When you work around startups, every week is entrepreneurship week. Days are consumed by lean methodology, value propositions, market opportunities, innovative solutions and a dozen other buzzwords I’ve programmed myself to respond to like Pavlov’s dog salivating at the sound of a bell. It’s a great space to work in. Entrepreneurs are some of the most passionate, courageous problem solvers you will ever meet.
But it’s a foreign environment for those who are unfamiliar with it. My friends and family don’t really get what it’s all about. They either imagine long hours in a dark basement or something like the HBO series Silicon Valley. Every once in a while it’s nice to get the entrepreneurship community together to bond over common experiences and share stories of success and failure.
Once a year in 265 locations across the world, people from 140 countries come together to celebrate entrepreneurship. For the last two years, UNC has ranked as one of GEW’s top university partners nationwide, a credit to the resources Carolina has dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as the Triangle’s collaborative startup community.
A week of more than a dozen events kick off Monday with a panel discussion entitled “How Entrepreneurship Can Change the World” and with some of the nation’s leading innovators in health, technology and education. A highlight will be Earl Martin Phalen (pictured above), who just accepted a one-year term as Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the university’s center for social justice, the Campus Y.
Phalen, a Harvard Law School graduate two decades ago, left a lucrative legal career to devote his life to expanding educational opportunities for underprivileged young people. He now runs a non-profit that serves over 15,000 students. He's earned Fast Company’s Social Capitalist of the Year Award three times and was recognized by President Bill Clinton with the President’s Service Award. Now at UNC, he advises students who want to use entrepreneurship to make the world a better place. GEW will be the first chance for the wider entrepreneurship community to meet Phalen.
Like everything else in Chapel Hill, the entrepreneurial community is closely tied to the University of North Carolina and it’s nearly 30,000 students. The Carolina Challenge is UNC’s entrepreneurial competition for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and alumni and will be hosting its annual kick-off event in Kenan Stadium’s Blue Zone on Thursday evening.
The sight of gridiron showdowns will be transformed into a shark tank as dozens of students will have the opportunity to pitch their ventures to hundreds of judges as the Tar Heel football team takes on the Duke Blue Devils eight miles down the road (Don’t worry, football fans. Pitch Party will be over in plenty of time to catch most of the game in one of Chapel Hill’s many watering holes). At the end of the evening, $5,000 in seed capital will be awarded to select ventures.
Friday’s schedule is highlighted by a panel discussion with four recent UNC graduates who began their entrepreneurial careers as students. One of the panelists will be Oakkar Oakkar, cofounder and CEO of Keona Health. Keona may be the best example of what the emerging Chapel Hill startup ecosystem can produce when local government, the university and private enterprise work together. Oakkar created the patient triage platform for healthcare centers while pursuing his Masters in Clinical Informatics at Carolina. Keona was eventually accepted into the first cohort of ventures at Launch Chapel Hill, an accelerator program funded by Orange County, the town of Chapel Hill, UNC and a private donor. After a couple of years of hard work and intensive support, Keona has raised $2.5 million and has a private office in Chapel Hill.
These are just a few examples of the many great events happening in Chapel Hill during Global Entrepreneurship Week. With a diverse array of guest speakers and attendees, there’s something for everyone in the Triangle’s e-ship community. See you there.