Welch named regional director of NCInnovation at ECU

NCInnovation (NCI) has appointed Derrick Welch as the director of its regional innovation network for the east, located at East Carolina University. Welch will work out of ECU’s Research, Economic Development and Engagement (REDE) office to lead a powerful partnership between the eastern region of the state and NCI. ECU serves as one of four anchor universities for the public-private partnership.

Newly appointed regional director Derrick Welch says it’s an honor to have the opportunity to transform the eastern region through his work with NCInnovation. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

NCInnovation is a statewide nonprofit formed to help translate university research into economic output. The organization recently received $500 million in state funding as an endowment to accelerate the commercialization of research at universities. NCInnovation will deploy the interest earned on the endowment to provide grant funding and wrap-around support services to university researchers. In this way, NCInnovation will support the growth of new businesses and licensing revenue from commercialized research, helping boost economic development in the region.

According to NCInnovation, North Carolina has great potential for research and development but trails other states in commercializing that research.

“Despite the high level of research and development funding here in North Carolina, as a state we rank 20th in commercializing that innovation. Of the innovation and commercialization that we are seeing, an unbalanced percentage — around 90% — occurs in the Research Triangle,” said Welch.

ECU’s acting chief research and engagement officer Sharon Paynter said, “ECU faculty have been conducting research in many areas that have the potential to be impactful for eastern North Carolina. NCInnovation gives us a way to support and expand those ideas by building the jobs and infrastructure to share innovative technologies with communities around the globe.”

As regional director, Welch will manage NCI activities across the eastern region of the state.

“My main goal is to serve as a collaborator, connector and enabler of our researchers and entrepreneurs. I’ll work to build collaboration between our university partners, identify gaps in support services that are necessary in growing and maintaining an innovation ecosystem, and work to identify potential technologies that could utilize support funding to reach viability,” said Welch.

“My hope is that we can remove the barriers standing in the way of innovation so that we can unlock the applied research greatness that I know is out there in our institutions,” he said.

While he will work closely with ECU faculty and staff as well as area partners, Welch will also support other universities and entrepreneurs throughout the region.

“I’ll be on the road meeting with institutions from Elizabeth City to Wilmington and learning more about all the great things that are happening in our area,” he said.

Welch received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of New Mexico. He previously served as chief of staff at the New Mexico Department of Education and as the program director for RISE29 at ECU. He most recently served as staff director at the N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, where he learned of NCInnovation’s mission.

“I knew I wanted to be a part of their vision. The leadership and board behind NCI truly understand the untapped potential that applied research plays in changing the economic narrative of rural communities,” he said. “With the right amount of support and collaboration, we can leverage the existing resources of our state to develop homegrown industry and startups, develop life-changing products — and keep all of them here in the state to grow the economy.”

Having served several years as an ECU staff member, Welch said he’s looking forward to reconnecting with those he previously built working relationships with.

“I’m most excited to reconnect with many of the great entrepreneurs, faculty and leaders in Greenville and beyond. Rekindling relationships while building new ones throughout the eastern region is what I’m most looking forward to doing in the early weeks of this role,” he said.

Regarding his first steps as regional director, Welch said, “I want to dive deep into the current state of eastern North Carolina’s innovation ecosystem and develop a plan for filling the gaps. I’ll meet with researchers and faculty at our universities and community colleges to understand the barriers they may be facing and identify ways to clear the path to commercialization. My NCI colleagues and I will leverage our findings to develop grant priorities, policies and solicitations so that we can begin administering NCI’s grant funding opportunities in the near future.”

Welch said it’s an honor having the opportunity to work through NCI to help transform the east.

“Who wouldn’t want to be a part of such an exciting endeavor that has the potential to improve their community and region?” he said. “We have all the makings for an innovation awakening in the years ahead. I hope that NCI can be a uniting force that helps eastern North Carolina realize its innovative potential.”

You can read more about NCInnovation online.