New Chapel Hill Incubator

From the Chapel Hill Weekly – Evan Markfield – June 7, 2012

It’s hard to imagine a Town council meeting with vibes as good as the ones in the chamber May 30. The council kept 3 Birds Marketing in town with a business incentive deal that will see the company get some free parking when it moves to the old Chapel Hill News building.

And the old space where 3 Birds was on Rosemary St. will become a business incubator, aimed at creating (and keeping) startups in Chapel Hill versus, say, fleeing to Durham. Virtually every speaker enthusiastically backed the idea.

The next morning at a Friends of Downtown meeting, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was chipper – despite the previous night’s five-hour meeting – and gushed about how proud he was regarding the council’s decisions.

One of the big sells on the economic development initiative was the town-and-gown partnership that would theoretically keep UNC alums in town to start their businesses.

“Let’s not make them go look somewhere else for space,” said UNC executive director of real estate development Gordon Merklein, who talked about a pair of entrepreneurs he knows who live in Chapel Hill but work in Durham.

BACKSTORY

Before Merklein got to the mic, there was a steady stream of alums advocating for the incubator space and sharing personal stories about how Jim Kitchen’s incubator, Franklin Innovation Center, helped them.

Included in that group was former UNC baseball player Chase Jones, who took his BaseBald for the Cure charity from one-off head shaving at Boshamer Stadium to a national cause in 2011. “That’s only possible because of what the incubator space provided.” Jones said.

Clearly, the success of Kitchen’s incubator, launched in 2009, was an inspiration for the town’s Rosemary St. venture. Councilman Matt Czajkowski called his first visit there “transformational”.

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