“Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Not necessarily in that order,” stated by the one and only Tim Burton. Back in June 2014, two innovative men from Greensboro – Andy Zimmerman, Co-founder of HQ Greensboro and Owner of AZ Development, and Bryan Toney, Associate Vice Chancellor for Economic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) – took a trip to HQ Raleigh to attend an event.
Toney was the connection between Zimmerman and HQ Raleigh, which sparked the idea for Zimmerman to create an HQ in Greensboro. Zimmerman has described his first experience at HQ Raleigh as tremendously exciting – he automatically felt the energy and connection with the entrepreneurs in the space. He knew he could bring that same energetic flow to Greensboro. Interestingly enough, not long before attending the event in Raleigh, Zimmerman had purchased an 11,000 square foot, 120-year-old building. It was the perfect location for a Greensboro-based entrepreneurial hub, since Zimmerman had the building space for it, along with all the right connections in the community
Zimmerman was joined in his entrepreneurial endeavor by three other co-founders – April Harris and Ken Causey, who had connected through The Forge Makerspace, and Ryan Barry, who Bryan Toney had introduced. Together, they made an investment to build and grow HQG with the mindset to spark, support and grow entrepreneurship and business in Greensboro. On September 2015, HQG had its grand opening on 111 W. Lewis Street in downtown Greensboro.
UNCG was one of the first tenants of HQG, partnering with the North Carolina A&T State University to open up a shared University Engagement Office. UNCG’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization (OIC) soon followed in a second office, adding to the growing partnership between the university and HQG. This relationship has proven extremely helpful for bringing student entrepreneurs, faculty and staff to the HQ space, and has also grown the network of resources and support for the local startup community. It also became beneficial to the university to give students hands-on experience in the working world with entrepreneurial innovation, as several UNCG students have completed internships with HQ.
It truly is remarkable that, in just under a year, the HQ Greensboro community has grown exponentially, and UNCG has been an integral part of that exciting growth. The type of environment that HQ strives to cultivate aligns closely with what the North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center (NCEC) and OIC are working to achieve. “The atmosphere at HQ Greensboro is energetic and stimulating, resulting in increased “happy collisions” created from serendipitous interactions with people from public, private and education sectors. Though difficult to quantify, meetings with external parties are conceivably one of the most valuable uses of the space. On any given day, one can find UNCG’s economic ambassadors at HQ Greensboro engaged in collaborative efforts. Justin Streuli, Director of the NC Entrepreneurship Center, Staton Noel, Director of UNCG’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, and I hold office hours and meetings there every week,” said Bryan Toney.
UNCG has and continues to play an essential role of bringing community members and active students to HQ Greensboro, and helping to educate Greensboro about the usefulness of the space. Throughout the nine months that HQ has been operational, there have been several events held in the space hosted by UNCG. Large events like UNCG’s Entrepreneurial Journeys Speaker Series and the 2 Minutes to Win It Competition are essential in building entrepreneurial and innovative action in Greensboro, while other meetings like the UNCG Information Technology Services Statewide Meeting have brought people from across the state and country to HQG. Despite the short length of the UNCG-HQ Greensboro relationship, this partnership has been vital in helping HQ gain traction in the community – over nine months, UNCG meetings have brought in more than 1,000 people to the events hosted. Together they are expanding the definition of entrepreneurship, and helping the public have a better understanding of the growth of buildup, structure, and market growth.
Where is the end of the story you may ask? There isn’t one. HQG is still in the beginning stages of building its entrepreneurial community, and as the first year anniversary approaches, we hope to continue on this positive trajectory. We have worked very hard to get to the place we are at and could not have done it without the support, partnership and efforts of UNCG.