Velvet Nelson is the director of Launch Chapel Hill. Velvet manages the accelerator and coworking space. After working in higher education for six years and earning her master’s degree in education from NC State University, she worked at a startup called Everblue Training Institute in Charlotte. Following Everblue’s acquisition in 2012, Nelson started her own edtech startup, ProctorFree. She raised over $3 million in venture funding while actively engaged with the company. Velvet relocated to the Triangle area in 2019 and joined the Launch Chapel Hill team in December of that year.
- What is in your pockets?
At all times I have Burt’s Bees lip balm or lip therapy; I use it all the time. Usually, I have my keys to Launch Chapel Hill. Nine times out of 10, there is something to entertain my children. I have a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, so I usually have some type of toy or something to distract them.
- What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
We received the largest donation we ever have in the history of Launch Chapel Hill in the fall, a $230,000 donation from Lee-Moore Capital to help us expand our programs and services in Chapel Hill. We have been riding high on that for some time. In addition to that, we just finished our 2020 annual survey. Every year we survey our companies and ask about their successes and their failures. We are really excited about the data that we received in a Covid world. It’s been interesting to see how our companies responded in the wake of the pandemic. We’re releasing that report on April 22.
Launch Chapel Hill was founded in 2013 by the town of Chapel Hill, Orange County, and the University (of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). We were created as an economic development organization to help entrepreneurs and startups grow and thrive in Chapel Hill and Orange County. Our mission is to create a space for entrepreneurs and programs that will allow them to grow their businesses.
We run an accelerator three times per year, and that’s a 13-week program. We accept up to 10 companies into each iteration. The second thing we offer is coworking space. We have flexible desks and private offices available right on Franklin Street. The rents are fairly competitive so people who are starting companies have an office location that’s not going to break the bank.
- What is your favorite coffee spot?
My favorite coffee spot is Summit Coffee in Chapel Hill. It’s right up the street from my office and it just opened. One of the reasons I love it is because I moved here from the Lake Norman area of Charlotte and Summit Coffee was started there. When I saw them open. I was like, “Oh, there’s a little bit of home right down the street.” I go there often.
- What keeps you up at night?
From a personal standpoint, I’m a working full-time mom and have two toddlers at home. It’s always a balance of how do you make sure that you’re present for your job and you’re also present for your children on a daily basis. I’m very lucky that the University and the town and the County are supportive of that.
Professionally, it’s always a matter of how we can expand our services and help serve more entrepreneurs in the local area. We’re a small nonprofit organization that’s got big plans for the future. We want to grow strategically and to grow smart.
I spend a lot of nights working after my kids go to bed. At night I get a lot of my best work done when it comes to strategy. Everything’s turned off, I’m not getting emails and I can actually sit down and start thinking about how do we manage growth.
- What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
I just moved to The Triangle in December 2019. I got here and we were closing on our house and unpacking. The first couple of months we didn’t get out, and then Covid hit. I’m open to suggestions. We have been nowhere.
I have a lot of fun lunch spots because I’m at work during lunch. So, I go to Brandwein’s Bagels. They’re actually a Launch alum, they participated in some of our programs.
- What is next for you or your organization?
Because of the gift that we received in November, and because it’s been such a generous offering, we actually took time at the beginning of 2021 to do a “Future of Work” survey. We are working to understand what we can do for our entrepreneurs locally in the Triangle to help them recover from the pandemic and understand how their needs have changed as a result. The study focused on how they think they’re going to return to the office and what programs and services are they going to need coming out of the pandemic.
We will use those results to expand our programs and offerings over the next 12 months. Our focus is trying to create some new services and offerings at Launch Chapel Hill that will help companies come out of this pandemic better off.
We also have our summer accelerator starting in June. Applications just closed for that. We had a record number of applications. That accelerator is for UNC students only. We’ll be selecting 10 companies to participate in that program in the next couple of weeks.
I’m really excited about that annual report event on April 22nd. It’s a virtual event, but it gives us an opportunity to shine a light on what we’re doing in Chapel Hill and beyond. I always get really pumped about that.