Jason Widen is the Co-Founder of Forward Impact, whose mission is to unleash the impact potential of next-generation entrepreneurial leaders. This work includes supporting community-based strategies to develop and scale high-impact entrepreneurs including Raleigh Founded (formerly HQ Raleigh), REVGEN, and Leadership exCHANGE.
Jason brings an extensive background as an investor, developer, and entrepreneur to his current role as Founding Partner and CEO of Raleigh Founded, an award-winning entrepreneurial coworking space with four locations (and growing) in Raleigh. Raleigh Founded boasts 400 member companies and 1,000 members including key partnerships with NC State, Campbell Law, and Meredith College to name a few. Moreover Raleigh Founded member companies raised over $58 million in funding in 2018.
Seeking to develop sales talent for startups and established companies, Jason founded REVGEN in 2013. REVGEN boasts having hired and trained over 600 employees with a number of notable clients—Citrix, Red Hat, Dude Solutions, and Second Nature among them. Jason has raised millions of dollars as an entrepreneur and real estate developer including over 103 projects, most recently having raising capital for the purchase and development of expansion space for Raleigh Founded.
In addition, Jason was instrumental in the creation of Leadership exCHANGE, an award-winning organization dedicated to training the next generation of leaders and global citizens to change the world. Moreover, Jason is an ardent supporter of Raleigh’s community and currently sits on a number of noteworthy Boards including: Innovate Raleigh, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Raleigh Alliance.
1. What is in your pockets?
My car keys and my wallet.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
As of Aug. 17, HQ Raleigh was rebranded as Raleigh Founded. The name change comes shortly after a trademark issue, but the name change was long overdue and better aligns with the mission of our organization. It is now home to over 1,000 members from over 400 companies, many of which were founded here in Raleigh.
With the name change, Raleigh Founded will be rolling out new programming and resources that support and empower under-connected communities in our region including: women, people of color, those impacted by Covid-19, rural communities, and those with financial hardships. This year, Raleigh Founded will have more extensive and inclusive programming to include: opening an affiliate space in rural NC; launching the Main Street program; a free membership campaign for those in need; and creating more accessible content through virtual programming.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
My favorite place is Third Place, which is right down the street from where I live in the Five Points district in Raleigh. BREW Coffee Bar is a neighbor of ours at our Gateway facility. I’m also a fan of Black & White Coffee in Videri downtown. Jubala is another one that I frequent.
There’s a new coffee shop that I love at the State Farmer’s Market, 321 Coffee, started by a young group of entrepreneurs from NC State, where their employee base are people on the autism spectrum. They’ve created this mission-driven coffee shop, which I think is really cool. I make my rounds to different places.
4. What keeps you up at night?
I’m a battle-hardened veteran and tend to not worry about things. I think a lot about the current economic climate. Are we doing the right things to contribute positively toward the community? Are there things that we need to do within our business to pivot to ensure that we have the revenues coming in so we can sustain ourselves through the difficult time? Is our organization relevant at this point in time? How is the market changing? What are those things that we need to do to position ourselves for success as we come out of this economic crisis caused by the pandemic?
The other part is I’m very entrepreneurial-minded. If our organization isn’t growing and evolving, I’m probably not the right person to continue to run the organization.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
I go to many places. Locally where we live it is Mandolin. My favorite place is Brewery Bhavana. A Place at the Table was my go-to meeting place before Covid, and now I try to order from there at least once a week. I like Capital Club 16, Whiskey Kitchen, and Capital Creations Gourmet Pizza. The other place I go to all the time near our Gateway Raleigh Founded location is Union Special.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
At Raleigh Founded, we’re place creators, we’ve got these dynamic coworking spaces that have a mission associated with them. It’s become very clear to us over the past several years that we do a lot of economic-development-building activities, whether that’s curating local people or mentoring local businesses or just providing meaningful connections and resources. We’ve had groups reach out to us to assist them in doing similar activities.
NC State is a perfect example. We’ve been approached by a number of different developers to help them place-create in a more uniquely local communal way, which is exciting, and we’ve got several conversations and engagements going on in that regard. We continue to get interest from other universities on how can we replicate what we’ve done with NC State. Those are very early conversations, but that’s something else that we’ve been working on.
And for me, I’m really passionate about growing and scaling companies. I like B Corp companies and companies that have a triple-bottom-line aspect to them, so there’s definitely a place for me at Raleigh Founded as a leader within that organization, but I’ve got a great team. As we’re growing and developing that, I’m going to stay on board there, but who knows? There may be another opportunity that catches my eye where I can still support Raleigh Founded at a strategic level and maybe I go off and invest in and run another company. So we’ll see.