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Innovate Carolina space

An Interview with Sheryl Waddell of Innovate Carolina

By Grubb Properties Development Team

Grubb Properties has been collaborating closely with the Town of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in launching an innovation district designed to attract new businesses and keep start-ups launched at the university from relocating to other regions.

136 East Rosemary and 137 East Franklin
Innovate Carolina Junction located in our 136 East Rosemary and 137 East Franklin building in Chapel Hill, NC.

As part of this effort, Grubb Properties recently redeveloped the office property at 136 East Rosemary and 137 East Franklin. The property is owned by Grubb Properties' Link Apartments Opportunity Zone REIT. One of the first tenants to move into the building is the Innovate Carolina Junction. Designed and created by Innovate Carolina, the Junction connects the university and community to all aspects of economic and social impact. It will serve as a hub for the new innovation district.

We recently sat down with Sheryl Waddell, director of economic development and innovation hubs for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to discuss the initiative, the future of the Chapel Hill area, and the process of working with Grubb Properties in designing the space.

Tell us about Innovate Carolina and the Innovate Carolina Junction.

Innovate Carolina is UNC-Chapel Hill’s central team for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. We work with Carolina innovators and entrepreneurs to launch startups and create market-ready technologies, products and services through a full-scale hub designed for problem solvers: innovation-minded faculty, students and community partners who use their ingenuity to nudge the world forward. At the heart of everything we do, we aim to make the greatest social and economic impact possible by helping problem-solvers move more inventions and valuable ideas into the world faster. 

Sheryl Waddell
Sheryl Waddell, director of economic development and innovation hubs for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Image by Sarah Daniels.

To foster an environment for ideas and ingenuity, we envisioned a space where founders, advisors and experts from UNC-connected accelerators, social entrepreneurs, corporate innovation squads, members of the community and our own team could work side-by-side to turn ideas and research discoveries into startup companies, products and services. As a result, we designed and opened the Innovate Carolina Junction: a place intended for anyone with a curiosity and passion for solving problems to converge, convene and create to make an impact. 

The Junction is also Innovate Carolina’s new home, where we create and facilitate all innovation programming and activation of the Junction itself. As an anchor for the larger Chapel Hill innovation district, the Junction is helping to attract industry to strengthen the local economy which will keep startups created at Carolina in Chapel Hill.

How do you see the downtown Chapel Hill area evolving?

As a UNC-Chapel Hill employee, I’m excited about the ongoing possibilities for downtown Chapel Hill as it continues to evolve into a true live-work-play community. The Junction is an entry point to the wider downtown innovation district and will attract entrepreneurs and industry partners from the university, local community and region to convene and create. 

Innovate Carolina space
Inside the Innovate Carolina space. Image by Sarah Daniels.

We see the Junction as an integral member of the downtown community and are collaborating with Grubb Properties, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and the Town of Chapel Hill to energize the downtown district, balancing tradition with progress in downtown to create an extremely positive environment that will be foundational to the Junction and the innovation district. Whether it’s hosting formal meetings, programs, events or members of the community for a cup of coffee, the Junction is a space primed to serve downtown Chapel Hill and its surrounding areas.

Tell us about the Innovate Carolina Space. How did the collaboration with Grubb Properties work?

The diversity of spaces at the Junction were imagined and designed to meet a variety of needs. We wanted to establish creative spaces, coworking and meeting spaces for inventive thinking that allow for a flexible work environment designed to spark creative collisions – some unexpected – which can allow for rapid results. 

When we began to think about bringing our ideas for the space to life, we immediately thought of working with Grubb Properties. Grubb Properties is renowned for its creative development approach, and its dedication to long-term relationships aligns with what we were trying to design and build with the Junction.  

How does the design of the building contribute to Innovate Carolina’s mission?

Connecting and convening is in Innovate Carolina’s DNA. So the design of the building and how its spaces provide diverse opportunities for connecting and convening aligns with our mission to be a place where innovators thrive, moving more ideas into the world faster to solve the world’s problems and strengthen the economy. We believe the design of the building offers a true community for problem solvers through open coworking, meeting spaces and private offices that adapt to the changing needs of the community. We’ve worked hand-in-hand with Grubb Properties, architecture firm Perkins + Eastman and the UNC design team to make sure we’re creating a space that supports UNC’s innovators, the local community and brings industry to Chapel Hill.  

Innovate Carolina space
Inside the Innovate Carolina space. Image by Sarah Daniels.

Innovate Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill have had considerable success in startup formation, including 863 startups created, $19.1B funds raised and 102,000 jobs created since 1958. We plan to build on that momentum with the Junction, and we believe the design of the building and its space will play a big role in that.

What other types of tenants would you like to see in the building?

We are thrilled to have a diverse group of tenants already in the building – including coworking members and industry partners – and we certainly have room for a few more! We have tenants including student startups, local entrepreneurs, a sustainable performance apparel company, a law firm, a software and services company and Launch Chapel Hill, to name a few. 

The Junction is a community for anyone with a curiosity and passion for solving problems so please reach out to me if you are interested and have questions. I’ll make sure to help you find your best fit – whether you’re a one-person company or a 100-person company. 

Learn more about our downtown Chapel Hill property and how we put investment dollars to work here.