Wilmington, NC, hosts the 2nd annual Cucalorus Connect Conference, Nov. 9–13

If you know what a cucalorus is, then pride yourself for your esoteric knowledge of moviemaking. If you know what the Cucalorus Film Festival is, well, then you’re really on to something unique — what the Huffington Post earlier this year called one of the “10 Best Film Festivals You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Take it one step further: the second annual Cucalorus Connect Conference.

The first Connect was launched with last year’s Cucalorus Film Festival (now in its 22nd year) through a partnership between Cucalorus, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and tekMountain. And right off the launch pad, the accumulated attendance last year topped 17,000 people and generated an estimated economic impact of $5.5M. This year CONNECT takes off Nov, 9-13, showcasing visionaries who are using innovation and entrepreneurship to transform the economy.

What you may expect

According to the organizers, “Connect brings leaders from prominent NC industries together to cultivate relationships driven by creativity and innovation. It explores industries like marine sciences, healthcare, film production, financial services, and others through the lens of technology and education. Connect serves as a catalyst for economic development by showcasing the unique assets that make the city of Wilmington, NC an ideal location to launch and grow a new business. The Connect conference provides thought-leaders, aspiring entrepreneurs, students and community partners a platform to cultivate powerful relationships across entrepreneurial communities.”

Connect will present more than 40 events including workshops, panels, keynotes and social events taking place along the walkable streets of historic downtown Wilmington. Port City Pitches is a pitch competition offering startups a chance to earn launch funding.

Why it’s important

Everyone knows what SXSW has done for Austin. It started small 31 years ago, a music event with 177 showcasing artists, 15 panels and workshops, 15 venues and about 700 attendees.

Today? 2,224 showcasing artists; 378 panels, workshops and sessions; 103 venues; and in 2016, keynote speakers President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. The one-time Little Music Fest That Could has since spun off into SXSW Interactive, SXSW Film, SXSW Edu, SXSW Eco, the V2V entrepreneurial conference, together gathering some 71,000 participants within 10 days.

The economic impact of SXSW has defined Austin as a center for creativity and commerce, innovation, entrepreneurship and Texas cool. According to Michael Rollins, president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce,  “It supports local employment, attracts innovative companies across a broad range of industries who can create much needed middle and high skilled jobs, increases valuations of local media , and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into our local economy.”

And we all know the importance of a highly skilled workforce to a burgeoning startup ecosystem.

Likewise, have you noticed what the Tom Tom Founders Festival is doing for Charlottesville, Va?

Drawing about 6,700 participants in its first year, 2012, this week of music, art and innovation, timed to mark the birthday week of Thomas Jefferson, has boomed in popularity and now generates a more-than-respectable local economic impact of $1.5M in 2015. Tom Tom features startup pitch competitions, product demos and networking socials, a founders’ summit uniting founders and funders, and a week-long celebration of music and public art.

Or the Thrival Festival is doing for Pittsburgh, PA?

The Thrival Innovation + Music Festival is an annual event — a week of innovation-focused programs — featuring multiple days of immersive, innovation-focused programming capped by a two-day outdoor live music experience featuring some of the best emerging national music acts and top-tier headliners. Now in its fourth year, Thrival is an initiative of Thrill Mill, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit accelerator dedicated to serving early-stage entrepreneurs. By 2015, “Thrival [became] a veritable Rust Belt-revival-scaled SXSW” with upward of “10,000 concert-goers over the course of a weekend and up to 3,000 attendees at innovation programs,” according to the Pittsburgh City Paper.

Now it’s Wilmington’s turn.

Connect will be the catalyst.

“We’re excited about the growth and evolution of Connect,” says Dan Brawley, “chief instigating officer” of the Cucalorus Film Festival and Connect Conference. “Part of the learning we’re doing is getting to know entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the region and finding out what they want to see.”

The Connect conference brings to town inspiring keynotes, rocket pitches, TED-style talks, and a host of panels focusing on industries ranging from health care to fashion. The organizers have identified four focus areas for Connect: health care and lifestyle, biotech, financial services, and entertainment. Speakers from each of these sectors will talk about what the future economy of southeastern NC might soon look like.

The panels and presentation are scheduled within the first two days of the conference. The weekend rolls on with a virtual reality program and the “Cuctails” series of workshops about beer, spirits, and cocktails.

Brawley says, “Something special happens when you bring hundreds of talented filmmakers together to meet the entrepreneurs who are shaping our economy. We think Connect has the potential to create long-term creative partnerships and will become a place where bold new ideas find the capital to get off the ground.… Oh yeah — the festival is proud to share that 50 percent of the films in the festival are either directed or produced by women this year!”

Event Highlights

Louis Foreman from Edison Nation / Opening keynote, “You’ve Got a Great Idea, What’s Next?” / Wednesday, 12pm / Ironclad Brewery / Lunch provided by UNCW CIE

George Rountree, Wilmington attorney and philanthropist / “Insights: NC Growth Industries” / Wednesday, 7pm / Ironclad Brewery with VIP sponsor reception upstairs before the panel

The Startup Ecosystem / Thursday, 12pm / Ironclad Brewery / Lunch provided by UNCW CIE

Generation Startup, film about startups in Detroit / Thursday, 7pm / CFCC Union Station

Virtual Reality Showcase / Friday, 10am to 8pm / The VR Showcase presents emerging technologies and new projects from artists and filmmakers working with augmented- and virtual- reality platforms. Fifty cardboard VR headsets will be given away, and about a dozen new VR projects have been curated, ranging from horror to documentary and even a hilarious journey with Reggie Watts. This is where entertainment meets technology and where you can get a glimpse of the future. Not to be missed.

Additional Speakers

Nick DeMarco of scientific-instrument manufacturer Practichem

Stanfield Gray, founder of Dig South

Kelly Fitzgerald, marketing manager for the Launch Place

Doug Speight from American Underground

Brett Martin, CEO and founder of Castle Branch and tekMountain

tekMountain, along with five other local organizations, is a founding partner of Cucalorus Connect, and it takes the word “connect” very seriously. You’ll want to buy your tickets today to reserve your place.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda Sipes,Zach Cioffi, Mike Patton, and Rod Whisner with lead writer Bill DiNome 

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