As one of the fastest growing urban innovation districts in the United States, Wake Forest Innovation Quarter brings a vast array of people from all walks of life to the same patch of innovation heaven. More than 3,100 people work here, along with 2,000 students who study here—with more to come with the opening of the 60 Series buildings as the new home of the Wake Forest School of Medicine and undergraduate programs from Wake Forest University.
Everyone here has a story. Each person has come to the Innovation Quarter by a different path; each with their own motivation to innovate. And with a few questions, the random faces that pass through this place everyday become interesting people who inform the way we understand what the Innovation Quarter is all about.
This objective—to get to know the People of the Innovation Quarter—is how I find myself sitting in 525@vine, waiting on my first interview for this new series: the director of the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center, which provides assistance to small business owners.
It’s the first time I’ve met Allan Younger, and I quickly learn that it’s easier for Allan to tell tales about his family and his work promoting small businesses than for him to talk about himself.
Take, for example, my first question.
When I ask, “What brought you to the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter?
Allan responds with his own question. “Me or the college?” he asks.
It’s going to take a while to focus Allan on himself.
“This is all about you,” I say.
It turns out that Allan’s job at Forsyth Tech brought him to the Innovation Quarter. Shortly after he began working for the community college, Forsyth Tech announced that it would be opening part of their campus in the Innovation Quarter in the summer of 2014.
“I had not heard much about Innovation Quarter until we were moving here,” Allan said. “Very soon after that, I learned a lot about it,” he smiles.
Unprompted, Allan tells me, “I was very eager to be a part of the Innovation Quarter. One thing that is important to me is being where things are happening, and a lot of things are happening here.”
“What personal accomplishment makes you the most proud?,” I ask.
“A personal accomplishment related to being here?” Allan clarifies.
“No, just your personal accomplishment.”
“Oh, well, that’s easy—my wife and kids,” he answers. See, he’d rather talk about his family.
“It has nothing to do with work,” he says. “They’re why I work. I’m very proud of my family. I have a wonderful wife; we’ve been married for 17 years.”
He tips his head back and looks up. I can tell he’s counting. He looks back at me, chin still raised, a little unsure. I laugh.
“17 or 18 years,” he says, laughing too. “And we have three teenagers: 13, 14 and 17.”
Suddenly the math becomes easier.
“I guess it has been 18 years. 1997—that’s 18 years. Don’t put 17 years in there,” he says.
Changing gears, I ask, “What does innovation mean to you?”
Allan’s quick with his reply. It’s clear that innovation makes him tick.
“Innovation is not just coming up with a new product that nobody else has. It’s also thinking and interacting differently,” says Allan. “Innovation includes looking at the direction of where things are moving and trying to position yourself to be relevant, whether as a new start-up or an established business. Innovation always involves listening to what people say that they are going to need and positioning yourself to provide something different to meet that need.”
“Speaking of innovative thinking,” I say, “What was the last great idea you had or heard?”
“What comes to mind is not the last idea I had, but it’s the last idea that is turning into a reality,” he says.
I accept this definition as being within the scope of the question. Spirit of the law, not the letter.
“I’m the organizer of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of Forsyth County,” he says, “which brings together many of the organizations that provide services to small business owners in our community. There are 20 different organizations involved, and we have momentum.”
Allan adds, “Hopefully a year from now, I’ll tell you that we’ve done even more to positively impact the small business community in Forsyth County.”
“What is the last song to get stuck in your head?,” I ask.
“I can’t think of one song, because there are a whole lot of songs stuck in my head. Actually, they’re stuck in my cd player,” he says. “I listen to a lot of gospel music, and my kids laugh at me because I have a six-cd changer, and I probably haven’t changed those six cds in over a year.”
“You’ve been listening to the same songs for over a year?” I ask.
“I don’t think that I’ve even bought a cd in years,” Allan admits.
“Somewhat along those lines, what old technology that’s no longer with us do you miss the most?” I ask. “And don’t say six-disc CD changers.”
“That’s old? I thought that was current!” He laughs. After some thought, Allan says, “I don’t know that I miss anything.”
I offer some example of technologies that people might conceivably miss: “Cassette tapes? Floppy disks? Typewriters? Pogo sticks?”
Allan doesn’t bite. “I love new ways of connecting with people. For example, I don’t carry a flash drive around. You lose it or it doesn’t work and that’s it, you’re done. When I speak at places, I don’t take anything with me. It’s all in the cloud.”
“We’ll just write that you love the cloud,” I say. Here it is, folks: Allan loves the cloud.
“Finish this sentence,” I say. “When I grow up, I want to be a….”
“Proud father of three college graduates—with no debt,” he says quickly, but with a smile. “They are all in high school, so that’s immediately relevant to me.”
Allan Younger is not just the director of Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center; he is also a gospel-singing, cloud-loving, innovation-promoting family man. But as we’ve learned today, it takes more than one small business advocate to change a CD.