UNCC’s innovation and entrepreneurship center — was named one of 10 recipients of a nationally recognized award.
Devin Collins, Ventureprise interim executive director, said the U.S. Small Business Administration and National Science and Technology Council’s Lab-to-Market Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem Prize recognizes the organization’s effort to address inclusivity, innovation and sustainable growth within its programming through research and economic development.
“About two years ago now, we really started putting in a lot of effort to ensure the reduction of the gender and racial disparities we know are in the entrepreneurial process,” Collins said. “The work we’re doing mirrors the racial and gender makeup of Charlotte, in general.”
“If you know anything about participation rates in the innovation space, you know you see a lot of white males. Through our partnerships and programs, we’ve been able to attract a (diverse) population here in Charlotte,” he added.
Ventureprise is a nonprofit that serves as a venture development organization for the university and the Charlotte region. Its programs target innovation-driven entrepreneurs as well as university researchers and students interested in entrepreneurship.
The nationally recognized award comes with a $25,000 prize, which Collins said Ventureprise will use to build new programming to help connect entrepreneurs across Charlotte with innovations within the university system.
Additionally, Collins said, Ventureprise was awarded an $80,000 NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant last fall. The grant was given to 17 organizations across the state that demonstrated a focus on supporting under-represented entrepreneurs.
“If you look at the work we’ve done in that space, it’s not just about getting entrepreneurs to participate; it’s also building out the pool of mentors, leaders, advisors and panelists,” he said. “We want that makeup to have the same general and racial demographic of the entrepreneurs you’re trying to attract.”
Collins said that, overall, the organization’s goal is to transform Charlotte’s innovation ecosystem.
“These two awards allow us to pilot a number of new programs, work with new community stakeholders and hopefully identify some best practices,” he said. “Our goal is to transform innovation at the university and here in Charlotte, but also, eventually serve across the U.S.”