Jenny Hwa of Innovate Raleigh and John Lane of Centerline Digital

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Think you have the face (or startup) for video?  

The latest initiative by Innovate Raleigh is to turn the best local startup stories into short films that can be distributed locally and hopefully, nationally. 

The nonprofit has found a partner in Centerline Digital, once a Raleigh startup itself but now a creative agency with 130 employees and clients like IBM, Quintiles, GE and the Hopscotch Music Festival. They're holding a contest this month to pick five worthy "makers and doers" to feature in two-minute videos to be released from March through October at live events, on social media and in local and national media. 

The goal, says Innovate Raleigh Executive Director Jenny Hwa, is to do something bold to show the region's entrepreneurial spirit.

"We want to hear from people in Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Hillsborough. This is our chance to open our arms and have people know that we're focused on making the entire region a top five center for entrepreneurship and innovation in the country, not just Raleigh," she says.

Innovate Raleigh got a burst of new energy last year when it hired Hwa as its first paid employee. The organization was already transitioning from an annual event to a year-round effort, with committees working on things like inclusivity, health, corporate engagement, community connections, education and more. Hwa, meanwhile, has years of experience in film production and marketing after serving as development director for the Hopscotch music and design festivals and the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem. She saw video as a way to take Innovate Raleigh to the next level, and started talking with Centerline last April about a partnership.

Meanwhile, Innovate Raleigh has amassed a large audience through its committees and events, with 3,500 people engaged in the effort since its start in 2012 and 1,300 official members. The video series is a way to both engage and rally them. Here's how the contest works:

Credit: Centerline Digital

Innovate Raleigh and Centerline will accept 2-minute video submissions along with a short application through January 31. The only criteria is the company must be a legal entity, headquartered in the Triangle region and fall in one of 10 industry categories. Judges will give special consideration to companies with compelling or interesting stories to tell, out-of-the-box products or businesses, diversity through gender, age or ethnicity and/or a robust social media presence. They aren't likely to choose a company that already has professional promotional video content. 
At the next Innovate Raleigh meetup February 16, they'll announce five winners, each of which will be part of a two-minute video featuring the company and the Triangle. Centerline will begin its work with winner No. 1 in the days to follow. 

John Lane, Centerline's chief strategy officer (pictured above with Hwa), says various team members will work on the videos. Content marketers, storytellers and directors will start by interviewing the winning teams, shadowing them at work and determining the best story lines to prep for filming. The entire process will take up to two months per video. His team is doing the work pro bono as part of its Innovate Raleigh sponsorship. 

"We wanted to find a project that was not short-lived or one-off," he says. A series would let the team showcase innovation happening in various industries, shapes and sizes. The contest is called Triangle Makers & Doers for a reason—they hope to attract everyone doing something entrepreneurial, whether in a basement, startup campus or a grown-up office with hundreds of employees.

As each video is complete, it'll be shown at Innovate Raleigh events throughout 2016, with the culmination happening at next October's Innovate Raleigh Summit.

But the contest isn't just about filming and showing. It's also about marketing. 

That's where Wake County Economic Development comes in. For the last year, the entity within the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce has worked with a public relations agency to forge national media relationships. Its leaders went on a media tour to several New York City media organizations, and throughout 2015 secured articles in Entrepreneur Magazine, CNN Money, Fox Business News, TheStreet, Information Week as well as a regular Forbes column for Council for Entrepreneurial Development president Joan Siefert-Rose.

The WCED team along with its PR committee will help distribute the videos and stories to national media, in hopes of creating more buzz for the region. 

The videos will also have a permanent home on the Innovate Raleigh website, which Hwa and team plan to position as a resource for people hoping to launch a company locally or to relocate to the region. A new website launched in timing with this week's contest announcement.

"So much has come out of those summits, but the goal is to keep that momentum going and grow our community actively 365 days a year," Hwa says. "Concepts like this are helping us do that."