hosiery manufacturing industry in North Carolina can be attributed to creative spirit and dedication of the leadership at the Manufacturing Solutions Center.  St. Louis and his staff correctly perceived that a market would continue to exist for high-quality American-made hosiery products. A world-class product testing center developed in the late 1990s has functioned as a conduit between small and medium-sized mills and national retailers.

As the economies in Asian and other off-shore manufacturing hubs cope with rising labor costs,  there is a movement to re-establish U.S. production capabilities.  The Manufacturing Solutions Center has been in the forefront to encourage and support business start ups in North Carolina communities where entrepreneurism has been ingrained in the culture. Also the center’s 22-years reputation has resulted in business for North Carolina manufacturers through entrepreneurs throughout the nation.  The center’s support has created markets for apparel, hosiery,and furniture producers.

The North Carolina Innovation Crescent

The NC Innovation Crescent will be a globally-significant center of innovation by connecting the Piedmont’s existing educational, corporate and human resources into a unified labor / knowledge market. The Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte crescent will be linked by enhancing the existing state-owned passenger rail system. Improvements currently underway (and paid for) will bring Charlotte and Raleigh within an hour rail commute to the Triad. This will create a region of 12 universities, four medical schools, four engineering schools, 21 Fortune 1000 headquarters, four globally-renowned research parks, three international airports, six million residents and 1.5 million skilled workers, an innovative capacity similar to Seattle or Boston.

These assets are currently too dispersed to maintain meaningful linkages between them – our geography is an impediment to innovation. Bridging these gaps will facilitate interactions and could increase North Carolina’s output by more than $50 billion per year (by bringing our productivity levels closer to the peer cities above). Improved mobility will also allow workers in the region to access a broader range of employment options, which is critical in the volatile innovation-industry labor market.

A commuter rail network, on existing 90 mph tracks, is proposed to unify the region. This system will bring the Triad within a one hour commute of both Charlotte and Raleigh — an hour faster than driving. The network’s stations are within 5 miles of 60% of the region’s population and 74% of its businesses. Commuter fares are estimated to be $8-10 and the cost of necessary improvements to the rail system are estimated to be half of the proposed, $2 billion, Research Triangle Park redesign.

[The NC Innovation Crescent did not submit a video.]


NC School of Science and Math

The North Carolina School of Science and Math’s Distance Education and Residential programs have extended the keystone innovations that other states modeled and continue to replicate.  NCSSM’s goal is to annually increase the percentage of graduates who are actively engaged in STEM-related fields.  A UNC constituent, NCSSM serves more students by distance education than its residential program, providing two modes to serve outstanding and innovating high school students in North Carolina.

One of the largest providers of live videoconference education in the state, NCSSM has provided unique STEM courses to underserved and under-resourced schools.  Its Online Program, a first of its kind model, provides promising students the opportunity to concentrate on STEM courses and join a cohort of statewide innovators while continuing to attend their local school.  Its residential school, the largest of its kind in the U.S., serves 680 high potential 11th and 12th grade students coming from around 90 NC counties each year.  Students and families do not pay a fee for NCSSM’s residential or distance education courses.

Tens of thousands of students and teachers statewide are connected to NCSSM through its curriculum and learning resources available for free online.  NCSSM also hosts many conferences and events that reach more teachers and students across the state. With alumni from all 100 counties, NCSSM’s alumni have contributed $500,000,000  to the state economy and demonstrates how NC leads innovation in education.

YES!: Youth and Adults Creating Change

Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), embraces equity through youth adult partnerships in order to take on the enormous challenges of our communities. Our innovative approach is the shared vision of a world where the voices of youth are as valued and respected as the voices of adults.YES! is an organization that was founded in 2008 and strives to capitalize on the strengths of youth adult partnerships to create sustainable systematic, environmental, and policy change. YES! is based in Raleigh, NC and has offices in Charlotte, Asheville, and Washington, DC.

The organizational structure of YES! is flat. There is no hierarchy. High school aged youth staff are the driving force behind the work we do as an organization. Not only are youth staff creating sustainable change, but they also shape policies of the organization and are integral in planning the future of the organization. Adult staff are dedicated to navigating the field and helping the youth work around the bureaucracy of existing systems. Along with helping remove the barriers, our adult partners help grow our skills so that we can be effective when making change. Youth and adults work as equals and come from diverse backgrounds. Each office strives to have a staff that is representative of the surrounding community. 

Since its foundation, YES! has led efforts resulting in smoke-free restaurants and tobacco-free schools.  YES! has increased healthy options sold at local corner stores, increased access for youth to health care services, and supported many policies that have impacted millions across the state. By viewing the successes of YES!, it is evident that youth are necessary in the creation of sustainable community change. To make changes that will be accepted by youth – the changes must be created and driven by youth.