By Natalie Wilson

On Tuesday, August 7, growing startup incubator Winston Starts organized its inaugural talent pipeline event to launch its groundbreaking new Student Starts program. Over 60 administrators and staff from 11 regional academic partners and chambers of commerce attended the lunchtime conference, which opened a new, collaborative communication channel between them and Winston Starts 14 resident startup companies.

This program aims to highlight possibilities for regional job creation, by connecting startup companies with high-level achievers and, in reverse, connecting students with both internships and career opportunities.

Betsy Brown, director of Winston Starts, first proposed the inaugural Student Starts event when she tried to connect one of Winston Starts’ companies with intern talent. Brown quickly realized that there were many different internship programs offered by numerous institutions with varying timelines and varying requirements for compensation and credit. Brown knew that without formally connecting startup companies with the numerous gatekeepers responsible for overseeing these programs, Winston Starts and its resident companies were missing out on a large talent pool, and students weren’t being connected with exciting opportunities.

“The mission of this program is to link diverse academic institutions and their talented students with our startup companies that have a need for such talent to launch their businesses,” Brown said.

Brown’s energy and vision propelled the event from a small meeting with local schools into a wide-reaching forum that connected startup founders with numerous leaders in professional development from across the region’s public and private high schools, colleges and universities.  

The inaugural Student Starts event opened with a video introduction to Winston Starts produced by SHIFT Creative Agency. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines then delivered welcome remarks, explaining that many factors, including the large number of diverse colleges and universities, make the Triad’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and “talent ecosphere” especially unique. Joines explained that Winston Starts provides the area with a much needed and valuable system for mentoring, as well as a place where talent can be gathered to help Winston-Salem flourish.

“We are truly committed to creating this ecosystem,” Joines said. “It’s not just words.”

“We as a city — we as a community — are committed to making all this happen”

Remarks from Don Flow, who envisioned and established Winston Starts and now serves on its Board of Directors, followed. Flow pointed out that Winston-Salem and the Triad has always been a community of entrepreneurs historically and that many companies — Krispy Kreme, Texas Pete, and numerous furniture and textile manufacturing companies, among others — can call it their current and original home.

Flow argued that in order to boost the economy of a mid-size city like Winston-Salem and help it thrive, the region must keep that entrepreneurial energy alive by commercializing intellectual capital and keeping young people here.

Because of the opportunities Student Starts will generate and the way it brings schools and students together in a unique and different way, Student Starts perfectly aligns with the visions for job creation in the Triad both Joines and Flow expressed.  

“We want to capture that energy with young people who get up every single day and imagine what problem they could solve, or what new opportunity they could create in the world,” Flow said.

“This type of collaboration across so many diverse schools to link with business opportunities has never been done before and we think the energy behind it will grow exponentially,” Brown said. “By tapping into that pipeline, we think it gives students exciting opportunities with our creative and talented entrepreneurs that will ultimately lead to job creation in our local economy.”  

Student Starts gave each of Winston Starts’ 14 companies three minutes to introduce their businesses to academia and the business community and highlight potential hiring needs. Then, representatives from each school had the opportunity to share the process for hiring students from their respective communities. At the end of the event, the talent pipeline turned into an exciting networking opportunity for startup founders, allowing them time to meet and build connections with the leaders from various schools.

As Winston Starts continues its ongoing support of startups into the future, it plans to host Student Starts events twice yearly and has numerous plans for new and exciting initiatives that will be a part of Student Starts programming.    

“This is just the beginning of collaboration opportunities that will stem from Student Starts,” Brown said. “There are opportunities for classrooms to conduct experiential learning here at Winston Starts, and there are numerous opportunities for shared speaker series and ongoing business case competitions revolving around our entrepreneurs.”