Coastal Entrepreneur Of The Year For 2022 Named

By Johanna F. Still, posted May 24, 2022
Topsail Steamer owner Danielle Mahon, 2021 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year, presents Jane Tague, head of marketing for Apiture, with the 2022 award. (Photo courtesy of Bradley Pearce/UNCW)

The coveted wooden surfboard was passed on to a new temporary owner at the 2022 Coastal Entrepreneur Awards ceremony Tuesday.

Hosted by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), the annual Coastal Entrepreneur Awards (CEA) ceremony honors fast-growing companies representing an array of business sectors.

Apiture was named this year’s Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year, and company officials will have a year with the custom surfboard, which was made by Kids Making It has been handed down to each year’s winner since the CEA’s inception in 2009.

The digital banking solution software firm was founded in Wilmington in 2017 as an offshoot of Live Oak Bank and First Data Corp. (which was later acquired by Fiserv). Apiture prides itself on making the digital banking experience more user-friendly by integrating complex systems. 

"We are thrilled to be recognized as a Coastal Entrepreneur Awards winner, a testament to our commitment to banking technology innovation," Apiture CEO Chris Babcock, who could not attend Tuesday’s event, said in a press release. "The fintech industry continues to mature in the Wilmington region, ushering in workforce opportunities and economic growth. Apiture is proud to be one such company that is fostering an opportunistic environment and further carving out the fintech scene."

In a pre-recorded video shared at the event, Babcock said the firm had seen significant revenue growth this past year and plans to continue hiring to add to its current team of about 320. “We’ll continue to be a premier banking provider within the United States and potentially outside the United States as well."

Eleven winners were recognized for categories spanning from nonprofit to biotechnology. In a separate judging process, additional award recipients were chosen by a 16-member panel of judges representing various segments and regions in the community.

Area chambers of commerce also each selected their individual award-winners, with six honorees representing retail, health care, hospitality and media. 

Contract research organization Portrett Pharmaceuticals, which was founded last year, picked up the emerging company CEA award. Founder Kimberly Lupo was overcome with gratitude for being honored after making the jump to start her own venture. “It's been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life,” she said while crediting her support system. Lupo said the UNCW MARBIONIC facility – namely, the incubator space – was critical in helping to launch her firm. 

“There is nothing else like that in North Carolina,” Lupo said. “So if you know anybody that needs a lab, go check them out.”

Elaborate Outings-Luxury Picnics founder Michelle Bethea credited the team behind Genesis Block, an entrepreneurial incubator, with empowering her to launch her experience-based business.

During the judging process, CEA judge Gary Winstead, CEO of ARC Transit Inc., said Bethea used the interview experience to fine-tune her business model. “During this process of interviewing these entrepreneurs, we oftentimes – because we're all entrepreneurs ourselves – we can't help but make suggestions. And she soaked in every comment and every suggestion that we made, took notes and said, ‘This is the kind of stuff I need,’” Winstead said while presenting Betha’s CEA award in the minority-owned business category. 

Michael Long, founder of Renaissance Fiber, reflected on the historic relevance his venture brings to the region. Founded in 2018, the company manufactures hemp fibers out of a textile mill in Wilmington. “There's communities around here that were built around the textile industry,” he said. “And it evaporated.”

As the deregulation of hemp products continues, Long said he expects the commodity's value to eclipse tobacco’s. “If you leave the city of Wilmington in any direction almost, you're going to hit farms. And farms need something, and communities are built around what farms make,” he said. “I was sitting in front of the computer six years ago wondering what I was going to do. Textiles was not on my mind. And here we are building something like we’re building here.” 

Catch up on articles of each CEA award winner and learn more about the judging process here. ​

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