Editor’s Note: Ben Weinberger is the CEO and co-founder of Digitalsmith. He has grown the operation from a two-person college business into a market-leading technology company. Digitalsmiths entered the entertainment industry in 2001 when it introduced its proprietary technology platform, Media Access Pro, a ground-breaking software platform allowing clients to search massive amounts of film and television content in a simple and methodical way. This article is the latest in the Entrepreneurial Spirit series produced in cooperation between the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and WRAL Local Tech Wire.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Choosing the right community in which to build and develop a new venture can be a critical factor in the ultimate success of your business. Why is location such an important part of the equation, and what makes the Triangle a great place to relocate an entrepreneurial company?
CED President Monica Doss sat down with Ben Weinberger, the CEO of the recently relocated digital video search technology company Digitalsmiths, to get an insider’s perspective.
What factors in the business climate have led you in your decision to relocate your company to the Triangle?
The decision to move to the Triangle area was carefully calculated and thought out around certain business needs we had. DigitalSmiths really needed to recruit high-quality talent from an engineering perspective. We were looking at several areas across the country and on both coasts, but finally decided that the Raleigh/Durham area would be the best current area for us.
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, what are the most important factors when you are trying to decide where to grow your business?
I think the most important factors for an entrepreneur to consider when growing their business are available talent and the cost of living. Some areas might have available talent, but you have to pay them quite a bit more than what is realistic in a start-up or an early stage company. Sometimes the opposite is true – you may have a great cost of living but an area that just doesn’t have the level of quality and quantity of talent that you need. I believe those two factors need to combine in order to make an area a great candidate for growing a business.
What are some of the most important factors that have contributed to your decision to grow your company here?
I think the decision for Digitalsmiths to grow the company in the Triangle comes not only from the availability of and access to talent, but also the level of entrepreneurial activity in this area. There are a number of start-ups and early stage companies, so entrepreneurs have people that are in common thought processes. You want to surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and I think the Triangle offers that.
The access to capital, while not as large as maybe some other areas of the country, I think provides a phenomenal mix with cost of living and access to talent. When we start combining these things it becomes a very attractive area for an entrepreneurial company or a later stage company that really needs to grow and get out of an area that maybe has become unfavorable in those same categories.
What are some of the most useful resources you have found in the Triangle since relocating?
I believe the most useful resources in this area have been not only the entrepreneurial social network, but also those like-minded individuals that you get introduced to through groups like CED, the Exec Connect events from Southern Capital, or the networking events that Aurora Funds or Intersouth Partners put together. It is the networking opportunity that really helps support those entrepreneurs, because starting your own business can be lonely and stressful. I think the Triangle in general has done a really great job of fostering that essential entrepreneurial network.
How important is finding a network to help you to develop your business and expand an entrepreneurial company? What qualities should one look for in a network?
I think a network is very important to expand your business, especially in the early stages of your business. During that stage you need to surround yourself with high-quality people who have been there and done that. Veterans who can help you avoid making the same mistakes they have.
The quality of that network, as far as the diversity of levels of people, is something I have also found here in the Triangle. Entrepreneurs can meet everyone from tried and true seasoned executives and seasoned entrepreneurs to innovators who have the next idea and want to get started. I think that diversity helps breed creative thoughts and processes that are necessary to have a thriving entrepreneurial area.
What have been some of your most difficult situations that you face as an entrepreneur, before relocating to the Triangle and since?
By far the most difficult situation we encountered prior to relocating was recruiting of high-quality talent. I think we lived in a highly desirable area, but it was an area that just didn’t have a lot of technology companies. Talent sometimes questions your viability as a company. While I do not believe they should question a company’s viability based on location, it is the reality of recruiting engineers and other talent.
Since moving, that has not been as much of an issue. The largest challenge we faced was raising capital to go to the next level with our company, and we are closing in on that as we speak.
How can the Triangle improve its support of entrepreneurs to ensure that the region remains a safe place for entrepreneurs?
I think the thing that probably could use the most improvement is access to capital. There are a number of high-quality institutional investors here, and ones that are not here that do enjoy investing in the area and have invested in the area. But I believe that is the number one struggle that a firm anywhere in the Southeast probably encounters.
As an entrepreneur, securing capital is one of the things that make an area safe. Entrepreneurs need to be able to move to an area and not feel like they have given up anything by moving. So if I had to pick one thing, it would be capital. The firms that are here are great, but as with a lot of things, you need quantity so that you can find one that is the right fit for you.
Before we ever came here, there was a perception that this area was strictly for the life sciences. So, if you have a life sciences company you probably have a great chance of getting funded, while anything else does not. But obviously we did not find that to be true. We have found successful funding her in the Triangle.