Creeden named director of entrepreneur network

A major initiative to spur entrepreneurship in the Triangle has found a new leader.

The Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network selected Robert Creeden, founder and managing partner of Partners Innovation Fund in Boston, Mass., as its executive director Monday. Creeden has worked with start-ups for 30 years in the Boston area. He will begin his role as director Oct. 24.

“I’m really excited.... It’s a great opportunity with the breadth and depth of innovations in the area,” Creeden said. “This opportunity fits well in my prior experience with start-ups.”

The network, which was announced in April, is a partnership between Duke, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. The initiative connects aspiring start-ups with 15 established entrepreneurs in the Triangle area to make the region a stronger hub for innovation and new ventures. The project started with a $3.6 million gift from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation—a division of the Blackstone Group, which is a major private equity firm.

Creeden said he hopes to use his existing relationships with Boston venture capital firms in his work with Triangle entrepreneurs and start-ups. Despite the sluggish economic climate, he believes ventures in the Triangle will have access to capital from investors if they demonstrate a potential for strong returns.

“There is a fair amount of capital in the region and a great breadth and depth of innovation from the universities in the area,” Creeden said. “Our work will focus on putting those together.”

The research in Triangle universities and other facilities have spanned a variety of sectors, including gaming, software and health care. After a year in his role, Creeden said he hopes to see a strong relationship between master entrepreneurs and the start-ups. Greater revenues for start-ups can also translate to more jobs in the region.

Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, said the selection of Creeden followed a nationwide search for applicants. He was particularly qualified based on his work in Boston that brought together entrepreneurs in the health care sector and local medical centers including Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

That experience will help as Creeden works to bridge partnerships with the universities, which tend to be bureaucratic in their organizational structure, and entrepreneurs, who are accustomed to a relatively smaller structure, Stursberg said.

“He has organizational credibility with master entrepreneurs and understands entrepreneurial development,” she said. “He far and away surpassed the other candidates—he comes from a different context with new connections.”

Kimberly Jenkins, senior adviser to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship, was Duke’s representative on the official search committee for an executive director. She noted that Creeden’s ties to venture capital firms and prior experience as a liaison between larger organizations and start-ups will help entrepreneurs at Duke.

“Our health system as a whole works with $2 billion annually, but he also needs to help researchers working on smaller projects such as medical devices,” Jenkins said. “The ability to work with universities and build companies is a great skill set.”

Though health care is a major area of research at Duke, Creeden’s work in the information technology sector will also benefit students and faculty looking for financial backing for their projects in this area.

The project is scheduled to last five years and will pair 15 entrepreneurs with 30 qualified start-up ventures, Blackstone CEO Steven Schwarzman said in April. Ideal start-up candidates are those in the early stages of fundraising, with the potential to create approximately $40 million in revenue and become profitable within 10 years.

Schwarzman added that he predicts the network will double the number of startups in the region, attract more than $800 million in capital and generate more than 17,000 jobs and $4 billion in business revenue.


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