PORTAL building harnesses the power of UNC Charlotte

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

UNC Charlotte’s new PORTAL building is the latest example of the University’s commitment to foster partnerships with private industry. The facility was designed to stimulate business growth and job creation along with promoting research and innovation.

The four-story, 96,000-square-foot,  PORTAL building, which sits on a prominent site at the Tryon Street entrance of the Charlotte Research Institute campus, will be formally dedicated on Feb. 28.

A marriage of vision and practicality, PORTAL is an acronym for Partnership, Outreach and Research to Accelerate Learning.  University officials describe it as a venue where entrepreneurs can collaborate with peers, faculty members and students—harnessing the power of a research university to plan strategies for success in a contemporary setting.

“The Charlotte Research Institute and UNC Charlotte have established long-term relationships with many companies,” said Robert Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development at UNC Charlotte, North Carolina’s urban research university. “The PORTAL building offers new capacity for research partnerships and access to our students and faculty, a major talent source for the region.” 

Charlotte Research Institute officials expect that multiple corporate partners will locate operations in the PORTAL building to experience an entire research campus by engaging in joint research, training or other collaborative activities.

PORTAL is the new home of Ventureprise, a venture development organization formerly known as the Ben Craig Center and one of the first university-based business incubators in the nation. Sponsored by UNC Charlotte, Ventureprise offers an incubator and accelerator program to entrepreneurs and early-stage enterprises that is affordable and that features ready-for-business office space, business model development, business growth assistance, coaching and mentoring, relevant education programs and connections to businesses and University resources.

“UNC Charlotte was one of the earliest universities to have an incubator,” said Paul Wetenhall, president of Ventureprise Inc., the UNC Charlotte affiliate that operates the business incubator.

“The University partnered with business people in Charlotte in 1986 to launch what became known as the Ben Craig Center,” he said. “It has served some 135 companies that have been resident in that facility prior to this month’s move to PORTAL.”

Notable success stories include Digital Optics, a company founded by a UNC Charlotte professor that was acquired by Tessera North America for $60 million.

The architectural features of the PORTAL building embody the mission of the Charlotte Research Institute and Ventureprise. An innovative four-story modern atrium is bounded by offices and meeting rooms.  An abundance of naturally lit gathering spaces, including conference rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass walls located on two atrium-transecting bridges, provide a dynamic environment for networking, creative research, and innovation.

Along with large skylights, the PORTAL building has solar panels on the roof for the production of domestic hot water. The building also has a café, which will provide breakfast and lunch services beginning summer 2014.

PORTAL, which was built using a variety of non-state resources, also will be the location for the University’s Technology Transfer Office. 

Ventureprise will serve between 20 and 24 resident companies including startups and early stage firms with annual revenues of less than $2 million. These companies will benefit from a workspace that leverages University resources and includes quality guidance provided by the experienced staff and proven mentors.

“We’re looking for innovation-driven, pioneering entrepreneurs who have the potential to build national or global markets for their products or services,” Wetenhall said. “We want companies that are coachable. And we are looking for companies that can reach at least $5 million revenue within five years.”

A number of business partners are located currently on the Charlotte Research Institute campus to pursue research and development partnerships. The PORTAL building also offers additional space for established companies that want a research and development location at UNC Charlotte.

The PORTAL building also provides space for UNC Charlotte student businesses.  Student teams will receive expert guidance as they experience starting a business. The objectives include learning-by-doing and successful launches.

Photo: Bob Wilhelm talks with reporters during a media tour of PORTAL.