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Innovate Charlotte:  Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Community

In January 2018, the Charlotte Regional Fund for Entrepreneurship (CRFE)  launched “Innovate Charlotte” (InCLT.org) as its operating organization to execute strategic plans formed over the past year. 
 
The mission of Innovate Charlotte is to improve the entrepreneurial journey by leveraging existing ecosystem assets, connecting dots among siloed participants and filling gaps in resources or activities. As executive director of Innovate Charlotte, I have had the pleasure of talking with many organizations and hundreds of people across the community and the country to understand best practices in building and supporting local innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. 
 
Like our sister cities, many of whom began their entrepreneurial journeys decades ago, we see a fantastic opportunity to act now to develop entrepreneurial and technical talent, increase mentors and advisors, and forge a more connected and inclusive innovation culture. As capital remains an issue across the entrepreneurial landscape, we also need concentrated, large-scale entrepreneurial investment funding to fill gaps in pre-seed and early stage capital.  In addition, we must leverage our unique assets as a center of corporate activity to connect entrepreneurs to existing businesses.
 
The fight for high-impact job creation, starting and growing companies, developing talent and enabling upward mobility requires a focused, multi-year set of investments, and the leadership, community support and public-private partnerships to carry it out. 
 
Consequently, our strategic and tactical plans span the next three to five years to address these critical issues.  We must not only plan, but also engage, experiment and iterate to implement innovative high impact solutions that shift the trajectory of our city. We have to strike the practical balance of advancing innovation while executing effectively. 
 
You will start to see proof points of that execution over the next several months as we launch a digital platform and physical innovation center to give innovators and entrepreneurs a place and path to start, convene, collaborate and grow.  We’re working with partners such as MIT to adopt structured mentorship programs.  With others like TechStars, we are assessing relevant programs to fill gaps in our ecosystem.  We are developing innovation forums to foster an innovation community among our corporate partners, early stage companies and talent. To connect all this activity, we are in initial stages of creating an innovation and entrepreneurship “olympics” event concept that gives anyone with entrepreneurial fortitude an opportunity to start, learn, grow and compete to win. We are also collaborating closely with our local angel investment, venture capital and banking partners to identify innovative ideas to expand access to capital.  There is much to be done, but we can start small and start now.
 
In no case are we starting from scratch.  We will leverage experts in our own community and learning from cities ranging from San Francisco, Dallas and Atlanta to Nashville, Indianapolis and Greenville. Moreover, we have begun to reach out to the region right up the road, Raleigh and the Triangle.  Our assets are different, but our love for the Carolinas and potential for partnership is great.  Forging better bonds with Raleigh and the Triangle can increase impact across the region.
 
This is a call to action to lean into our future as “Champions of Entrepreneurship.” We need you! Your involvement, investment, collaboration and ideas can have a monumental affect as we come together to achieve shared objectives as a community.
 
Charlotte can win in the new economy. In many ways we already are. True, we may not win every economic development contest, but we can intentionally inspire, innovate, include and invest to become champions of our own destiny. There’s no better time to start than now.
 
To learn more about the Innovate Charlotte movement, please visit us at InCLT.org 
 
Walt Frye
Executive Director

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