Innovation and entrepreneurship at its best

A look back at ideas and innovators that moved us forward in 2018

Innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018 has included taking on critical challenges, making big breakthroughs and exploring endless possibilities. Innovate Carolina has followed the innovation journeys of faculty researchers, student entrepreneurs and innovative alumni as they’ve put their ideas into action on campus, across the state and around the world. Although it’s impossible to capture all the innovation happening at UNC in one list, check out this top ten (plus two!) list of innovation and entrepreneurship stories from 2018. We hope you’ll take away a little insight and inspiration to fuel your ideas in 2019. 

Visit the Innovate Carolina news page for more stories.

Phyta, a venture launched by a team of UNC students, cultivates seaweed in temperate water to combat pollution and climate change

A UNC-Chapel Hill student venture was selected to compete against five other international teams for the Hult Prize — one of the most prestigious startup events in the world with a grand prize worth $1 million. Three Carolina students pitched their seaweed cultivation initiative called Phyta to world leaders at the United Nations headquarters. Phyta aims to provide an alternative ingredient for consumer products and a strategy for marine pollution removal through seaweed cultivation.

UNC startup shows that small molecule drugs hold the potential to change the behavior of disease-causing RNA

Today, the majority of drugs and pharmaceuticals on the market that treat human disease are designed to target a specific protein. But UNC-Chapel Hill startup Ribometrix has a very different, revolutionary approach to new drug discovery that’s proving to be a breakthrough in the industry. Ribometrix’s novel approach has the potential to improve millions of lives by offering new treatments for a range of diseases, ranging from cancer, neurological disorders, immunological diseases, and rare diseases such as Huntington’s Disease.

Unexpected insights from 10 years of the UNC Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop

Every spring, small groups of the most enterprising faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill experience flashbacks of sitting in class as undergraduates. As participants in the Chancellor’s Faculty Entrepreneurship Workshop, which is sponsored by Chancellor Carol Folt and led by Innovate Carolina, these researchers and teachers find themselves in the shoes of the students they instruct. This flipped classroom experience is relatively familiar territory for Carolina faculty. However, the subject of this crash course – entrepreneurship – can feel like entirely new terrain.


UNC alumnus Nick Black uses entrepreneurial skills to help prevent soldier suicide 

One of the hardest lessons Nick Black learned through his service in the U.S. Army is that, too often, soldiers are lost to an adversary that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: suicide. Black’s experiences led him and two fellow servicemen to co-found Stop Soldier Suicide. They all knew soldiers who had faced daunting challenges and were determined to create a solution. With veterans at a 22 percent higher risk of suicide than their peers who have not served, the organization helps veterans and their families get help with suicide prevention.

UNC-Chapel Hill named an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by APLU

With tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff immersed in what seems like limitless teaching, research and social engagement activities each day, it’s hard to fully grasp what takes place on a university campus. Even more difficult is understanding the social and economic effect of innovations sparked at a university once they extend beyond campus. How do we demonstrate the impact of these activities? A national designation received by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows the strong campus-to-community connection that’s made possible through faculty and student innovations that serve the public.

New UNC course combines design thinking and experiential making

When students take a course, they define success in any number of ways: good grades, learning new skills or expanding their knowledge, to name a few. You’ll find very few, however, who define success as experiencing failure. Yet, a new design and making course at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is teaching students that in order to move forward, they must first endure a few steps backwards. 

Felix Harvey Award winners will receive $75,000 to help abused and neglected children find permanent homes

Each month, more than 400 children across North Carolina are removed from their birth homes due to child abuse or neglect. Although 30 percent of those children are able to live with relatives, only eight percent of those relatives will qualify for the same financial support as traditional foster parents. Why is that, and what does it mean for these children and their relatives? A team of faculty at UNC’s School of Social Work is looking to solve this challenging issue.

Faculty Startups Navigate North Carolina’s Funding Landscape 

Let’s say you’re a faculty member at a university in North Carolina, and you want to launch a startup. How can you get the early funding you need to be successful? What resources are available? And how do you identify and tap into the right resources at each step of your innovation journey? This three-part series examines the unique funding landscape that successful faculty startups in North Carolina learn to navigate during their go-to-market journeys. Discover why a convergence of academic, public and private forces in North Carolina create an environment that’s primed to support the growing number of high-potential startups that spring from university classrooms and labs.

Carolina startup programs helped prepare UNC startup Bivarus for early success, acquisition by Press Ganey

When UNC-affiliated startup Bivarus was recently acquired by Press Ganey, a national leader in health care solutions, industry experts took note. So did many people and programs at UNC-Chapel Hill who had been involved in providing early support for the company, which was co-founded by UNC professor Seth Glickman. The Bivarus acquisition is a strong example of how UNC-Chapel Hill helps prime startup companies associated with the University for success through a variety of programs in the Innovate Carolina Network.  

UNC professor Mark Schoenfisch receives the UNC Innovator of the Year Award

Mark Schoenfisch likes to quip that his favorite letters are “N” and “O.” That might seem like a surprising preference for a chemistry professor who teaches his students to explore new scientific possibilities and whose own entrepreneurial spirit leads him to develop life-improving inventions. Yet, when you hear Schoenfisch explain that his fondness for these two letters isn’t based on the word that they form or a contrarian perspective on the world, but rather his passion for researching the molecule nitric oxide (NO), you make the connection. Through his research, he’s discovered a number of potentially huge medical benefits associated with this tiny molecule and is inventing novel ways for using nitric oxide to make a positive difference in the lives of many.

More than 8,900 people in North Carolina are employed by UNC startups

Local communities across the state continue to reap the economic benefits of startups launched by UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, students and staff, according to a biannual report that analyzes the economic impact of the University’s commercial and social ventures. The analysis conducted in mid-2018 by Innovate Carolina, the campus-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship, indicates that UNC-Chapel Hill startup companies and social ventures provide an increasing number of jobs and a growing revenue stream to local economies.

U.S. News & World Report ranks UNC the No. 4 undergrad entrepreneurship program

Undergraduate entrepreneurship education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has never been stronger, according to a new national ranking. US News & World Report ranked UNC-Chapel Hill as fourth best on its undergraduate entrepreneurship programs list. The ranking, which is the highest in the program’s history and is based on peer assessment surveys, signals the breadth, depth and diversity of Carolina’s entrepreneurship education opportunities.