As Winston-Salem develops into a regional driver of innovation, the city has grown rapidly into a hub of entrepreneurship. Today, there is a depth of resources and support for start-ups that did not exist even five years ago. This entrepreneurial hub is supported by four elements that combine to create a home for entrepreneurs of all stripes.
An obstacle that many entrepreneurs face is finding appropriately sized—and priced—space in which to grow. In the past year alone, the places designed specifically to house start-ups have increased dramatically as other entities have risen to meet the growing and varied needs of entrepreneurs and innovators.
Flywheel Coworking, which was one of the first places in the city that catered to entrepreneurs, continues to provide flexible coworking space for entrepreneurs and small businesses with the goal of creating community among its members.
Fearless, a “collaborative collective and social community for and by women” opened recently in the Brookstown area, providing coworking space for as little as $15 a month, making the opportunity to work and collaborate downtown available for anyone.
Winston Starts, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in Winston-Salem, now offers 35,000 square feet of space downtown for companies to start and expand, as well as mentorship, professional services and access to capital.
Also downtown, the recently redeveloped Bailey Power Plant is home to the Innovation Suites, which provide a variety of space options—from private offices to office suites—for growth-stage companies and entrepreneurs who are looking for innovative neighbors while taking the next step in their development.
As innovative companies benefit from a continual influx of ideas, Winston-Salem has grown in the number of programs aimed at providing ideas and interactions to strengthen, nourish and empower entrepreneurs.
Venture Café Winston-Salem, part of a global community that offers unique programming designed to inspiration innovation in every arena, hosts a weekly Thursday Gathering to bring innovators of all sorts together in one place to spark projects, partnerships and more.
Swerve, powered by the Center for Creative Economy, focuses on the intersection of arts and entrepreneurship, bringing together entrepreneurs and professionals in creative sectors to inspire and learn from each other.
Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center hosts dozens of classes and workshops every week to help entrepreneurs learn and grow. From “How to Write a Business Plan” to “Marketing Outside the Box,” Forsyth Tech’s business workshops provide much-needed educational support.
Startup Grind offers start-ups various levels of programming to help them get to the next stages of growth by providing training, resources and connections, both locally and through a global start-up community.
Sometimes start-ups need a little more help, a boost to get them up and on their way. Winston-Salem is home to a host of accelerators that were funded to do just that.
The New Ventures accelerator, backed by the New Ventures Investment Club, helps entrepreneurs go from business idea to functional business model through a 12-week business competition using the lean start-up method.
Creative Startups Winston-Salem brings creative entrepreneurs from all over the world to the City of Arts and Innovation through an eight-week virtual program, culminating in a Deep Dive Week where entrepreneurs congregate and collaborate in Winston-Salem for a final pitch competition.
Forsyth Technical Community College recently joined five other local universities to support local entrepreneurs and created the Launch Challenge, a business competition open to current and former students by providing a business curriculum and capital.
There’s power in all of the elements already listed, but when things really start to take off is when they all begin to work together.
Go to a Venture Café Winston-Salem event and chances are you’ll see Jen Oleniczak Brown, founder of Fearless, there. Go to a Fearless event, and you’ll probably run into Allan Younger, who runs the Small Business Center at Forsyth Tech. You won’t be surprised to attend a Winston Starts event and hear the infectious laughter of Karen Barnes, executive director of Venture Café Winston-Salem. Go up to any of them at any of these events with a need, and they’ll almost always know the direction to point you in.
See a pattern?
Connections are happening across Winston-Salem that weren’t happening before, and it’s all to the benefit of local entrepreneurs.
Imagine a scenario such as this:
A stay-at-home mom has an idea for a product or business.
- She starts by co-working at Fearless once or twice a month, taking advantage of connections, support and programming found there.
- Before long, with additional help from classes at Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center, she has a business plan under her belt.
- She pitches her business plan to Winston Starts and is approved for space and funding. Before she knows it, with the mentoring and funding she finds there, she’s hiring another employee and shipping product.
- Fast forward and her company has grown to several employees and graduates from Winston Starts to the Innovation Suites at Bailey Power Plant.
- She continues to receive support and make connections through Venture Café Winston-Salem, which is right outside her office.
- After a journey through the innovation ecosystem of Winston-Salem, she secures more funding, and soon she’s back at Fearless telling the story of how her idea turned into one of the fastest-growing startups.
- It’s not a scenario she could have envisioned even a few years ago, but the connections are happening that make this scenario not so far-fetched.
The emergence of these four elements are moving Winston-Salem toward an innovation ecosystem that welcomes and supports entrepreneurs. As start-ups launch and grow, the hub of entrepreneurial activity continues to grow, promising an entrepreneurial community that continues to expand in the future as it has in the past.