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Launch boosts our growing innovation district followed a distinctly Chapel Hill path. A UNC graduate, Nick left a stint at Cary-based SAS in 2013 for a job as an executive at Southern Season, the venerable food and cooking emporium that has long evoked a quintessential Chapel Hill business spirit: proudly local, a bit eccentric and grounded in only-find-it-here retail. ​But in late 2015, he and two friends from SAS founded Quantworks, a data analysis firm. Each had hard-earned expertise and plenty of ideas, but they needed a place to get down to work. Two of the partners lived in Chapel Hill and wanted to open their business in town. But they quickly ran into a reality that tech-savvy startups and small businesses often face in the town: Chapel Hill’s downtown has long had more opportunity for retail and restaurants than small startups like Quantworks. That’s when they landed at Launch Chapel Hill, an accelerator space off Rosemary Street, in the former Fowler’s Food Store building. Founded as a joint project between the town, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, county officials and private backers, Launch offers 3,500 square feet of workspace to entrepreneur teams in startup-size slices. The organization recruits roughly eight teams of entrepreneurs every year and offers low rents on workspaces as small as single desks and as large as offices for 10. And moreover, the facility offers entrepreneurs like Nick and his partners the chance to work and share tips and ideas with seven other teams of entrepreneurs, each trying to launch their own business. “It was very much connecting the dots,” says Nick. “Everything around Launch is an ecosystem built for small business.” In less than two years at Launch, Quantworks ballooned from its three founders to 17 full-time employees plus interns and part-timers, mostly UNC and Duke students. In August, Quantworks left Launch 64

chapelhillmagazine.com December 2017

for a new office, moving into a former yoga studio on Rosemary. Three other businesses in Quantworks’ Launch cohort – Fanalytical, GymNOW and Sideline – also have recently moved out, their businesses outgrowing Launch’s space. The story of Quantworks, says Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, and the other Launch startups is exactly what city officials had in mind when they envisioned Launch as anchoring an innovation zone in the heart of downtown. The area town officials point to is the stretch between West Franklin and Rosemary streets near Launch. Though traditional retail remains on the block, much of the offstreet space is now focused on tech office space. “Launch is the cohesive space,” says Pam. “What it provides is an innovation ecosystem to grow this network with the availability of office space and finding resources you need to make your business grow.” Pam says a nonprofit also called Launch will soon open to coordinate the town’s effort to expand the innovation area. Launch itself recently doubled in size, from 3,500 square feet to PHOTO BY JUSTIN EISNER

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ick Ghitelman’s route to entrepreneurship has

about 7,000, and tech behemoth Google has an office just steps away, at the corner of Franklin and Church streets. And word is starting to spread in the tech world about Chapel Hill, says Launch’s program director Dina Rousset. “We were talking to a team over the summer that was considering locating at Launch,” she says. The group envisioned a business based on insurance plans for drones and autonomous vehicles. However, before they moved in, the group received an offer of a partnership with a major national insurer and now plans to move into a full-size office space farther east on Franklin. “They outgrew us before they got to us,” says Dina. She says Launch alumni companies raised more than $20 million by the end of 2016 and created 250 jobs in Orange County. –Matt White „

Chapel Hill Magazine December 2017  
Chapel Hill Magazine December 2017