Who We Are
How We Got Here
In 2012 community, business, and policy leaders convened the first gathering of Innovate Raleigh to explore ways for North Carolina’s capital to accelerate the growth of its local entrepreneurial ecosystem. One clear need emerged: the city lacked a catalytic entrepreneurial co-working space that could connect emerging problem solvers and change-makers with the resources and relationships to help them grow and deepen their impact. Shortly after the gathering, Brooks Bell and Christopher Gergen met up for lunch in Raleigh and the idea of launching a space together was born.
In partnership with Jesse Lipson, Brooks’ husband and founder of Sharefile, and Jason Widen, Christopher’s business partner with deep experience in real estate, HUB Raleigh opened with 4,700 square feet on Hillsborough Street in October 2012. The response was electric with over 500 people reaching out in the first 45 days. Since that time, we rebranded as HQ Raleigh, built an incredible team, moved to the warehouse district in 2014, grown to more than 48,000 square feet in Raleigh, became a certified For-Benefit Corporation, created a community of more than 150 member companies, maintained a commitment to community collaboration, and contributed to Raleigh now having over 500 start-ups!
What was born out of a set of aspirational conversations and relationships has now translated into North Carolina’s largest entrepreneurial co-working community with an ever growing presence in Raleigh, the launch of HQ Greensboro, through a terrific partnership with Andy Zimmerman and his team, and HQ Charlotte led by a great local team in the Queen City. Our hope is to continue to deepen our impact in all of the communities we serve and growing to new cities across the South-East while staying true to the spirit in which we were born.
Creative. Energetic. Professional. Adaptable.Keywords that are used in search engines to help narrow your search…search these words and it will lead you straight to her! Ayana is a mother to 1 to her best friend named Madison, social media guru, Yoga-goer + self-proclaimed “Top Shopper” for Target! Ayana has spent 8 years in the hospitality industry with a focus on event planning, marketing + restaurant management. While she is not at work, she spends most of her time continuing to expand her knowledge and perfecting her craft to meet the industry’s standards.
Brooks Bell is the Founder and CEO of Brooks Bell Inc., a leading optimization firm in Raleigh. She has been named among “40 Under 40” by the Triangle Business Journal and in the “Top 50 Entrepreneurs” by Business Leader.
Event Sales Manager
Christie Williams has two daughters and two Pit Bulls, and an awesome husband. She is passionate about inclusivity, adoption, local restaurants, and Bluegrass music. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her at an Estate Sale, renovating her home, or repurposing cool furniture.
Christopher Gergen is co-founder of Forward Impact that develops entrepreneurial working and living communities including HQ Raleigh, HQ Greensboro, HQ Charlotte, Think House, and Duke TeachHouse. Christopher is also the founder of Forward Communities, a non-profit that has launched community-based efforts to foster inclusive innovation including developing and scaling high-impact social entrepreneurs including Bull City Forward in Durham, NC, Queen City Forward in Charlotte, NC, and Moore Forward in Moore County, NC. Christopher is the co-founder of Forward Cities – a national learning collaborative between cities focused on building more inclusive innovation economies and InnovateNC – a similar multi-city learning collaborative in North Carolina. Additionally, Christopher helped the Aspen Institute launch a new Center for Urban Innovation. Christopher is Innovator in Residence with the Center for Creative Leadership, a fellow and faculty member with Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship initiative, and senior advisor for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. Christopher is co-author of the nationally acclaimed book Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives and since 2009 has co-authored a bi-weekly column on social innovation for the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer titled “Doing Better at Doing Good.” Christopher is a 2013 Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and an alum of class 24 of Leadership North Carolina. In 1999, Christopher co-founded SMARTHINKING that became the leading online tutoring provider in the United States before being acquired by Pearson Education in 2011. Other ventures include starting Café Nunoa – a coffeehouse/bar in Santiago, Chile when he was 24 and “Entrepreneur Corps”—an AmeriCorps*VISTA initiative that placed 400 full-time business volunteers for a year of service in over 90 non-profits. He lives with his wife and two children in Durham, NC.
