Success Story

UNC-Chapel Hill Pioneers Unique Database to Measure the Economic Value of Startups in North Carolina and Beyond

As universities increase their role in cultivating startup companies, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is taking the lead in using data to measure how its startups strengthen the economy in North Carolina and across the globe. With a mission to be a place where innovators thrive, Innovate Carolina, which operates in the Vice Chancellor’s Office for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, collaborates with startups in UNC-Chapel Hill’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. That collaboration involves ensuring that the new companies receive mentorship and access to the resources they need for success. It also includes a uniquely thorough approach to collecting, analyzing and reporting data about the startups, which provides insight to decision-makers at the University and throughout the state.

Story by the Numbers

475 UNC Startups Tracked

$12.5 billion in funding raised

63,914 Jobs Created

358 Active Firms (306 in NC)

$10 billion in annual revenue

8,090 Jobs in North Carolina

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Innovate Carolina created its startups database to measure the impact of these social and commercial ventures. Launched in 2014, this comprehensive, longitudinal database goes beyond traditional approaches used in the wider academic community for measuring the results of university-born companies.

For example, many institutions track startup activity on IP-based startups only. The Innovate Carolina startups database offers a unique, complete approach, compiling results over time for both IP and non-IP startups. Tracking results of commercial and social ventures gives a more complete picture of startup company activity across the entire University, throughout North Carolina and beyond.

“As we continue to build our culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, this comprehensive approach to capturing data on our ventures allows for a wider view of how we are providing economic and social value to communities locally and around the world,” says Judith Cone, Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IEED). “Using sophisticated data analysis allows us to measure results and answer stakeholder questions about startups affiliated with Carolina, while helping us to cultivate resources for our ventures and position them for success.”

Tracking the economic boost delivered by startups
The economic value from University-affiliated startups continues to be significant. Data analysis since 2015 shows the total revenue of companies still in operation is in the billions, and the overwhelming majority of these businesses are headquartered in North Carolina.

• The 475 firms in the database founded between 1958 and July 2017 created 63,914 jobs and raised a total of $12.5 billion during that period. Out of the 475 firms, 358 are still active, and of those still active, 306 are headquartered in North Carolina.

• Two multinationals – Quintiles IMS Holdings Inc. and RTI International – contributed significantly to these numbers and added additional economic benefit to the state by being headquartered here for many years.

• Taking a snapshot of one year, 2016, there were 8,090 employees in North Carolina alone. In that same year, the 358 active firms had total revenues of $10 billion. Quintiles IMS accounted for the majority of that total with revenues of $7.8 billion, and 20 of the 358 companies had revenues greater than $10 million.

Innovate Carolina systematically works to bring together key groups from across the University and community with different perspectives and experiences. Many of these groups include programs that are dedicated specifically to support startups, and Innovate Carolina works to ensure data about ventures associated with these programs as well as overall program results are captured and tracked in the system.

These programs include KickStart Venture Services, 1789 Venture Lab, the CUBE social innovation incubator at the Campus Y, Launch Chapel Hill, the Center for Health Innovation, Carolina Research Ventures Fund, the Carolina Angel Network and the Blackstone Entrepreneurial Network. The database also captures startup activity generated within academic units at Carolina like the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Medicine, Kenan-Flagler Business School, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Gillings School of Global Public Health, School of Education and others. UNC-Chapel Hill’s advanced system tracks the economic output of University-affiliated startups and is used by University faculty for research purposes, housing detailed data on nearly 500 companies who were founded between 1958 and today.

Effective data gathering on entrepreneurship and startup activities helps along numerous fronts: from the submission of data to ranking agencies to the information provided to leaders and decision-makers regarding the impact of their investment in innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, the startups database is one of the primary sources of data that will feed into a new dashboard report that the Innovate Carolina team will use to share the economic and social value of innovation and entrepreneurship programs for the University, state and region.

Database answers timely questions, aids decision-making

The database aims to provide University decision-makers with statistics and information to determine the right resources needed at the right time for startups on their innovation path. The database answers questions like:

• How many startup companies are actively run by UNC faculty, students and alumni?

• How many companies are associated with specific UNC programs and academic units, and how much funding have these companies raised?

• How many jobs have been created in North Carolina by UNC-based companies?

• How much revenue do companies affiliated with UNC generate in specific North Carolina counties?

• When are UNC’s startups generating press, and is UNC mentioned?

• What are the impact stories from our social ventures?

• How many exits have UNC startups had, through IPO or acquisition?

As a dynamic database, statistics are updated and maintained by a research team within the office of IEED.

“Over the past three years, we’ve been pleased to implement a complete system for tracking our startups – including a framework for defining their development, a database for organizing and reporting data, methods for monitoring updates and the partnerships with programs to support it,” says Cindy Reifsnider, research analyst for Innovate Carolina and director of market landscape research service in the Office of Commercialization and Economic Development. “It’s a team effort to identify hundreds of startups and ideas, manage more than 2,000 press items and 1,600 funding events along with reporting and analysis on each. Weekly maintenance ensures that our statistics are ready when needed.”

Cindy Reifsnider, Innovate Carolina
“It’s a team effort to identify hundreds of startups and ideas, manage more than 2,000 press items and 1,600 funding events, along with reporting and analysis on each. Weekly maintenance ensures that our statistics are ready when needed.”

By engaging campus program managers in the innovation ecosystem, database managers gather detailed information about startups and founders early in the development process. Program managers from UNC’s campus incubators, accelerators, curriculum and services are key contributors and full partners in the database. In addition, database research and development is also buoyed by students at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science. Through internships and field experience opportunities, students are helping build the database while they learn core information management skills on the job.

As the startups are recorded, the research team codes them in three ways:

• Startups that spun out of UNC-Chapel Hill based on University intellectual property (IP/technology).

• Companies that benefited from the services provided by members of the Innovate Carolina Network (assisted).

• Companies started by people while at the University, or shortly after leaving, but which received no University assistance (independent).

This internal categorization enables an understanding of the varying levels of support provided by the University, from education and culture to intellectual property protection and financial support.

Innovate Carolina releases updated startup data from the database twice per year, typically in the first and third quarters. For more information about the Innovate Carolina Startups Database, contact Cindy Reifsnider.