Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Welcomes Entrepreneurs-In-Residence Jenny Jackson and James Smith

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The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation received a Small Business Ecosystem Partner Grant from the City of Charlotte to assist small businesses through an integrated support program at UNC Charlotte involving customer discovery training, access to technical talent, mentorship and other services.

The UNC Charlotte Small Business Transformation Catalyst will support founders through entrepreneurial training, mentoring, capital formation and workforce development support. The project expands University business and technical support to small businesses with added capabilities to support businesses led by women, minorities and veterans. Charlotte Launch, a six-week customer discovery program will host its first workshop for over 20 founders on January 18th to kickoff the program.

To lead this initiative, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation welcomes two Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR), Jenny Jackson and James Smith. “With several resources available to small businesses to support growth, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UNC Charlotte and our EIRs will be focused on building connections to these resources, supporting entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentoring, hosting workshops and delivery of training programs,” stated Devin Collins, Co-Director of the Center. “Jenny and James have the experience and enthusiasm to provide mentorship and access to specialized training programs in customer discovery, business model generation, capital formation, and technology commercialization.” As they plan out the program curriculum and workshop details, they discuss their plans for the next 12 months.

Jenny Jackson has been a mentor to regional and National I-Corps teams at UNC Charlotte and has a background in corporate innovation. “I worked for the largest life insurer developing business cases to test new products and services for their direct-to-consumer market. I want founders to graduate from our programming and be able to clearly define the problem they are trying to solve.” Where Jenny’s expertise focuses on the frontend of innovation, James Smith has over 16 years of experience scaling companies. “My background and experience will provide insight into the excitement of starting, growing, maturing and expanding your company.” As Center EIRs, Jenny and James will not only lead the Charlotte Launch customer discovery program, but also host monthly workshops with guest speakers and panels, focusing on key issues Charlotte founders are facing; including funding & financing, company resources, partnerships and commercialization.

The project initiative directly addresses the COVID era substantial increase in North Carolina entrepreneurs launching new businesses and the need to build resilient customer, supplier and business resource networks across the region. The programs will provide business support and supplement business services currently offered by SBTDC, SCORE, and other entrepreneurial support organizations by identifying emerging entrepreneurs with growth potential and accelerating their growth with an emphasis on minority entrepreneurs. “We want to provide Charlotte founders with, direct access to counseling services, University technical expertise, workforce development resources and intellectual property,” Collins stated while describing the program.

Both Jenny and James are looking forward to working with Charlotte founders and immersing themselves in the Charlotte startup community. Both have mentioned sharing personal experiences and working one-on-one with founders as a highlight for their new positions. When asked about advice and what he wants founders to embrace, James replies, “If you are selling in America, marketing and exposure are more important than the product. Never wait until you have a perfect product,” Jenny adds, “Customer discovery is essential to innovation. Target customers should first desire a solution before it’s built. The only way to validate that a solution is desirable is to actually talk to that market.” Smith follows up with, “10 out of 10 you need to know who your client is.” Then, as he likes to do, he challenges the room, “In a perfect case you can tell me who is the primary customer for hair weave, The North Face and Botox?” As the EIRs wrap up their curriculum discussion, they both have a goal to provide training and actionable feedback to help small business founders engage with 30+ new customers over the six-week program. They will be out in the community providing support and hosting a variety of events and workshops.

To meet up with the Jenny Jackson and James Smith:

Jenny Jackson

James Smith

To apply for future Charlotte Launch Cohorts:

Follow our calendar and social media for upcoming events and workshops:

The next event will be the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosting the NC IDEA team for their Spring 2023 Grant Info Session: