NC IDEA Kicks Off Day One Of Its 5th Annual Ecosystem Summit In Raleigh

Bennet Waters (left), the President and CEO of NCInnovation, leads a panel discussion during Day One of NC IDEA's Ecosystem Summit on Monday at the Raleigh Hilton North Hills. The three-day event continues through Wednesday.

Returning for its fifth iteration, NC IDEA officially kicked off its annual Ecosystem Summit yesterday at the Raleigh Hilton North Hills. The three-day Summit (Nov. 13-15) is the only statewide conference that brings together hundreds of diverse ecosystem builders and leaders to address what is needed to support entrepreneurs and to create a shared vision of making North Carolina the best place to start and grow a business. 

The Ecosystem Summit is an anchor event for Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is celebrated in 165+ countries to honor and help entrepreneurs who serve their community and bolster the economy.

By bringing together N.C.’s entrepreneurs and the people and organizations who support and nourish them, the Summit offers a space to network with other leaders and celebrate successes across the state and to address specific issues and topics that are driving change toward “Creating Our Future,” which is the Summit’s theme this year.


NC IDEA’s Board Chair Jerry Edmonds III kicked off Day One (Monday) with opening remarks that set up the rest of the theme for the day. That theme was “Creating Our Fearless Future”—a focus on the importance of supporting and protecting equal access to opportunities and resources needed to succeed in a business.

Thom Ruhe, NC IDEA’s President and CEO, then took the stage to remark on the achievements that NC IDEA has made since its last summit and the possibilities that leaders and founders attending can achieve by being grounded in their entrepreneurial work. Above all, Ruhe sees NC IDEA’s role as removing barriers for entrepreneurs, especially for traditionally under-represented groups such as women, people of color and rural residents.

“Our greatest natural resource is the entrepreneurial potential of all people,” Ruhe said. “We all possess the power to realize our maximum potential but we lack the money and resources to do so. We’re going to help change that.”

Day One’s keynote speakers and featured panelists included:

  • Shenell Thompson, on “Working Together For Systems Change.” As the Senior Program Officer for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Thompson shared the organization’s journey from recognizing their history to how they’ve transformed it to redefine their mission to providing equitable access to members of Forsyth County.
  • Victor Hwang, on “We Are the Heroes We’ve Been Waiting For.” Hwang is the Founder and CEO of Right to Start, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to driving civic change to remove the barriers for entrepreneurs. As an advocate for the “right to start a business,” Hwang discussed the importance of recognizing and expanding entrepreneurial opportunity by taking action in our communities to level the playing field for anyone aspiring to be an entrepreneur.
  • Bennet Waters, on “Building the Innovation State.” As President and CEO of NCInnovation, Waters is all too familiar with N.C.’s so-so ranking (20th) in innovation, despite nearing the very top in research and development at universities. Waters remarked on how the state’s recent $500 million investment over the next two fiscal years will enable NCInnovation to help fix that ranking by making grants to help turn research advances at the state’s public universities into startups that can create jobs. He then moderated a panel of leaders in innovation who explored strategies toward advancing innovation in the state, including:
    • John Hardin, Executive Director at the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation at the NC Department of Commerce;
    • Natalie J. Brown, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship at Ally Financial;
    • and John R. Bradford III, State Representative of N.C. 98th District and a startup founder himself.

The Summit will continue to feature notable keynote speakers and panelists today and tomorrow, including addresses on Tuesday’s Day Two from Elizabeth Dougherty with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and U.S. Senator Thom Tillis. Other featured and breakout session speakers include (on Day Three) Robbie Allen from the Triangle Tweener Fund, Josh Owen from Cycle Labs and GrepBeat sister company Primordial’s own Jenn Summe. 

Day Two will showcase policymakers and leaders helping to shape NC’s innovative ecosystem’s future. The conversations and sessions from speakers will emphasize the role our communities play in building an inclusive tech economy and fostering innovation in companies. 

The final day (Wednesday) is centered around startups and funding. The conference will wrap right around noon on Wednesday with the long-awaited announcement of NC IDEA’s Fall 2023 SEED ($50K) grant recipients. The dozen finalists include five from the Triangle, all of which GrepBeat has previously profiled: Bristles, Inc., DNAli Data Technologies, HUB Healthcare, Information Patterns and TSV Analytics

About Kaitlyn Dang 50 Articles
Kaitlyn is a reporter covering tech startups and entrepreneurs. Before starting at GrepBeat, she graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in media and journalism in May 2023. She has written for The Daily Tar Heel. In her spare time, she likes going to concerts and going on nature walks.