Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship opens with five companies on board

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By the time his new office building opened grandly Thursday night in Wilmington, Jeff Gallop was already comfortably settled behind a clean, wraparound desk and plenty of personal identity, like the hockey memorabilia that made the place homey.

But it won’t be a permanent home to the PowerPlay Mobile CEO and his four employees. The plan of the mobile-marketing strategies company is to, pretty quickly, outgrow the place.

Gallop’s business is one of the first five tenants at 803 S. College Road, the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), a brand new but long-planned business accelerator serving to house infant-stage enterprises at low or no cost and grow them with expert guidance into strong, adroit and independent job creators who can move to bigger digs and help the local economy prosper.

“For my money, this is the best workspace in Wilmington,” said Gallop at Thursday’s grand opening of CIE, which he noted is right next to the campus of UNCW. It includes 983 square feet of co-working space for startups, 10,550 square feet of office space for growing firms and 1,300 square feet of event space.

But, by design, it’s not stuffy or stiff, all officials involved with the place point out. Putting out the vibe Thursday night as first-look guests toured the facility with refreshments were a kayak that leaned on a hallway wall and bright flourishes of décor in just about every room.

“It’s got a really positive, upbeat feel to it,” said Gallop. “The facilities are beautiful and it’s a great place for any entrepreneur to grow from.”

PowerPlay, whose many services include text-message campaigns and optimizing websites for smartphones, has a client list that includes UNCW and Wave Transit as well as larger private companies like Dunkin Donuts and Zaxby’s. A current project is working into the Hispanic market, with a deal already on hand with a company that owns Telemundo television stations.

Gallop said he anticipates perhaps a couple years with CIE before having to leave the nest, which is also currently housing the sales office of LogicBay (a channel management software firm), GO2 LLC (which makes a product increasing blood flow to the lower extremities, fighting restless leg syndrome and other conditions), Next Glass (a sort of Pandora-like service in the wine business that predicts the next kind of wine one might enjoy), and a company called Sircle whose information was not immediately available.

CIE facilitators say they’re already blipping on the local economic radar.

“You will not believe this stat: Of the companies that we have already been working with, including the companies that are already in this facility, we know of 20 open jobs,” said CIE Executive Director Jim Roberts to a packed room of guests on site Thursday. “That is an amazing statistic. Twenty open jobs right now. And tonight is the grand opening.”

Gary Miller, UNCW’s chancellor, said he believes the university, above its basic role with education, should play a strong role in local economic development, and that’s why CIE is so appropriate.

“We want this to become an invigorating place, have a variety of sources that pull people together … to help build a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation” in greater Wilmington, he said Thursday.

More information about CIE and its model is available here.

While CIE is not the traditional business incubator, the general goal of spinning startups out strongly into the community is the same as a neighboring effort in Brunswick County. On Sept. 16, officials will gather at Brunswick Community College’s Workforce Training Center in Leland to discuss a pair of grants totaling $400,000 that will pay for renovations and new construction at as many as four incubator spaces there.

“We’ll be announcing the first occupant,” said Brunswick County Economic Development Corporation Director Jim Bradshaw.

While pursuing the grants—of $200,000 from the state’s Golden Leaf Foundation and $200,000 from the federal Economic Development Administration—Bradshaw described the spaces as between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet that would house startups for about three years each, judged as enough time to fly or fail.