UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Chapel Hill’s first startup accelerator officially opens its doors


The Launch Chapel Hill is the first startup accelerator to support the successful launch of entrepreneurial companies in Chapel Hill.

Successful serial entrepreneur Dina Mills was recruited to lead this unique project. The first 16 startups selected as resident teams offer such products and services as leading-edge acoustics software for architects and engineers, new technologies for portable glucose, a waterless solution to the international health sanitation crises and a gluten-free line of baked goods targeted to local restaurants.

Mills said she was thrilled to learn about plans for the much-needed local space for young startups.

“It’s so critical for our community to have a place where talent from the university and the local area can work and get the mentoring and business support they need, right here in Chapel Hill,” Mills said.

Startup teams are already moving in, and Mills has begun assessing what it will take to make them successful. Mills brings experience starting several companies while living in Poland for nearly a decade, and most recently as a co-founder of LunaPops, the artisan frozen dessert available in Whole Foods markets across the region.

Launch Chapel Hill offers its resident teams a great place to work on their business, street-smart training events and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs who bring industry and fundraising contacts. UNC Kenan-Flagler students will be instrumental in supporting the new ventures. They will serve as consultants and potentially as members of venture teams as they scale. “We’re plugging in all the elements of our robust entrepreneurship ecosystem here at the Kenan Institute, UNC Kenan-Flagler and Carolina to help these ventures seeking opportunities to grow,” said Ted Zoller, director of UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The project is a unique cooperative investment of UNC-Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County, the Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership and a private donor, the Becker family, who provided initial funding in memory of their daughter, Cara Becker. The 3,500-square-foot space in the heart of Chapel Hill was previously the home of local marketing agency 3 Birds, which is also backing the project. Flexible, contemporary workspaces were donated by Triangle Office Equipment.

Launch combines the assets of UNC’s formidable program in entrepreneurship and mentoring with the flexibility to provide early-stage ventures the resources needed for them to scale. The companies, which pay rent for access to the space on a sliding scale, are selected through a competitive process. Jim Kitchen, a successful serial entrepreneur, will serve as Launch Chapel Hill’s inaugural Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) leading the mentoring and venture advisory functions. Kitchen, who has built and sold numerous companies, thinks Launch Chapel Hill is a critical missing ingredient for young businesses in this area.

The accelerator represents an important economic development opportunity – a chance to support young businesses locally, with the hope that they will stay and grow here as well. “We’ve been working for many years to bring and keep new businesses downtown, and to secure our local talent,” said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “Launch Chapel Hill is another important step in that effort.”

The Orange County Board of Commissioners was also pleased to be involved with the effort. Chair Barry Jacobs said the project fits well with the smart growth and economic development planning efforts of the County. “We are excited to help make this happen,” said Jacobs. “We hope that it raises the profile of Orange County and Chapel Hill as a welcoming place for entrepreneurs to do business.”

For UNC, Launch Chapel Hill fills a big gap in the support system necessary to nurture and grow young companies through their early stages and to keep them local. “We’ve worked hard on campus for many years to increase the number of resources available to student and faculty entrepreneurs, but haven’t had the support system in place to continue helping once they leave the University. Launch Chapel Hill provides that link and helps us keep our young talent local,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp.

Read about UNC Kenan-Flagler's Launching the Venture program in this article.

Find more information on the Launch Chapel Hill website at launchchapelhill.com.