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TBJ: RTRP panel: ‘We are on the verge of doing something really great’

By Ryan Haar  – TBJ intern

May 31, 2018, 3:12pm

After Research Triangle Region Partnership keynote speaker Joel Marcus claimed that if urbanization was a report card he wouldn’t give the Triangle an A or even a B, but probably a B minus, Kay Wagoner begged to differ.

“I think that today I wouldn’t actually give it a B minus or talk about the Triangle truths because I think we’re somewhere in the middle. It’s a whole lot better than when I started,” says Wagoner, associate director for Entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill. Wagoner was one of three discussion panelists during the RTRP Ready the Region event Wednesday.

While real estate mogul Marcus and fellow speaker and entrepreneur Cindy Whitehead listed ways in which the Triangle needed to catch up, Wagoner praised how far the Triangle has come.

“We are on the verge of doing something really great as we think about how to move ourselves form the infancy to a mature segment in the market,” says Wagoner.

The other panelists included Clay Thorpe, general partner at Hatteras Venture Partners, and Winston Henderson, Boston-based vice president of Nano Terra Inc.

Henderson offered a unique perspective being the only panelist not based in North Carolina, though he attended Duke University for both undergraduate and graduate school. Henderson agreed with Wagoner on praising how far the Triangle has come.

“I think you underestimate the transformation of how exciting a region it has become to live in,” Henderson says.

However, while Henderson was quick to compliment he was also quick to add that though RTP has evolved, it has a lot more work still to do, especially monetarily.

“I do think the region punches above its weight in research but has some work to do in attracting dollars.”

This sentiment matched the tone of the keynote speakers who lauded North Carolina’s innovation and research but underlined the importance of investors taking risks on those innovations to turn ideas into products.

Innovators with good ideas and peer-reviewed research are not lacking in North Carolina, but they need capital and a driver that’s going pull together the pieces, according to Thorpe.

“There are not nearly as many sponsors of these new companies that we need to make this happen,” says Thorpe – though he cautioned against the common misconception that it’s a simple one-step fix. “We should not think that this is easy. It takes fortitude and stick-to-itiveness.”

Wagoner, who is an executive in residence at UNC, said that her program has funded over 100 innovative ideas at the institute in the last year.

“It’s not the lack of ideas,” she says, “but once you get started, how do you take it to the next level?”

Article can be found here.