Often when weighing options on careers, the glamour of making art or the freedom to upstart a new idea and business revolves around daydreams of success and opportunity. But getting into the nitty gritty of nurturing a business in its youthful beginnings also means knowing where resources are coming from, how to troubleshoot when necessary, and garnering appropriate tools to navigate newfound waters.
In 2015 Wilmington’s darling independent film festival, Cucalorus, bridged the gap between entrepreneurship, business and the arts in their first-ever CONNECT Conference. In 2016 CONNECT returns for a second year with a slew of panel discussions, keynote speakers, workshops, and opportunities to learn about branding and expanding across various business platforms.
“We’re really a few steps ahead of where I thought we would be at this point in the development of CONNECT,” Cucalorus executive director Dan Brawley says. “I took the approach we would dedicate three years to getting this thing off the ground, and evaluate where we were and how to move forward. And we’re still on that path, but I’m excited about the bridges we’ve built in the community and how well-defined CONNECT is already as a brand and as a distinct addition to our community.”
Brawley and Laura Brogdon, who works for UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), tested the waters of the first CONNECT two years ago during the second 10 x 10 Challenge, created by Cucalorus devotee and NC filmmaker Norwood Cheek. At first, 10 x 10 brought together 10 bands with 10 filmmakers who made a video over five days. The following year Brogdon and Brawley revised it to include 10 filmmakers and 10 entrepreneurs to make a video about a brand. Today, it continues as part of CONNECT, with their final screenings aired Sunday, the last night of Cucalorus, at 7 p.m. at CFCC’s Union Station.
“This is one of my favorite events at Cucalorus,” Brawley tells. “I think it’s practical and offers a nice balance to the creative energy at Cucalorus. I think we can build the program in future years so that we’re the place where Yeti and Live Oak Bank and other companies want to launch their latest video projects. It’s also a great chance for young filmmakers to make connections that will help them get jobs.”
Presented by Wilmington’s very own tekMountain and UNCW’s CIE, CONNECT is more focused this year thanks to the help of Brogdon, as well as tekMountain’s Sean Ahlum, among others. “We’ve identified four industries we think will shape the future of our region,” Brawley explains. CONNECT will focus on life sciences (health care), financial services, marine biotech, and entertainment. This dictated the scheduling, which includes opening keynote speaker Louis Foreman of Edison Nation. The Charlotte, NC, company provides resources to help get products and businesses launched. Foreman will speak on ideation and creation in “You’ve Got a Great Idea, What’s Next?” (Nov. 9, 1 p.m., Ironclad Brewery, $15).
“We’re looking at each [industry] through the lens of education, technology and entrepreneurship,” Brawley notes. “We’ve been able to bring key players into the fold, like Jim Roberts.”
Roberts used to oversee UNCW’s CIE, and in the last year began two organizations locally: Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE). NEW meets monthly and focuses on startup companies, including ideas on how to find capital, whether through investors or grants. WALE helps connect startups with investors directly. Roberts will host a conversation on entrepreneurship on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 5:30 p.m., at the The Blind Elephant.
Last year, CONNECT launched Port City Pitches for entrepreneurs and artists who had new business ideas. The participants had to “sell” their pitches to local businesses, all of whom sign up ahead of Cucalorus through UNCW’s CIE. “How do you tell your story in five minutes or less?” Brawley asks rhetorically in getting to the heart of a pitch.
In 2015 Performance Culture, LifeGait, Service Whale, and Special Pedals were recognized for their great pitches. The entrepreneurs will return in “Port City Pitches: Where Are They Now?” on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m. at Ironclad Brewery, to update the audience on how their businesses have advanced.
Throughout CONNECT, startups will be allotted five minutes to pose their ideas to local business leaders and executives. Plastic Ocean Project, Greenflare, SeekerDNA, ten8tech,com, Turnip Learning, and Fecal Finders will compete for a cash award sponsored by the Blake & Bailey Family Fund.
As well CONNECT appeals to multiple innovators, from the nonprofit sector to the for profit sector, from the arts to the medical industry, to techies, to international business and beyond. “We’ve had a dedicated group of consultants who meet almost weekly to bring CONNECT to life,” Brawley says. “I think we’ll continue to attract visionary people from our community and beyond who want to join us as we build this conference.”