the next innovation hub in North Carolina ::

the next innovation hub in North Carolina ::

This article was written for our sponsor, Innovation Road Trip.

The next innovation hub may not be in the Triangle — but it could be just 40 miles away. Wilson, North Carolina, located east of Raleigh, is home to the Gig East Exchange, Greenlight broadband, an incubator program for small businesses and a passionate local community.

Combine that with a low cost of living and close proximity to the Triangle, and Wilson has all of the ingredients needed for a recipe for success.

“Gig East started as annual summits that we would have at our historic theater, and people came to Wilson and were truly impressed that an Eastern North Carolina community our size was doing so much to support entrepreneurship and had so much infrastructure that could support technology,” said Kellianne Davis, business development manager for the City of Wilson.

The Gig East Exchange, located in Downtown Wilson, operates as a coworking space, serving entrepreneurs, mentors, companies, individuals and more. The Exchange has flexible membership options that allow varying levels of access and amenities, from a few hours in a conference room to a full office suite.

“The goal here is for you to grow up and out of the Exchange. We just want to be a good place for you to get a foundation and education to get that start,” said Ashley Harris, Exchange community manager for the City of Wilson.

“The Gig East Exchange has done exactly what we want it to do,” added Davis. “People are starting to exchange ideas, exchange contacts and exchange that energy between each other that will foster success.”

“In Wilson, we’re responsible, but we don’t play it safe. We know that innovation will support our community’s success,” Davis continued. “We don’t say no in the same way that other municipalities are trying to be risk-free.”

That willingness to take risks for the good of the community is illustrated through Wilson adoption of Greenlight broadband. The first community-owned, fiber-to-home network in the state, Greenlight passes every home and business in Wilson with plans to continue extending access further into the county.

Providing this level of access to the entire community is just one of the many ways in which Wilson invests in its entrepreneurs. Another way is through the RIoT Accelerator Program, or RAP.

“The RIoT Accelerator Program is for early-stage companies — maybe they have an idea or a concept, and they’re trying to bring it to life. In my case, I saw a lot of inefficiencies in the automotive repair space with automotive dealerships and car repair shops, engaging with each other and their consumers. I set out on the journey to solve that problem,” said Marcus Aman, founder of Shyft Auto. “We got into RAP in March of 2020. I quit my full-time job as a service director and started in that program right here in Wilson, North Carolina. We went through the program and then after the program, we got an investment and decided to move our business to Wilson, North Carolina at that time.”

Through RAP, which is hosted by Gig East, cohorts participate in a 12-week program that runs through the entrepreneurial process. The program also connects participants with industry partners, potential clients and useful collaborators.

“We love the community, and we felt like the city of Wilson really wanted us here at the same time, said Aman. “Everybody has been pushing us forward as much as they possibly could, and I can tell that there’s a fighting spirit in the city.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Innovation Road Trip.

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Kassie Hoffman
Kassie pens down all the news from the world of politics on ANH.