PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Entrepreneurship Incubator has a new front man.
James Freeman recently took the program’s helm as interim director.
The Entrepreneurship Incubator is designed to handle the needs of small- to mid-sized companies, from the “napkin” stage to established companies, with a focus on high-growth companies that create jobs and utilize local strengths. It was a vision of former UNCP Chancellor Kyle Carter as a way to promote economic development.
Himself a UNCP graduate, Freeman is all about education and personal development.
“Education is everything,” he said.
Fresh out of high school, Freeman said he was set on pursuing TV work in California, but what he found were three and a half years of struggle.
“When my mom came back down to North Carolina, she was about getting a degree from UNCP. And she told me before I left, when I graduated high school: ‘Would you do me a favor? Would you at least try college?’”
At the time, Freeman wasn’t game for pursuing higher education. But it stuck with him.
“When I was in California, I did everything from working at Walmart in distribution to cleaning tables, to bartending, to doing extra work, to boxing up noodles in a factory on third shift,” he said. “I did whatever I could to survive. I didn’t have a degree, so I was really limiting myself. And I realized that education is everything.”
Better late than never, Freeman finally resolved to earn that degree.
Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and a minor in media integration, Freeman eventually landed work in graphic design at The Robesonian and eventually received a call from UNCP to help out in the print service department. But Freeman longed for something more.
“My background was in restaurants. I knew a computer job just wasn’t me,” he said. “I’m a people person. I want to help people.”
Utilizing the services of UNCP’s Thomas Center and the Small Business Technology Development Center, Freeman opened the first sports bar in Pembroke. At the time, Freeman was a graduate student and dating. By the time he sold his business, he was married with a child and another baby on the way.
From there, he went on to work with the ABC Commission as a general manager and was eventually invited to volunteer at the Thomas Center to help Dr. Michael Menefee with consulting clients.
“I loved it,” Freeman said. “And then, he asked me to teach.”
Now, as interim director, Freeman is paying it forward.
“It’s the best way to be able to relate to students, by being a non-traditional academic professor,” he said. “To tell them the real side of business … to share my story: I went through a resource center. You can go through a resource center to get your idea going. They can help you in every aspect of that business.
“It’s given me opportunity to do some outreach in the community — to connect people with other resources,” Freeman said. “I’m no longer an entrepreneur at heart, like I always thought I’d be. I consider myself an ‘intrepreneur’ … someone who connects people to other people.
“Our university built this wonderful facility, and it’s amazing the people that come in here with their ideas,” Freeman said of the clients with whom he comes in contact. “And it’s an amazing and a blessing opportunity to be able to give them motivation and support. Because that’s what we need in our community.”
Reach Juanita Lagrone at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.