UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New incubator fosters UNC student and employee IT ventures


A new incubator to nurture IT business ideas into fully-funded start-ups admitted its first five ventures in November.

The new program is open to  UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff and students.  Carolina Launch Pad  brought together UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and the UNC Chapel Hill Office of Technology Development (OTD) to support IT entrepreneurs with business ideas at the pre-commercial stage.

Ted Zoller, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and adjunct assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, said that 15 ventures applied for the 2008-2009 Launch Pad class.  Launch Pad plans to admit a new class each year, he added.

“While UNC has groups on campus that are doing advanced IT innovation, there was no single place IT entrepreneurs could  work together,” Zoller said. “We wanted to create a war room for people contemplating IT ventures and bring together a community at UNC to support them.”

Launch Pad provides each member with an office at RENCI headquarters in Chapel Hill. With the office, they gain access to RENCI’s technology experts and Innovations and Visualization labs.

Zoller added that the entrepreneurs will have access to professionals from the business school, OTD and the Triangle IT community to mentor and coach them.

Launch Pad members also get access to the business school’s Launching the Venture program. This is the capstone course of the Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative. Once Launch Pad members start running their companies commercially, they will leave the program.

Cam Patterson’s (EMBA ’08) venture SCI ICE was one of the five chosen for the Launch Pad program. Patterson is chief of the division of cardiology and director of the Carolina Cardiovascular Biology Center at UNC’s School of Medicine. He has built a Web-based application to track inventory and orders and help manage grants for academic research labs.   

Patterson was motivated to work to evolve SCI ICE from an idea to a business after he began to understand entrepreneurship at a deeper level in Zoller’s courses, he said.

“I used to think entrepreneurs worked alone in their garages,” he said. “Ted taught me that entrepreneurship is a team sport. The likelihood of success is directly proportionate to the network of people you put in place.”

The Launch Pad, he added, is a good way to help form that network. It helps members formulate marketing plans and meet other needs required to launch a fledgling business, he noted.

Similarly, Rachit Shukla, a recent Wharton Business School graduate working with UNC undergraduate Daniel Hammond, hopes that the formal work space provided by Launch Pad will help speed development of their venture called IdeaBahn. Until now, the two have grappled with a somewhat fractured development process pursued through meetings in various coffee shops.

“Launch Pad gives us an opportunity to interact with the other startups,” Shukla said. “We might be at different stages, but we are in the same boat. As a collective, it is almost like a creative berth, and you are no longer confined to your little cubicle.”

IdeaBahn is a Web application that aims to help teams and individuals create and assess new ideas–an online version of the white board. In addition to SCI ICE and IdeaBahn, Launch Pad’s Class of 2008 – 2009 is comprised of:

  • MotionGen, which creates digital images and data for mobile devices as a way to assist practicing dentists, dental students and their patients.
  • Optimal Learning, which builds sensor devices to help students recognize and monitor stress when taking tests by combining a biofeedback sensor with interactive computer technology.
  • Spherical Instruments Company, which has developed a patent-pending game controller to enhance the user’s control of the interactive electronic game environment.