Innovate Raleigh has been a significant change agent in the community since it first began in 2011, so chances are if you are an entrepreneur in the Triangle area, you are aware of the organization. Still, you might not know where it came from or why it exists. 

Innovate Raleigh was founded in 2011 by current Mayor, Mary-Ann Baldwin and, then Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at NC State University, Dr. Terri Lomax. The non-profit organization is committed to making our region the top center for innovation and entrepreneurship in the nation by connecting entrepreneurs to funding, talent, and opportunities.

Innovate Raleigh was the impetus behind several important early initiatives, like devising the concept of HQ Raleigh and brokering a direct flight from RDU to SFO. Today, Innovate Raleigh has turned toward empowering the entrepreneurial community to help solve Raleigh’s social and environmental challenges, such as public transit, access to capital, fair housing, and, most recently, environmental sustainability. To accomplish this, in 2017 Innovate Raleigh brought a new Executive Director, Bridget Harrington, on board to further their mission and organize the convening of Entrepreneurs and also established meaningful partnerships to bring Innovate Raleigh to life, “Now that we are formal partners with the Chamber and the Office of Economic Development, the organization is more formalized, so we are able to more rapidly get things done. Topics are ever-changing because the needs of the community change,” says Bridget. 

Innovate Raleigh’s main program is an annual summit. “There is an annual summit each year where the community comes together, finds out what is happening in the community, looks for the gaps, and forwards solutions,” explains Bridget, “Our mission is to be a top center for innovation, so last year we thought of entrepreneurship. This year we thought more about innovation as a whole. So big ideas and things that will affect our city over the next several years…”

Led by Harrington, the 2019 Innovate Raleigh Summit, took on an innovative spin and brought the annual conference to entrepreneurs and innovators. They went to them by hosting the Summit in multiple locations across the ever-changing Warehouse District, including locations at Union Station, the Dillon, Citrix, and more. “We chose the main location at Union Station because we are called Innovate Raleigh, but we really take a regional approach, and symbolically being at the train station was interesting for us. And it’s an inspiring space,” explains Bridget, “And how better to connect the community to physically go around and walk the city.”

The topics for 2019 came from the community, “In 2018, one of our questions was: how do we get more funding in the hands of entrepreneurs? We heard some feedback that the funding was there, but there were not enough big ideas, so we took that as a challenge to explore the innovation part of our mission and focused on 1. Sustainability 2. The 4th industrial revolution 3. AI and machine learning.” said Bridget. 

As for the future of Innovate Raleigh? Bridget explains that it all depends on the needs of the Raleigh community, “We continue to be very responsive to the needs of our community on our quest to be a top center for entrepreneurship and innovation.” Bridget adds, “There is an opportunity with new city leadership to truly be a top center for innovation and entrepreneurship, and that is really exciting. There is a willingness to be innovative and to try things.”

What’s New? Innovate Raleigh has always been dedicated to helping small businesses. So, it is no surprise that they are heading the All in for Raleigh movement. This initiative is working to get the community involved in donating just $25 to help fund small businesses that are struggling around the Triangle due to the pandemic. 

“Raleigh’s vibrant small business community is a big part of what makes our city one of the best places to live in the world — and now, our local businesses need our help. To help them rebuild after the impact of COVID-19, the City of Raleigh has approved $1M in grant funding, with an emphasis on supporting minority- and woman-owned businesses. Now Mayor Baldwin is challenging the private sector to match these funds. 

Show your appreciation for Raleigh’s vibrant small business community and donate now! Go #AllinforRaleigh