is a 20,000-square-foot incubator and EdTech accelerator in Wilmington unlike anything in the area as far as look, vibe and amenities.
It’s more like something you would expect in areas like the Triangle with more developed startup and tech communities—an open, modern space for tech companies with its own gym, food truck, garden and brewery.
I recently chatted with Joe Finley, president of CastleBranch and a leader within tekMountain, to get a better idea of the vision of the facility and its mission to grow national-in-scale EdTech startups.
How did it come about?
tekMountain was developed out of necessity by its sister company CastleBranch
, one of the top 10 background check and drug testing companies in the U.S. Two of CastleBranch’s biggest challenges are finding technology and innovation talent in small town Wilmington and maintaining a culture of innovation as it grows. The company decided to tackle those challenges by opening tekMountain on the top floor of the new CastleBranch headquarters. It opened in June 2014.
What does it mean for Wilmington technology companies?
tekMountain serves as an incubator space for tech companies and entrepreneurs within the Wilmington area—they can choose between office space or a co-working desk. 11 companies are members today—they were carefully selected by tekMountain to ensure it's a community of individuals and companies that can support each other's growth and find synergies. The assembly of innovative companies is important enough that the leadership team of CastleBranch also occupies space in tekMountain.
According to Joe, it's more important to build that community than to make money off of the space. Rent is cheap.
Member Ross Hamilton
, CEO of Connected Investors
says tekMountain has been instrumental in the explosive growth of his social network and marketplace for real estate investors.
"The value to us is being in a space surrounded by bright and experienced entrepreneurs that collaborate to help each other succeed," he says.
Joe agreed with me that Wilmington is in the early stages of developing its technology and innovation culture, but it continues to grow. The hope is to attract similarly-minded people—either already here or from outside the area—to work in the space. tekMountain works alongside the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which is focused on early stage companies and financial assistance, and recently-opened Elite Innovations MakerSpace
to help keep technology companies in Wilmington and to grow the market.
How does tekMountain tie in to EdTech?
CastleBranch hopes to keep its pulse on innovation in one of its key industries—education. Leveraging existing CastleBranch sales channels into 10,000 colleges, universities and other educational institutions, a tekMountain accelerator program hopes to help aspiring EdTech entrepreneurs deploy new products and grow businesses. An intensive vetting process has already begun—tekMountain is targeting graduates of the nation's seven or eight EdTech incubators around the country. So far, three companies have scheduled visits to demo their products and see the space.
According to Joe, CastleBranch customers are looking for innovation and several have offered to serve on a research and development team to explore new EdTech opportunities. Beyond the initial R&D phase, tekMountain will help its accelerator companies roll out their products to a single university, write a white paper, and if there's demand, drop the product through the full CastleBranch sales channel.
What is the vision for 2015?
tekMountain plans to accelerate at least five EdTech companies this year, and to push their products out to the CastleBranch customer base. According to Joe, "The long-term vision is to become a trusted advisor for our clients by finding and vetting the best tech opportunities in the marketplace, to help strengthen and grow the tech community in Wilmington and to become an integral part of the EdTech community nationwide."
As for tekMountain, the incubator? There's room for up to 30 companies. Hopefully there's enough tekMountain beer for that crowd too.