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JCSU's new incubator will guide businesses

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By Celeste Smith
cesmith@charlotteobserver.com

Ron Stodghill heads the Innovo Laboratory for Johnson C. Smith University. (JCSU)

Johnson C. Smith is opening its new small business incubator and think tank at Packard Place – the renovated South Church Street building for startup businesses.

Through Innovo Laboratory, the university plans to guide the city’s next generation of entrepreneurs through mentoring from city business leaders and entrepreneurs, training on writing business plans, webcam discussions with students in other countries, and lectures from the area’s top leaders that will be open to the public.

Organizers say the project has the support of retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. and Mayor Anthony Foxx, who both appear in a video airing at the launch party Wednesday night.

The timing of the nonprofit comes amid a push toward encouraging entrepreneurship and small business ownership among students as career paths, said Ron Stodghill, director of Innovo Laboratory. Stodghill is a former business columnist with The Charlotte Observer.

“It’s even riskier right now to hang around and expect someone to hire you,” he said.

“Increasingly the onus is going to be on the student to create opportunities. …This will be sort of the laboratory for that. They’ll leave campus and come here and interact with the people making the market move.”

Stodghill said interested freshmen starting at the university this fall will be the lab’s first participants. They’ll be in a four-year program and graduate with what they’ll need to launch their own startups.

The goal, too, is for students to be involved in Packard Place, home to small companies and nonprofits, through volunteer work and internships. Charlotte entrepreneur Dan Roselli owns the Packard Place building.

“Here in this space, the most passionate entrepreneurs come here every day,” Stodghill said. “They can begin to know what success at an early stage looks like, to not have a fear of failure, to really understand the entrepreneurial culture.”

The nonprofit laboratory also will serve as a support system for businesses in the city’s northwest corridor, surrounding the university’s campus on Beatties Ford Road.

The effort is all part of JCSU leader Dr. Ron Carter’s larger strategy of forging ties with Charlotte’s business developments. Since becoming president of the school in 2009, Carter has made clear he wants the historically black university to be a part of the city’s revitalization efforts.

To link its image with uptown, JCSU recently installed a $300,000, 3D lighting project in the West Trade Street/Interstate 77 underpass in a project sponsored by the Arts & Science Council.

And work is under way on the 2-acre Mosaic Village, at West Trade Street, about a block away from the university. It’ll include a four-level, 400-space parking deck, student housing, and 7,500 square feet for street-level retail.

The university also will feature Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers as commencement speaker on May 6.

Stodghill said Carter’s outreach has made the city’s business leaders receptive to volunteering as mentors and speakers with the university’s new laboratory.



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November 1, 2014
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