University reaches out to its neighbors with business incubator

On December 6, 2013, UNC Pembroke’s Chancellor Kyle R. Carter officially launched the Entrepreneurship Incubator, a community outreach project that he says will be “transformative.”

Located in a 17,000-square-foot storefront on Main Street in Pembroke, the incubator will provide space for 8-to-12 start-up businesses. The building will also house the offices of two existing business development offices - the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship and UNC’s Small Business and Technology Development Center.

With a planned opening in summer 2015, the incubator is expected to produce 115 jobs and create private investment of $1.15 million within three years. In addition to serving community startups, UNCP business students will get hands-on experience working in the Incubator.

The launch of the Entrepreneurship Incubator was two years in the making. In September, the university received approval of a $932,000 grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.


The grant, when combined with a $200,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation will cover the cost of renovating the building. Private contributors gave $210,000 toward the purchase of the building, located at 202 Main Street.  

From inside the building, Chancellor Carter addressed a gathering of area officials and business people. He called the incubator a “catalyst” for the community development and an asset for the university and its business students.

“This is a proud day for UNCP,” he said. “Since I arrived in Pembroke, we have looked for something that would bring the town and university closer together.”

“This is not a white horse riding in to save the day,” he said. “But we do have good people coming in here who will collaborate on solving problems. This is a foothold where we can build a better place together.”

The project is the Carter administration’s most aggressive outreach program. “I have called this a transformative project, and for many good reasons,” Chancellor Carter said.

It has positives for academics too.

“This project opens up a world of opportunities for our faculty and students,” said Dr. Ken Kitts, UNC Pembroke’s provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. “The incubator as a learning laboratory will help students apply knowledge gained in the classroom and understand the dynamics of taking a business from concept to reality. And it gives faculty a venue where they can take instruction to a new level.”

Business Dean Rami Maysami said the incubator fits perfectly in the strategic plan. “We have the faculty with expertise and students willing to engage in business,” Dr. Maysami said. “It is a big deal for the School of Business and for the university.”

The project represents the coming together of public and private funding. In addition to the federal grant, the project received money from North Carolina’s Golden Leaf Foundation, which funds projects in rural North Carolina communities affected by the loss of tobacco revenues, and the Thomas Family Foundation, which has supported entrepreneurship programs at the university since 2006.

“Participation in the UNCP Entrepreneurship Incubator will result in start-up businesses’ being launched as healthy, growing, and viable companies that create jobs and improve the region’s economic health,” said Dr. Cammie Hunt, associate vice chancellor for Engaged Outreach and the principal investigator of the EDA grant.   

“In addition,” she continued, “access to personnel who can provide professional advice, train interns, and help locate resources will ensure that businesses receive guidance in accounting, advertising, graphic design, information technology, web design, and corporate management, in addition to financial, marketing, and legal services.” 

Wendy Lowery, UNC Pembroke’s vice chancellor for advancement, oversaw the effort to raise the private funds that are making the project possible. Contributors included Jim and Sally Thomas Foundation, Mary Ann Elliot Foundation, Lumbee Bank, Pembroke Hardware, CoreVantage Technologies, Dr. Robin Cummings, Dr. and Mrs. Kyle Carter, Ron Brown and Russell Livermore.

“The private investors in this project truly believe in the mission of UNC Pembroke and the constituents who will be served by this initiative,” Lowery said.  “Their support also signifies the importance of enhancing the partnership between the university and the Town of Pembroke and is an investment in both entities. This project epitomizes the strength of collaboration.”

In letters of support, the Town of Pembroke gave its “enthusiastic support” for an entrepreneurship incubator. “The university and its existing Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship have been invaluable to the economic improvement of Pembroke and its surrounding region,” said the town’s manager, Oryan Lowry.

Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic development director, acknowledged the need for support for startups as well as established businesses. “Having UNCP’s knowledgeable faculty as a resource, together with the creative, enthusiastic assistance of the university’s students, will provide a strong foundation to help our business community meet the challenges of this economically challenged community,” he said.

“The fact that this facility will be housed in the center of town, convenient to business owners, shows the respect the university has for the community and its commitment to supporting economic growth.”