Editor’s note: Monica Doss is president of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED).It’s a great time to start and grow a business in the Research Triangle region. But don’t just take my word for it.

Look no further than to recent national rankings (Business 2.0’s “Boom Towns” and Forbes’ “Best Place for Business” for example), or to the broad-based, collaborative support across regional initiatives like the “Staying on Top” Clusters Competitiveness Study, to see why this region has a lot of exciting things happening.

While it’s important to recognize the region’s accomplishments and potential, we must also continue to work proactively to meet the current and future needs of entrepreneurs as they build successful companies. To address this point, CED recently released its 2004 Entrepreneurial Satisfaction Survey Report, which identified critical factors in creating and growing an entrepreneurial business.

(To read the full report, visit www.cednc.org/publications/entrepreneurial_satisfaction_survey/survey_2004.pdf”target=”_blank”>www.cednc.org/publications/entrepreneurial_satisfaction_survey/survey_2004.pdf )

Survey respondents included founders and CEOs of innovation-based entrepreneurial companies in the area who rated not only the relative importance of specific factors, but also weighed in on how the Triangle performs in each category.

As in year’s past, we plan to use this survey as an important tool for understanding what resources the Triangle needs to make this region the best place in the country for entrepreneurs to start and grow their business.

Key themse

Some of the key themes that emerged from the 2004 report:

  • The availability and retention of top technical and management talent registered as the most significant concern for high-growth entrepreneurs (which mirrors findings from CED’s 2001 survey).

  • The proximity of research universities, quality of entrepreneurial support organizations, and availability of qualified technical and non-technical workforce ranked as the Triangle’s greatest strengths.

  • Key areas for Triangle improvement include access to venture capital, the availability of qualified management personnel and the quality of K-12 schools.
  • The survey also exposed a new paradigm for high growth entrepreneurial funding. While venture and other investors have taken a much more cautious approach to private equity funding, companies are adjusting by completing more private placements, ramping up more slowly through sales and partnership revenues, and continuing to seek grant funding. Entrepreneurs still need capital, but they are adjusting to the marketplace realities that it may not be available under optimal conditions and are therefore seeking other funding vehicles.

    Where’s the money?

    Among the quantitative findings that underscore to this paradigm shift in financing:

  • The overall importance of access to venture capital declined from No. 2 in 1999, to No. 7 in 2001, to No. 9 in this year’s report. The Triangle’s performance in providing access to venture capital fell from No. 19 in 1999, to No. 20 in 2001, to No. 24 in 2004.

  • 28% of the respondents cited the wide spectrum of capital-related needs (i.e., venture capital, angel financing, bank loans, grants, etc.) as the key element the region is missing.

  • The number of people having reported using personal funds in 2004 to finance their companies increased to 68%, from 61% in 2001.

  • Of those respondents who reported receiving venture financing, 55% reported having received angel funding (compared to 75% in the 2001 report).
  • In addition to covering capital trends, this year’s Entrepreneurial Satisfaction Survey also highlighted the role of universities. Respondents ranked the region’s proximity to research universities No. 11 in importance, rising from No. 16 in 2001, underscoring their increased role as one of the key elements of the state’s future economy strategy. The recent UNC system-wide increased economic development emphasis through the addition of a new related mission plank, as well as funding for new medical and biomanufacturing initiatives and continued strong support of the research campuses by state leaders, will continue to position the Triangle as a formidable region in the innovation race.

    With continued emphasis on bringing university technologies to the forefront and providing much-needed resources for entrepreneurs, CED is responding with a full program line-up this season that includes our newly launched Entrepreneur ’04 conference, set for Oct. 30 at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Our goal with this particular program is to provide a glimpse into the next generation of entrepreneurs.

    And while we’re cautiously optimistic about the Triangle’s progress and potential, we must push for continued strong legislative funding for our universities, backing for such private initiatives as the Clusters’ Study, as well as support for our nationally-renowned infrastructural partners like MCNC and the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

    The Triangle has certainly come a long way in terms of its ability to attract and retain successful high growth entrepreneurs, but we must be vigilant and continue exploiting our resources to build on the progress we’ve made thus far. The public and private sector must both play a role in maintaining the region’s competitive edge. As the respondents identified, we face some significant hurdles — specifically access to capital and executive talent needs — whose solutions will in part determine our area’s capacity for future entrepreneurial growth.

    Having been involved in this community for the past 20 years, I feel confident in our ability to rise to the challenge, though. Stay tuned as we tap into the region’s creative best for the solutions–

    CED: www.cednc.org