Editor’s note: Each year, Raleigh Metro Magazine’s “Who’s Who” list recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the quality of life from the Triangle to the Coast. The recently published list for 2007 “once again reflects who we are and why we are indeed a world class region,” says Bernie Reeves, the magazine’s editor and publisher. Several of the profiles were written by Rick Smith, a senior writer for Metro and editor of WRAL Local Tech Wire. The profiles written by Smith are reprinted with the permission of Metro.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – For more than 20 years, Monica Doss has been the face of entrepreneurship in North Carolina.
As president of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development since 1986, Doss has built the organization into an economic force with more than 4000 members and 1100 corporate partners and a $2 million annual budget.
Recognized nationally, including the accounting firm Ernst & Young’s entrepreneur honors, Doss continues to grow the CED. Burnout is not a problem, she says, even at age 55 as retirement beckons, or when private sector opportunities come her way.
“I’ve gotten job offers,” Doss said from her home in Mebane where she lives with her husband Jim. (Their son, Brendan, is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.) But she remains loyal to the CED, which she joined as its first full-time director and long before the “dot com” boom helped transform the Triangle into one of the nation’s high-tech hotbeds.
“I look around and I know how much the people around me have meant to our success,” Doss explained. “Will I give up the people I work with?
“I do have a strong interest in building communities, and I look at the CED as a catalyst for many companies and a community of people.
“To be honest, I can’t see myself going into a company. Every two years, the world totally turns over for us,” she added, noting the constant changes in technology that require learning — and present new opportunities for growth. “The Internet wasn’t there when we started. Now, we are learning more about alternative energy.
“To me, that’s what’s exciting about entrepreneurship. There’s always a new challenge. Where else would I get the opportunity to constantly learn?”
Doss grew up in suburban Boston and Ohio before attending Florida State University where she majored in English literature and received a master’s degree in literature. She and her husband, who is a builder, woodsmith and published poet, were living in Alabama when they chose to move to North Carolina.
“We knew some people in this area, and one day we just decided to move,” Doss recalled.
Doss landed a marketing position at the North Carolina Museum of Art as director of the NC Art Society. She was recruited to run the fledgling CED organization, which was launched in 1984, by prominent Raleigh attorney Fred Hutchison and Horace Johnson, a retired Ernst & Young executive.
“I saw how passionate they were,” Doss said. “I didn’t know what venture capitalists were, I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship, but I felt it would be a lot of fun.”
Just as the Triangle grew steadily in the 1980s, so did the CED. With infrastructure put in place — such as the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the Microelectronics Center — along with the presence of tech giant IBM, RTP became a hotbed for start-up companies. And when the Internet led to the “dot com” economic explosion in the mid-’90s, the CED was there to help investors and inventors launch new companies.
But success didn’t come easily. As Doss noted, success was built with sweat, equity and hard work.
“It wasn’t until ’95 or ’96 that we really turned the corner,” Doss said. “The Park itself was a huge vision for growth. Entrepreneurship was the next step.
“It wasn’t happening naturally, but we had all the ingredients,” she added, noting the presence of NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke that added invention and creation. The Biotech Center, MCNC and Research Triangle Institute added support, creativity and technology development. Big companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline, brought executives to the area who longed to develop their own companies.
CED grew as it helped entrepreneurs, investors and professors turn inventions and ideas into companies with training, seminars and conferences on topics ranging from venture capital to biotech.
“We had the luxury of doing entrepreneurship before it became cool,” Doss said. “We got to make a lot of mistakes, but we had excellent buy-in from leadership.
“This region is different from a lot of places. People really did have a vision. We had to figure out how entrepreneurship figured into that vision and hang in there.”
The CED, one of the largest organizations of its kind, now draws venture capital and biotech speakers and investors from around the world for events.
Doss remains committed to growing the CED further — even as she gardens at home. If she has frustrations to work out, she vents with her hands.
“I like to kill weeds,” she said with a laugh. “I love to get out there and get dirty.”