Cary News

Morrisville restarts HOTTovation entrepreneur program

Local entrepreneurs will have a chance to find mentors and rent-free office space later this year, thanks to the non-profit Morrisville Innovation Foundation.

The program, called HOTTovation, began in 2013 but wasn’t held last year after it lost its space. Campbell University, which offers night classes at a satellite campus off Aviation Parkway, stepped in and gave the Innovation Foundation access to the building during the day.

The program is open both to Morrisville and non-Morrisville residents. The deadline to apply is April 30.

Five individuals or partnerships with a business idea will be selected to participate in the program, which is June 1 to Oct. 31. They will learn the ins and outs of business networking, finances, making pitches and finding investors.

They also will be paired with mentors from the local business community and will get a free membership in the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce.

“Entrepreneurship is definitely on the move in Morrisville,” said Steve Rao, a town council member who helped found the Innovation Foundation.

Ian Henshaw, a managing partner at Tech Tank who runs the Cary Innovation Center, will direct the HOTTovation program this year.

Henshaw said participants aren’t just going to be given a room and free reign. The program has specific benchmarks every participant must meet, and a number of points to rack up in order to graduate.

Graduates aren’t guaranteed a match with an investor, he said, but they’ll receive training on how to find investors or market themselves. The graduation ceremony also will feature a chance to make a pitch to a room full of local business leaders and investors.

“When they come out, they’ll be able to sell not just their product, but their business, to investors,” Henshaw said.

The HOTT in HOTTovation comes from Morrisville’s slogan, “Heart of the Triangle.” It also allows the program’s organizers to call participants “HOTTies,” which they do with much enthusiasm.

There’s no ideal candidate for the program, Henshaw said. It’s open to any would-be entrepreneur from the area, whether they’re looking to open a law firm, start a food truck or develop an app.

“It’s going to be for start-ups with an idea,” Rao said.

Not all the companies from the original 2013 class still exist, Henshaw said, a reminder of how hard it is to run a small business.

But then there’s Dignify Therapeutics, a graduate from the first program. The pharmaceutical company has attracted more than $4 million in grants and investments since the program ended, said owner Ed Burgard.

In a testimonial on the HOTTovation website, Burgard said the program was “the key to the success of my start-up.” Dignify’s website says the company has been successful because it identified an area of need, with no existing service or competition in a field ripe for finding outside funding.

Burgard’s company now has seven employees with Ph.Ds, plus other staff, operating in Research Triangle Park.

Rao said with the amount of young, highly educated people in the area, he thinks HOTTovation will have no shortage of future success stories.

Henshaw said HOTTovation isn’t akin to a traditional business incubator or accelerator. Rather, it’s a percolator – a place where plans begin to take shape, and where people with ideas can go to add business sense to that idea.

Rao said he would eventually like to see a business incubator in Morrisville, similar to HQ Raleigh.

“We want to make sure we market ourselves as a very innovative place,” Rao said.

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran

Want to apply?

Go to morrisvilleinnovation.org to learn about the program and find the application. The deadline to apply for the HOTTovation entrepreneurship program is 5 p.m. April 30. For information, contact Ian Henshaw at 919-633-0055 or ian.henshaw@technologytank.org

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