The Becker family inside Launch Chapel Hill's Rosemary Street offices on grand opening day. From left: Jake, Eric, Jill and Greg.

The Becker family inside Launch Chapel Hill’s Rosemary Street offices on grand opening day. From left: Jake, Eric, Jill and Greg. Eric is holding Happy and Jill is holding Chewy.
Photo by Nicholas Thomas

Eric and Jill Becker of Baltimore have their older son Greg, UNC class of 2012, to thank for introducing them to Chapel Hill. When it came time for Greg, as a high school student, to think about colleges, he visited many but chose Carolina.

Greg’s first day ended up being a bit harrowing for his parents. Their daughter Cara, Greg’s younger sister, was recovering from surgical complications on the day they came to drop Greg off. “We had to put our hope in the Carolina community,” Eric said. “We had a medical emergency. We flew to Chapel Hill, walked with him to his dorm room, and had to turn around and walk out. It was very hard for us to do.”

But Greg’s first day went great, Eric said. Carolina welcomed him with its Week of Welcome. Greg got involved on campus through volunteer opportunities and joining a fraternity. “We were very lucky that he picked Carolina,” Eric said. “His college beginning was a difficult time for Jill and me because of Cara’s health. For parents to know that their son could come from Baltimore not knowing anyone, and be warmly welcomed into the community, was such a relief. He loved his time there.”

Public invited to May 1 Launch open house to meet new leader, venture teams, mentors

The Launch Chapel Hill Open House is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, at 321 W. Rosemary St. The public is invited to tour the center and meet the people behind downtown Chapel Hill’s first startup accelerator to support the successful launch of entrepreneurial companies. A ribbon cutting is set for 4:30 p.m. with a reception to follow.

The connection that Greg had with the school grew within the family. Eric, Jill, Cara and Jake would visit often on game weekends and for other events. “We just adopted the school as a family, and the relationship grew,” Eric said.

During Greg’s time at Carolina, Eric and Jill considered ways they could be helpful to Carolina. They explored several interests, including health, academics, and college access and affordability. They came away impressed with all the ways to give back to Carolina, and all the ways Carolina gives back.

After Greg’s graduation, they found their passion project: Launch Chapel Hill. UNC, the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County and the Downtown Partnership have combined efforts to create this “venture lab,” a combination of a business accelerator and co-working space for budding entrepreneurs from “town” (anywhere in Orange County) or “gown” (UNC).

“Supporting Launch Chapel Hill combined our love for the school, a way in which to give back and to acknowledge the fantastic experience that Greg had,” Eric said. “From the moment I heard the idea–that there was a need for a place where companies of young people and members of the Chapel Hill community could get mentorship, help, and a space to grow their businesses, creating jobs and prosperity, I knew we would be a part of it.”

The Beckers' daughter Cara, who died last year, is commemorated at Launch Chapel Hill with a plaque.

The Beckers’ daughter Cara, who died last year, is commemorated at Launch Chapel Hill with a plaque.
Photo by Nicholas Thomas

Now the Beckers will have two reasons to come to Chapel Hill. In addition to visiting the incubator, younger son Jake will enter UNC as a freshman this fall. And daughter Cara, who tragically passed away from leukemia last fall, is affectionately remembered inside the space with a plaque.

Launch Chapel Hill recently celebrated the grand opening of its space on Rosemary Street, and all the Beckers were there–even Cara’s dogs, Happy and Chewy. “There are 20 companies there now, and we got to meet many of them that day,” Eric said. “It was Jake’s first visit to Carolina since being accepted. We are so excited to begin a whole new chapter of Carolina memories. For a family that has gone through a tragedy, it’s wonderful to know that he will be welcomed into this very warm and very special community. We really wouldn’t want him to be anywhere else. And this August, when we drop Jake off, we are staying until he insists we leave!”

By Claire Cusick