At Innovate Raleigh last Wednesday night I heard (actually, I walked in late, but I got the recap) a really interesting discussion on the usage of space. Not space like Luke-Skywalker-Buzz-Lightyear space, but space like “Where should I put this filing cabinet?” space.

Space is at a premium in downtown Raleigh and it could be argued that the concept needs innovation. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Raleigh is chock full of startups, and usually (and to be very clear I mean usually) startups and innovation go hand in hand. Startups are the puppy dogs nipping at innovation’s heels.

No, that’s terrible.

But I do know that you can’t have a startup without innovating. That’s like having Star Wars without Han Solo. Yeah, it works, but no matter how many CGIs you throw in there, it’ll wind up being a lot of people talking for a long time.

But the corollary, while deceptively full of truthiness, is not always true, and thus not true.

Innovation doesn’t necessarily need startups.

And that got me thinking — maybe Raleigh doesn’t need startups.

Not that startups shouldn’t be in Raleigh. It should remain as chock full of them as it is today if not more so. I’m just wondering if maybe Raleigh is going to be just fine courting and supporting big, public companies like Red Hat.

I’m a firm believer in the concept of the intrapreneur. It’s not eating Ramen and going to Beyu every morning that makes you a startup, it’s winning with innovative products. It’s also widely accepted that without big honking companies like Red Hat, there are a lot less startups — at least the swing-for-the-fences kind.

I know what you’re thinking — Red Hat was a startup. It’s the hugest startup success story… that I can think of right now… that ever came out of the Triangle.

Well, yeah, but does every superstar have to come from the farm system?

Maybe Raleigh is the City that works the waiver wire and makes big trades, relocating companies with tax breaks and quality of life, while Durham cherishes their AAA Bulls, and, with any luck, cranks out major leaguers, even All-Stars, at a ridiculous clip.

Yeah, I got all sporty on you, it’s what I know.

Look. I’m not saying Raleigh can’t be a startup hub. I lived there for a decade, and it’s got almost everything a major metropolitan city should have.

My good friend and beer genius Erik Myers from Mystery Brewing (Hillsborough, so he’s got no dog in this fight), is convinced that in five short years, Durham and Raleigh are going to look like San Francisco and Oakland. Oakland is no San Francisco, and Raleigh doesn’t have to be Durham.

So instead of asking why Raleigh isn’t more like Durham when it comes to startups — maybe the proper question is how do we get Raleigh to become what it needs to become.