Has StartUp Siler begun its work yet?

Organization’s pledge to ‘aggressively invest’ appears unfulfilled

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SILER CITY — It’s hard to tell whether things at StartUp Siler, the charitable organization which settled here earlier this year with bold ambitions, have actually started up.

And if StartUp Siler is fulfilling any of the promises it promotes on its website and social media feeds to support local entrepreneurship and help eradicate poverty and crime, no one affiliated with the organization is talking about it.

During multiple recent visits to its offices in downtown Siler City, a person peering from behind a locked door — he appears to be “Andy from Sarasota,” featured in the lone video on its YouTube channel, found at https://www.youtube.com/c/StartUPSiler — told the News + Record that any staff members inside were “too busy” to speak. And multiple calls, texts and email messages over the last two months to Kristen Picot, its executive director, have yielded no response.

Meanwhile, Courtney Jordan, the self-described billionaire who claimed to be backing the organization, does have an appointment on his calendar this week: a Thursday, July 14, court date in Moore County, in connection with an early-morning car accident there in April which led to four serious criminal charges against him, including driving while impaired.

The accident, which occurred just after 3 a.m. back on April 27, happened near the traffic circle between Pinehurst and Aberdeen in Moore County. According to an incident report filed by the Pinehurst Police Department, Jordan was driving a rented 2020 Ford Escape north on U.S. Hwy. 15-501 when his car ran off the roadway to the right, corrected, then plowed into the traffic circle area, where it struck a road sign before crashing into a tree.

In addition to the DWI charge, Jordan was also charged with resisting a police officer, reckless driving to endanger and unsafe movement resulting in property damage.

Making matters worse, the insurance policy Jordan used to cover damages to the rental was apparently canceled days before the accident — leaving the rental company, University Daily Rentals in Durham, holding the bill for the damaged car.

Grey Perry, the rental manager for University Daily Rentals, told the News + Record his company was having to go through its own insurance to cover the damages after Jordan reneged on promises to reimburse the company in cash for the vehicle, just before ceasing all communication.

“For such a millionaire ‘do-gooder’ as he says he is, he’s certainly left us in a bad way,” Perry told the News + Record.

‘Aggressively looking to invest’

Jordan’s legal issues notwithstanding, the confusing and contradictory messaging on StartUp Siler’s website and other sites linked to it doesn’t clarify its plans for Siler City. A story on the Chatham Weekly website — linked to a Jordan-backed print newspaper which claims a circulation of 40,000 in Chatham, though apparently it has yet to publish its first issue — described Picot, StartUp Siler’s executive director, as being “on a mission to build a bigger table in the world of business, investing in seed- and early-stage companies, providing outside resources, incubating, and focusing primarily on those founded and led by women of color and folks from underresoucred (sic) groups.” She’s quoted on a website as saying, “We believe in pushing the limits, of those who dare to dream.”

But statements like that seem to push the limits of credulity. While StartUp Siler is definitely Siler City-based (its offices are at 235 E. Raleigh St.), the organization’s website curiously points to Asia, not Chatham County: “Entrepreneurship is in our DNA, and we are aggressively looking to invest in and incubate the future of India’s tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, activity on StartUp Siler’s social media platforms, and those of “Unity 2022” — the four Jordan-backed town board candidates — have had just a handful of posts since the group’s election losses in the town’s May 17 election. One of those candidates, Jared Picot, Kristen Picot’s brother, is also listed as business analyst for StartUp Siler.

Multiple calls and messages to Jared Picot and the other three candidates seeking comment — Nick Gallardo, Dean Picot Jr. and Samuel Williams — were not responded to, though a few social media posts showed the foursome volunteering at a local food pantry. The last post on the Unity group’s Twitter feed, from May 28, shows them gathered on a rooftop bar in an unnamed town with the caption: “Unbothered. Interviews and vacations next.” The account has 10 followers, four of which are the candidates themselves.

‘We help people’

In an earlier interview with the News + Record, Kristen Picot said StartUp Siler’s “main thing” was to foster entrepreneurship in Siler City. “So we help people — early stages, middle stages, what have you. We just basically believe in pushing the limit, pushing, pushing their dream, challenging, seeing what they can do.”

In the same interview, in late April, Jordan told the News + Record he established the initiative because Siler City has a high poverty rate and great disparity in economic fortunes. He said StartUp Siler would be providing “long-term substantive solutions” to problems those in Siler City were facing, particular given the town’s growth potential.

“I’m very transparent about this initially, when we did the market research, and we saw the rapid rate of growth here,” he said. “Of course, as a businessman, I’m looking at it and saying yeah, I can probably develop some land here and get a return on that. But I’m willing to forgo that after I hear about people who are sitting around crying and don’t even have, can’t even afford to drive outside of Siler City to take their baby to the pediatrician.”

Siler City Manager Hank Raper said to his knowledge, no one from the StartUp Siler organization has approached the town about collaboration. Nor have Unity 2022 candidates, who earlier pledged, among other things, to create a privately-funded $100 million affordable housing loan fund for the town, along with promises to cap costs for residents who are in rental properties and bring two urgent care centers from Duke University Health Systems.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of them,” Raper said Tuesday. “I think the town would always be willing to sit down and work with community partners to help those in need. But in regards to this particular organization, I’m not aware of them reaching out to anybody.”

The accident

Perry, the rental manager for University Daily Rentals, said Jordan initially rented a car from him after Jordan claimed his Porsche was wrecked by another driver. The rental lasted for a few months, Perry said; Jordan switched to a 2020 Ford Escape rental at one point and stayed in contact with Perry and up to date on payments through his credit card.

By the date of the accident, though, Jordan was behind on the rental payment. Then Perry got notification of the wreck. Jordan, Perry said, told him he planned to pay cash for the damaged car — the value was $24,477 — before communication between the two stopped.

“I never heard from him again,” Perry said. “He never paid a dime, and all his credit cards were declined … Things fell apart real quickly.”

The rental company’s insurance company is pursuing Jordan to get payment, Perry said.

Capt. Justin Guthrie of the Pinehurst Police Department said Jordan wasn’t required to post bail, but was instead “signed out” on his own recognizance. An official in the Moore County clerk’s office said she thought Jordan was also liable for damage to signs his car struck.

Jordan is being represented by attorney Michael C. Rowland, according to the clerk’s office.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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