Click on link for Hurdles, Strategies for Growing High-Tech Business Chapel Hill the Chapel Hill News article by Tammy Grubb.
On June 7, CHALT sponsored a public forum entitled “Nurturing High Technology Businesses in Chapel Hill’. The forum explored whether the Town of Chapel Hill should more actively support the growth of local information technology and biotechnology businesses and how the Town might support them effectively. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill generates many small high technology companies. As the successful ones grow and mature, however, they tend to leave Chapel Hill for other nearby or out-of-state locations. In contrast, other university towns, such as Boulder, Co and Ann Arbor, MI, have retained more of their homegrown high tech businesses.
Three invited speakers and two CHALT members made presentations. The invited speakers included Michelle Bolas representing UNC’s Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and two scientist-entrepreneurs. Natalia Mitin, Ph.D is President of Healthspan Dx, a UNC ‘spin-off’ company that left Chapel Hill for premises in RTP. Jude Samulski, Ph.D. is the co-founder of Bamboo Therapeutics, a Chapel Hill-based biotech company. Fred Lampe and David Schwartz of CHALT presented information on high tech development in Ann Arbor, MI and Boulder, CO, respectively.
Approximately 50 people attended the forum, including Mayor Hemminger and several members of the Chapel Hill Town Council. Representatives of the local media and several local entrepreneurs, both active and retired, also attended. A discussion period followed the presentations. CHALT member Rudy Juliano, Ph.D., moderated the forum, where these themes emerged.
- High tech businesses provide both good jobs and net positive tax revenues;
- Tech entrepreneurs prefer to locate their operations close to the university;
- Quality of life issues are important to high tech companies;
- Biotech and info-tech companies have very different space and facilities requirements;
- Compared to other college towns, such as Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill has done little to recruit or retain high tech businesses;
- Impediments to high tech business growth in Chapel Hill include lack of suitable rental space, especially for biotech companies, and lack of convenient parking. For example, Ms. Bolas noted that UNC-related startups need around 200,000 square feet of work space, but only 26,000 square feet are available on campus;
- These impediments cause companies that would prefer to remain in Chapel Hill for access and quality of life reasons to look elsewhere.
CHALT members are currently studying in detail the issues raised at the forum, and we look forward to working with the Town on ways to more effectively nurture and retain our homegrown high tech businesses.