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Innovation Quarter a ‘game changer’ for Winston-Salem

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It may be one of those things that comes along once a century or so.

“Oh, it's a huge deal,” says Michele Gillespie, a history professor and dean of the college at Wake Forest University. “I think this is a game changer for Wake Forest University and for the hospital and the medical school. I also think this is a game changer for the town and the region, as a whole.”

"This" is the new Innovation Quarter, coming online on the eastern side of downtown Winston-Salem.

It is a collaboration between the university, its Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Baptist Hospital and private business. But don’t think of it as the Research Triangle version 2.0.

“It’s totally different than the old research park model, of which RTP I think has been one of them, whereby it's sort of a big box, you go there, you work and you go home,” says Eric Tomlinson, the president of the Innovation Quarter. This, he points out, is all about collaboration. “What we're focused in on is very much the upstream elements that lead to job creation So, it's supporting entrepreneurs, supporting starter companies and supporting innovation because the value created by that leads to products and services that need to manufactured, need to be sold.”

Which is the 21st-century recipe for remaking an economy.

“Innovation and hard work are the way,” says David Mounts, CEO of Inmar, one of the private businesses already in the Innovation Quarter. He believes Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and North Carolina can all play a big role in making this area as attractive for innovators as some other parts of the world have. “I've seen some of the best partnerships between government and business in places like Singapore where the collaboration is very, very high and the taxes are very low and the regulations are thoughtful and sensible and focused on everything that matters and nothing that doesn't and I think that's the type of environment we want to have.”

Eric Tomlinson says he’s already seeing those results.

“We've shown that people can be attracted here, can have a pride in being here that developers are interested in pursuing other opportunities,” says Tomlinson.

Soon, the quarter will be just the fifth city, along with other innovation hubs like Cambridge, Massachusetts, St. Louis and Rotterdam, Netherlands, to have a Venture Café, where innovators can meet and collaborate, a key to innovation, according to David Mounts.

“There's also high value in creating new intellectual property by coming together with people who have knowledge you otherwise wouldn't have, you have knowledge that they otherwise wouldn't have and together you discover something that neither one of you would have found on your own. So you're multiplying the effect,” he says.

“I think that this whole endeavor has given people new imagination about the ways that they can work together, across businesses, across nonprofits, across education, across communities,” says Gillespie.

And the rebirth of Winston-Salem and the Triad is underway.

“This is a community that has re-invented itself many times,” says Mounts. “And this will be another sequence in those many successes.”

See the full story in this edition of the Buckley Report.