Greg Hopper is the HQ Community’s Strategist-in-Residence, providing strategic advice to Community members and leading the development of educational programs, including HQ Labs and ThinkHouse. He has enjoyed a variety of experiences throughout his career, including co-founding a venture backed startup; “intrepreneurial” activities at IBM; consulting with a broad range of companies from startups to Fortune 50 across many industries; and serving on various advisory boards. He is an adjunct professor of strategy at Duke University, a member of the faculty at NC State University, and CEO of Strategic Edge Executive Resources, LLC. He is passionate about the power of technology and entrepreneurship to change business and create deep, lasting economic impact.
Jason Widen is Co-Founder of Forward Impact whose mission is to unleash the impact potential of next generation entrepreneurial leaders. This work includes supporting community-based strategies to develop and scale high-impact entrepreneurs including HQ Raleigh, ThinkHouse, and Leadership exCHANGE. Jason brings an extensive background as an investor, developer, and entrepreneur to his current role as Co-Founder HQ Raleigh, an award-winning entrepreneurial co-working space located in Downtown Raleigh. Seeking to develop the pipeline of young entrepreneurs is one if Jason’s passions. He is the Founder of ThinkHouse, an intentional living community and accelerator for post-graduate entrepreneurs. In addition, Jason was instrumental in the creation of Leadership exCHANGE, an award-winning organization dedicated to training the next generation of leaders and global citizens to change the world. Founded in 1999, Leadership exCHANGE has trained students from more than 80 countries and created programs in Prague, Rome, Panama City, Havana, Bologna, Berlin, Bangkok, Boulder, and Raleigh. His teaching portfolio includes Global Business and Social Entrepreneurship. Jason has raised millions of dollars as an entrepreneur and real estate developer. Most recent projects include the founding of RevGen and raising capital for the purchase and development of 60,000 sq. ft. expansion space for HQ Raleigh.
Jess Porta is the Community Manager for HQ Raleigh. She loves working with members to help solve problems and connect them with unique opportunities. Jess is also an artist, poet, and human rights activist. In the past she worked with victims of human trafficking, after obtaining her Masters of International Studies from NC State and her BA in International Politics and Art History at Penn State. She is currently focused on publishing a children’s book in the summer and raising her black labradoodle pup, Hendrix.
Jesse Lipson founded ShareFile which he sold to Citrix in 2011. Jesse now serves as the VP & GM of Data Sharing at Citrix, where he is responsible for the vision, market direction and product strategy behind the company’s data platform. A self-taught software programmer, Jesse has launched and led multiple cloud and e-commerce businesses since the age of 23.
Community Admin Coordinator
Le-Keisha Griffin is a Jill of many trades, master of some. She has a wide ranging background stemming from hospitality, events and catering down to psychology and direct care. One thing holds true, that she is a genuine people and plant person. She is a firm believer that “that the world laughs in flowers”.
Director of HQ Raleigh
Liz Tracy is the Director at HQ Raleigh and a founding team member of HQ. Liz is also the lead Facilitator for the Citrix Startup Accelerator, where she has spent the last three years working with internal innovators at Citrix and Red Hat and external B2B tech companies to help them scale their ventures. She is a leader of the NC B Corps growth committee, which is a group of business and university professionals who educate and create growth funnels for aspiring B Corps. Liz has a background in business and art, and brings international experience to her community development. Liz has a passion for teaching and facilitating and the last five years she has worked with international leadership and social entrepreneurship programs to help students launch their own ventures and get exposure to cross-culture business practices.
HQ Charlotte Community Manager
Stephanie Ananian, a California native and now Charlotte transplant, has always enjoyed working in her community. With a degree in Economics and Entrepreneurship from Cal Poly SLO, she began her career in the business development world before tackling nonprofit marketing and fundraising at a Children and Family Services provider. She has a passion for connecting people to resources and building stronger communities. On the weekends you might catch her thrifting furniture, helping friends beautify their homes or hanging out at a local coffee shop. Stephanie joined the HQ Charlotte team in July 2017 as the Community Manager.
Natalie Noel is the Marketing Manager for both the Raleigh and Charlotte HQ locations. She joined the team as an intern for HQ in 2016 and graduated shortly after from UNC Charlotte with her Bachelors in Marketing. Day-to-day, she assists in the planning and promoting of partnered events, and works to create social buzz for the members of the HQ space. Aside from her work at HQ, Natalie is especially great at spoiling her niece and organizing closets.