Equity firm to mentor Triangle startups

Posted April 25, 2011 9:53 a.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2011 7:03 p.m. EDT

— The world's largest private equity firm on Monday pledged $3.6 million to identify and mentor dozens of startup companies in the Triangle, with the goal of creating thousands of jobs and attracting millions in venture capital.

The Blackstone Group, which has assets of more than $150 billion, plans to team with area universities and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development in creating the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network.

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackstone, made the announcement along with a host of politicians, including Gov. Beverly Perdue, and the chancellors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University.

In selecting the Triangle for a new project, Blackstone is continuing the launch of a series of entrepreneurial education and job creation efforts across the U.S.

The Triangle effort is being funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. Plans call for mentoring 30 spin-off companies based on university research each year over a five-year period. Officials said they expect the effort will create 17,000 jobs in the next decade and attract $800 million in investment capital.

"This investment today will ripple across our economy for years to come and create thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in new investments in technology to this great state," Perdue said.

Blackstone was among the first groups to agree to become part of President Obama’s “Startup America” initiative and has pledged $50 million to the effort. But before that program was announced, the foundation had already launched other programs designed to drive job growth.

“These investments will strengthen regional entrepreneurship ecosystems by forging partnerships between universities, accelerators, angel investors and government that accelerate the translation of innovations from lab to marketplace and bring significant secondary benefits to local economies,” the foundation said.

“The first project will assist a region rich in potential innovations but lacking a strong and expansive ecosystem. This model will engage four universities to create clusters throughout the region that provide the entrepreneurial expertise and support startups need to grow and flourish," the statement said. “In a second project, Blackstone is helping to create a more accessible system of entrepreneurial services to support businesses ready to grow to the next level by expanding and aligning strong entrepreneurship programs and services throughout the state.”

Obama’s Startup America initiative has some avid backers in the Triangle, including Ping Fu, chief executive officer of Geomagic software. UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, an entrepreneur himself, also has worked with Obama on fostering entrepreneurship. Both Fu and Thorp are part of Obama’s “Innovation Council.”