Editor’s note: Jim Roberts, founding executive director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network, fills in for LTW Editor Rick Smith in writing “The Skinny” today. Look for more contributions from Roberts in the future.
CHAPEL HILL – What organizations and technologies are creating “buzz” in the southeast’s tech community as 2008 begins?
Here’s my top 10:
1. Gaming industry will gain more momentum in the southeast. The biggest industry that nobody talks about. It should be screamed from the mountain tops that the gaming industry makes more money than Hollywood!!! There should be another association created soon to represent the gaming industry in the southeast with spots of activity in Orlando, Atlanta, Savannah and the Triangle. Somebody needs to represent this group to make more noise, but will the right people listen? The Vivendi acquisition of Activision should get Wall Street’s attention for this industry.
2. NCTA’s new leader will have the opportunity to greatly expand their influence through new members, sponsors and staff. Peter Hermann, new CEO for the North Carolina Technology Association, inherits a great opportunity to grow an important organization. North Carolina needs NCTA to have enough muscle to truly help the whole state not just the Triangle and some CIOs in Charlotte. The staff members are wonderful but they need additional resources to have a real impact. The attendance at the annual meeting was impressive despite not having a CEO in place after Joan Myers stepped down to take her skills and experience to SAS.
3. John Warner, SwampFox and the upstate of South Carolina are worth keeping an eye on in 2008. The InnoVenture Conference, the SC Launch organization and the new angel investor network may add up to progress in the land between Hotlanta and Charlotte. Will the conservative nature of the people of the upstate support the creation of new companies and have risk tolerance for additional investments? The upstate is business friendly and has its eyes on the ICAR (Clemson) campus as a source of innovation. Zipit Wireless from the upstate has made some buzz since receiving funding from three VCs.
4. Open Source should find its voice. Funny, now that I have moved to the Triangle, I have actually heard less about Red Hat, until the recent change at the CEO helm. Do you think the state of Washington promotes that Microsoft calls Seattle (Redmond) home? I expected to see much less Microsoft in the Triangle and more Open Office, the MS Office open source alternative. Okay, I know the open source community seems to have the smile that they know something more than you. The same smug smile that Apple (Mac) users, Prius owners and Whole Foods organic food lovers have had for years and now those brand names have been more accepted by the average Joe. The people at Red Hat are very bright and will figure out that sometimes innovation requires a little more explanation to get more mainstream people to buy into the potential of open source software. The One Laptop Per Child project is getting good press, that is until the recent Intel controversy. (Full disclosure- I am a Red Hat shareholder.)
5. NC Biotech Center will greatly expand their influence. Norris Tolson is one of the very few leaders in North Carolina that I have not had the pleasure to meet. I did see him speak at a recent NC Biotech event for economic developers and he showed why his selection was so well received. He has added some “gray hair” and “no hair” seasoned economic developers to the staff and the center has big expansion plans including the new BioFuels focus.
6. Duke University will have a bigger influence on the Triangle entrepreneurial economy. Duke has expanded its entrepreneur program with the addition of a friendly face, Howie Rhee, formerly of the CED. Of course we all know Duke has the potential to be even more of an economic powerhouse with the brains and the resources. Will the university put it all together in 2008?
7. The Florida High Tech Corridor is brewing into a great story waiting to happen. I had the pleasure of meeting Randy Berridge, leader of the Florida High Tech Corridor this summer while I was doing some consulting work in the central Florida region. Randy is an example of the connector that so many people just take for granted and often the missing link when regions are not participating in the emerging entrepreneur economy. The Florida High Tech Corridor works to promote the region between Gainesville, Orlando and Tampa. The University of Central Florida incubator system is top notch and expanding.
8. Social Networking has hit the saturation point. If I now have a FaceBook page, social networking must be on its way down the chute. I actively check my page to check things out and not much happens. I thought I was missing out on something, but not really. LinkedIn is a much better site for social networking for business. Yes, I know that I am not the target for FaceBook as I am an older member of Generation X, but there has to be more than seeing that somebody in your group of friends has joined an online Texas Hold’em Poker game. Why does this matter? Because there are numerous social networking startups in the southeast all targeting a smaller and smaller niche.
9. The venture buzz is still on Motricity. Will Motricity have an exit event or will it exit stage left? I don’t know but I trust Steve Nelson is pointing them in the right direction. My impression since moving to the Triangle is that Motricity is still the topic of conversation among the VIPs in the entrepreneurial community. The VCs need the exit event as so much money is tied up into Motricity. But let’s look at the upside….If Motricity does have an exit event, doesn’t it make North Carolina a better place? Founders and executives can then become angel investors, employees will have valuable and marketable experience, investors get a big return and the state of North Carolina will have a much higher profile among the tech hot spots competing with the Valley, Boston, Austin and DC. Now if we could just get that Founder’s Stock Exemption passed in the North Carolina legislature to keep the founders in the state so they are not taxed so heavily.
10. The Emerging Issues Forum will create an energetic green buzz. Tom Friedman, author of The World is Flat, will be the kickoff keynote speaker in the middle of the presidential election campaign in a Democrat friendly audience. Friedman recently talked about the nonsense of red and blue states when the US should be focused on green. Green technologies that is. Alternative energy is the focus of this year’s Emerging Issues Forum at NC State. If nothing else, this is a great business networking event with attendees from across the state and speakers from around the world as former NC Governor Jim Hunt calls in favors from his extensive past.
Now feel free to tell me to buzz off!
Jim Roberts is the former Founding Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network. Roberts advises communities about entrepreneur development as a source of economic development. A new resident of the Triangle, Roberts recently started a new blog about Leadership and Entrepreneurship at http://biznsalez.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at jimRroberts@yahoo.com.