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CHARLOTTE-The Ben Craig Center, a 14-year-old business incubator located in the University of North Carolina’s Charlotte Research Park, is among the 50 largest and oldest of the more than 800 incubators nationwide, according to the center’s director, Chris Irvin.

More than 90 startups have passed through the center, with about 70 becoming functioning businesses. Of that number, over 60 still exist.

In a published report, Irvin says the center has initiated a 42-month program, one of the newer ideas at the facility. Companies start at the concept phase and continue until raising money and leaving the park.

Although the center has a $1 million operating budget, and has never raised money from institutional investors, it is now in a phase of raising venture capital. Irwin feels the center is one of the best-kept secrets in Charlotte.

But growth is just a matter of time. It is believed that UNC Charlotte will be the largest university in the state in five years. It is clearing about 600 acres to build a new park, the Millennium Campus. Land for the current research park, which stretches over a 10-mile radius, was purchased and developed originally by the University Research Park Corp.

Other research parks are not as fortunate as Ben Craig Center. In Winston-Salem, NC, for instance, the Piedmont Triad Research Park continues to have difficulty in securing funding and business development, even though it is part of Winston-Salem’s effort to have a technology-driven economy. Winston-Salem is 60 miles north of Downtown Charlotte. The park places its hopes for success on university research, its medical center and the chamber of commerce.

After about four years of planning, the park’s anchor building opened in 1994. At present, two multi-tenant buildings contain 20 companies, mostly in the biotechnology and information technology fields. These are small companies engaged in the processes of adding employees, raising money and putting products or services on the market.

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