Ideas on how to help NC’s record number of startups survive and thrive

WILMINGTON – After 22 years of working in entrepreneur development, I keep wondering why more people are not willing to spend their relationship/political capital on entrepreneurs in their communitys startup ecosystem. Part of my responsibility as one of the leaders of the ecosystem is to eliminate the existing barriers to progress for local entrepreneurs.

Yes, 70% of early-stage startups fail in the first 3-5 years. Nobody knows when they are riding on the Titanic of a startup before it begins to sink so picking winners and losers is tough when trying to find the resources for first-time entrepreneurs in an ecosystem. But a city with no optimism does not have a startup ecosystem nor a sense of community.

Jim Roberts

With a record number of new business registrations in North Carolina, how can we help more of these companies survive and thrive to create more jobs in the cities outside of Raleigh/Durham? Imagine a whole state full of innovation-based jobs, not just the state capital with three tier-one research universities and Research Triangle Park assets.

I had two conversations last week on what is the missing ingredient in the Wilmington startup ecosystem. (Keep in mind, Wilmington is now a globally ranked Emerging ecosystem and New Hanover is the smallest of the 100 counties in all of North Carolina.)  I just keep getting back to how to help Wilmington entrepreneurs sell more products/services outside of New Hanover County and that requires developing relationships with people in other regions. This is what helped nCino (IPO), UNTappd (Private equity), and PlayerSpace (acquisition) get to exit events and even EasyVote Solutions as they scale up with sales and attract capital.

The biggest untapped strength of the coast is the high number of retirees who have been successful enough to afford to retire at the North Carolina coast. If we can get some momentum and milestones accomplished with startup entrepreneurs, can we get our semi-retired mentors to start to open doors in the industries and locations where they built their careers before retiring to the coast? Wilmington is working on a solution that is described below.

I have this image in my head of piles and piles of unspent political capital in heaven like with Hall of Fame UNC basketball coach Roy Williams with his piles of unspent timeouts. As the son of a basketball coach, I use a ton of basketball and sports references. (Love ya Roy. Thanks for bringing your UNC college golf tournament to the beach this year. Hope you are enjoying your beach house in retirement sir.)

Of course, I would like to work on both sides of the problem with the opportunities to move the entrepreneurs forward and bring the mentors closer to the table to make sure they are not moving the goal line further away to delay helping the local entrepreneurs.


We have all witnessed the excitement of the new startup with the great idea and the charismatic entrepreneur. Everyone LOVES the idea and promises to buy the product when the beta is released. Please read the book Crossing the Chasm about who are the REAL early adopters to achieve mainstream success on the way to scaling the company.

As I said this week on a podcast, the early days of a startup are like a new parent or grandparent who does nothing but show the picture of the new baby on their phone to anyone and everyone they have a conversation with on the street.

But 18 months later, when the product development has stalled due to the challenge of hiring tech talent or the problem with the supply chain for microchips, neither the proud entrepreneur nor the people on the street are eager to talk about being stuck in neutral.

This stall in company progress is gut-check time for that Fire in the Belly in the first time entrepreneur. What we find is that the WANTrepreneurs dont have the resilience once the sexiness of entrepreneurship wears off and running a company feels more like a daily grind.

This is where surrounding yourself with other experienced entrepreneurs in the ecosystem can be very meaningful and helpful. The formal entrepreneur to entrepreneur peer groups like MasterMind groups can help you learn from the scars of experience from others. Wilmington is now working on building this peer-to-peer entrepreneur group with the help of an NC IDEA Ecosystem grant with the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, UNCW CIE, UNC Pembroke Thomas Hub for Entrepreneurship, and the Sandhills Entrepreneur Engagement Network.

Maybe that is why certain conservative venture capitalists LOVE to invest in serial entrepreneurs. These serial entrepreneurs have proven that they have both the resilience and the fire in the belly to overcome tough times.

Next: What superpowers do you have?


Jim R. Roberts has been working for 22 years in North Carolina with entrepreneur support organizations in Charlotte, Asheville, Durham, and Wilmington. Jim is the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW), WALE Angel Network, and Rojo Octo Ecosystem Consulting. Jim also works with the SEEN Network at UNC Pembroke.

Follow Jim on Twitter  @redspireusnc or @91omgbiz

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