For many years, Juan Garzón's work has given him a broad view of the Charlotte startup community. He leads Innovate Charlotte and PitchBreakfast, founded and ran StartCharlotte, which became Charlotte Inno, and The Garzón Company works with entrepreneurs on marketing.
To better understand the needs of Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community, the managing director of Innovate Charlotte set out to ask them what they needed and how the organization could help. The idea was to find opportunities and gaps and try to turn the ship slowly in a direction that better serves the community. The four main areas of need that he saw repeated were access to capital, specifically early stage capital, to get their scalable business off the ground and grow; racial and gender equity in the innovation space; access to talent; and corporate collaboration.
After asking many of these questions in a 2021 survey, among the key takeaways for Innovate Charlotte were that it needed to talk more with entrepreneurs, and bring investors, corporate partners and other support organizations to the table. From that insight and other similar inquiries, Innovate Charlotte has started to work on supporting a major effort that's going to be launching later this year to bring not just capital to Charlotte but also capital education.
“So, that is education around high-net worth individuals who want to become Angel investors so that we can have more Angel capital, and also education with founders on how to raise capital, when they're ready for capital, what different types of capital is there,” Garzón says. “And so those are the types of things that we're looking to do this year to help around capital. We're working on something similar for the corporate collaboration piece and talent. And one of the things that we found with racial and gender equity is that it's not it's own program, so to speak. It's something that has to inform everything. And so we're looking at efforts to bring a an accelerator program, a major branded accelerator program, that focuses on DEI in innovation to Charlotte. So, all of these are initiatives that are in the works around those four specific challenge areas.”
Garzón spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about his perspective on the Charlotte startup scene — its strengths, its gaps, and the progress it's made ... and still needs to make.