Carolina Connect Conference Convenes Entrepreneurs, Investors and Bankers in Asheville on September 11

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The Asheville Hub announced today that entrepreneurs and the investors they want to court will be in Asheville on September 11 for Carolina Connect, a conference that provides professional development to entrepreneurs and networking opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors from across the Southeast. A growing number of entrepreneurs are betting they can turn their start-ups into winners in Asheville. As much as they crave success, they also want the balance in their lives that this progressive and creative city in western North Carolina offers.

The Asheville Hub announced today that entrepreneurs and the investors they want to court will be in Asheville on September 11 for Carolina Connect, a conference that provides professional development to entrepreneurs and networking opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors from across the Southeast. Carolina Connect is presented by the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council, an initiative of the AdvantageWest Economic Group.

An estimated 275 entrepreneurs, investors and bankers will convene in Asheville at the Grove Park Inn on September 11 for Carolina Connect. The day-long event will include tracks for angel investors, start-ups and companies in high growth mode. For more information or to register, visit http://www.brecnc.com.

Why a Growing Number of Entrepreneurs Are Choosing Asheville as Their Launching Pad
The late Bob Moog, who created a new world for musicians when he invented the Moog synthesizer, was innovative, fearless, persistent and passionate about his pursuits. He was a driven entrepreneur, yet he chose to live in Asheville, NC, where he built his own house, baked bread, dug in his garden and enjoyed the Blue Ridge Mountains as he built his company, Moog Music.

Silicon Valley has Sand Hill Road and all the venture capital firms that are clustered there, but a number of entrepreneurs are emulating Bob Moog and betting they, too, can turn their start-ups into winners in Asheville. As much as they crave success, they also want the balance in their lives that this progressive and creative city in western North Carolina offers.

Infinity Learning Solutions Turns Heads
Russ Stinehour, whose Infinity Learning Solutions (ILS) is turning heads with its DigitalChalk product, exemplifies Asheville's entrepreneurs. He's a serial entrepreneur who has lived in San Jose, Atlanta, Raleigh and a number of other cities, but once he and his family found Asheville a dozen years ago, they put down stakes permanently.

His first company in Asheville, CrossLogic, had 45 employees and more than $5 million of annual revenue by the time he and a partner sold it in 2005. By 2007, he was back at it, working with a small team to create DigitalChalk, a course delivery system giving corporate training professionals and university instructors the ability to develop courses that synchronize video to slides, images and webpages through a browser interface.

Just over a year old, ILS's nine employees (http://www.digitalchalk.com) have validated their product offering, started growing their revenue and their client base significantly, and chalked up some big wins.

Stinehour is proudest so far of the steps ILS is taking to bring better accessibility to online video training to those with disabilities. Initially his company has partnered with the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), Hunter College and IBM Research to produce the first ever automated transcription service for video-based online learning so that closed captioning is available to the hearing impaired. Hunter College, part of City University of New York, is the first customer for this service. Stinehour's next goal is to provide better accessibility for the visually impaired.

Stinehour knows the pursuit of venture capital funding would be easier in Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle, but he cherishes raising his family in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where Asheville offers a lively environment with a smaller town feel and he can have a balanced life.

"I still work very hard, but I've learned that when you are working an endless string of 100 hour weeks, something is going to crash and burn," Stinehour said. "Enjoying my home in Weaverville just outside of Asheville with my family gives me the ability to have more thought time and as a result, I'm able to focus where I need to and make clearer decisions."

One of Money Magazine's Best Places to Live and Launch
Money magazine recognized Asheville's advantages when it ranked the area one of the best places to Live and Launch earlier this year, citing Asheville growing number of software and digital media companies, as well as the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council. BREC (http://www.brecnc.com), which presents Carolina Connect, offers education and networking opportunities, and connects entrepreneurs with western North Carolina's two angel investor groups, the Blue Ridge Angel Investor Network (http://www.brainnc.com) and the Inception Micro Angel Fund (http://www.imafwestern.com).

Money also cited the National Climatic Data Center, the anchor of the federal government's presence in Asheville. NCDC (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov), the world's largest active archive of weather data, provides access and stewardship to the U.S. resource of global climate and weather related data and information, and assess and monitor climate variation and change. Through the Centers for Environmental and Climatic Interaction, or CECI (http://www.climatealive.org), Asheville is bringing additional climate-related government organizations and private companies to Asheville.

Thanks in large part to NCDC's presence, Asheville is in the middle of a high tech corridor that links Washington, D.C., South Carolina's Upstate, Atlanta, Huntsville, AL, and the Oak Ridge National Lab in eastern Tennessee. There is as much bandwidth available as any company or government agency could want.

The Technology Commercialization Center (http://www.abtech.edu/sbc/tcc) is another big draw for entrepreneurs in Asheville. This partnership between Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) and Tech 2020, which is associated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, works with entrepreneurs on their critical development issues. The focus is on preparing company management teams for sustainability or investment by capital financiers. During the past two years, TCC has assisted approximately 60 companies towards sustainability.

"The Technology Commercialization Center has done a great job of helping us analyze the market and figure out where our focus should be," said Russ Stinehour. "We have a better mousetrap, but we had to focus our message to reach the corporate and university sectors."
The universities and colleges that populate western North Carolina help entrepreneurs, too, in terms of services and the employee pool. Within Asheville are UNC Asheville, Warren Wilson College and A-B Tech. Nearby are Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University and a number of colleges.

Stinehour has mentored UNC Asheville students and hired students from UNC Asheville, A-B Tech and Western Carolina University. ILS also maintains close ties with North Carolina State University, where the company's chief technology officer, Troy Tolle, is a Distinguished Alumnus of the College of Engineering. Tolle was keen on working in Asheville when Stinehour hired him to work at his first company.

The Asheville Hub
The Asheville Hub (http://www.ashevillehub) sparks collaborations within and across Buncombe County's technology, sustainability, rejuvenation, creativity, land/agriculture, manufacturing and enterprise clusters so Asheville and the surrounding area may benefit from emerging opportunities. The Hub's Technology Cluster is pursuing specific strategies for economic development, encouraging start-ups to work with the Technology Commercialization Center and bringing attention to the Asheville area's growing technology community.

For more information, contact Nancy Foltz, Asheville Hub, at 828/628-6825.

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