A 2014 experiment
pairing entrepreneurs and film makers in Wilmington has spawned an entire conference dedicated to both career paths.
Cucalorus Connect will include 50+ entrepreneurship related events and speakers over the four-day festival. It leverages some of the connections and events that took place during the 2014 UNCW Coastal Connect Conference
, but rallies an even larger community of entrepreneurs. The big goal is to bring people together to think about what is driving Wilmington’s growth as a startup community and to highlight the successes so far.
According to Cucalorus Executive Director Dan Brawley, the focus on entrepreneurship comes after three years of encouragement from community leaders to capitalize and supplement Wilmington's growing entrepreneurial community. Last year was just the start, when Cucalorus paired 10 filmmakers with entrepreneurs to create short films about their businesses and ambitions. To prepare for a larger event in 2015, Brett Martin, CEO of Castle Branch, flew Brawley to South by Southwest in Austin so they could brainstorm more ways to integrate entrepreneurship content into the film festival.
But it wasn’t until summer that the Cucalorus Connect leadership team fully jumped in to the planning stages for Connect, hosting weekly meetings with 20 community stakeholders. They view this year as just the start of a multi-year project to make Cucalorus Connect something special. Brawley says he sees a lot of parallels between Wilmington's entrepreneurial ecosystem and Cucalorus when it first began. He’s encouraged to see so many community leaders’ investment in the Connect effort.
Cucalorus is known for being innovative in the film community and wants to leverage that brand awareness for its entrepreneurship related events. Brawley expects many video projects to come from the event as entrepreneurs and filmmakers get to know each other. Many filmmakers make a living by doing branding work. Cucalorus Connect will be a productive crossroad between those two worlds and will distinguish the event from other film festivals.
Much of the early Cucalorus Connect preview buzz is about the Virtual Reality Lounge, where most of the attendees will be able to experience virtual reality for the first time. Virtual reality is the wild, wild west of the marriage between technology and film. As Brawley explained, we are on the verge of an explosion with virtual reality technology and he is really excited that it will be incorporated into Cucalorus Connect.
Other highlights of the event are national speakers like Carlton Turner, executive director of the arts activism group Alternate ROOTS, Galen Buckwalter, co-founder of eHarmony, and Tim Mather, co-founder of beer discovery app Untappd. There’s a panel discussion featuring the leaders of a tech incubator inside a prison in California. There will be an event-long Port City Pitch competition as well, with new startups pitching during each morning session.
There are several talks by Triangle entrepreneurship leaders too. CED’s Joan Siefert-Rose gives a keynote to kick off the event on Nov. 11, followed by a panel discussion with Derrick Minor of the city of Raleigh and Pierre Naude, CEO of nCino. NC RIoT will give a talk on the link between the Internet of Things and the film industry. Chris Heivly will discuss the concepts in his new book, “Build the Fort”. On the 12th, there’s an investor panel with Seahawk Innovation and The Launch Place leaders, talks on crowdfunding and sustainable business. The 13th kicks off with a panel about brewing and distilling in North Carolina, featuring Scott Maitland of Top of the Hill Distillery and Erik Myers of Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, as well as a law practice group focused on the industry. Lizzy Hazeltine of The Startup Factory sits on a panel about women in tech that day. There’s also a local pitch event for InnovateHER, a national Small Business Administration funded business plan competition.
Day four features talks about healthcare tech, media innovation and downtown Wilmington as a tech hub. Also intriguing is a panel discussion featuring Kickstarter's Dan Schoenbrun who crowdfunded a unique project mashing up several filmmakers' dreams into a series of videos.
And the final day, Sunday November 15, will reveal the winner of Port City Pitch and a party in which the 10 films will be shown.
Tickets are available on an individual event basis or as a full access pass to all Cucalorus Connect Events. The pass includes five film screenings with the hope that entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to experience the film festival as well.
The ultimate goal is to have a successful first year and use lessons learned to develop a long-term plan for an event that can be a mainstay in the entrepreneurial community for years to come.