So a few weeks ago, I wrote this piece about why Durham is now synonymous with startups and Raleigh is not. The next day, I got a call from James Sauls, the Director of Raleigh Economic Development, whom I had met a couple months earlier when I did a panel on tech startups for the Chamber.
“Do you want to come talk to the Innovate Raleigh steering committee?”
“That depends. What are they going to throw at me?”
Turns out that the argument I made was one that a lot of people have been having over the last year or so, no surprise there.
In all honesty, I know the pain of the Raleigh startup, because I hear it monthly when they have to drag their tired butts from the City of Oaks to downtown Durham for the ExitEvent Startup Social, a journey for which there is no route that isn’t slathered in traffic, just to get together with other Raleigh startups, let alone other Triangle startups.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m far from the only show in town. There are pockets of startup ecosystem in Raleigh, but they’re scattered, loosely organized, and in most cases dedicated to startups AND something else. Sometimes that something else is hacking, and sometimes it’s fashion. But the for-startups-by-startups mantra is starting to take hold. Startup and Play, for one, did a pretty good job showcasing startups to the general public at the end of May.
But just as pockets aren’t pants, pockets aren’t a hub either.
I think I’ve got the hub thing nailed down, so that was the focus of my side of the conversation, how ExitEvent went from a dozen friends who happened to be in startups to a network of over 500 members, painstakingly architected to provide maximum value for all the different types of members, the vast majority of whom are startups.
I knew how to do this because I’ve been an entrepreneur for the majority of my career. It went well because I let the entrepreneurs figure out what it should be, with — and here’s the important part — no outside influence, and then I went and built it for them.
And in the same vein, I gave my view of how Durham’s seemingly overnight success becoming a much-hyped startup hub was really the result of a lot of unheralded effort and a very strategic design.
It’s not by chance. Even though it looks like it. Which is how a lot of good ideas evolve into successful products.
“Man, I had the idea for Facebook YEARS AGO! If only I had… you know… built it.”
Then I listened to the committee, made up of some very smart and very economically influential people in Raleigh and Wake County, and here’s the awesome thing: Everyone around the table got it. Without exception. And while I will save the details for a later piece — after all I’ve got vacation coming up — I will go ahead and answer the question I left hanging at the end of the last article.
Yes. Raleigh absolutely, positively must have a startup hub. BUT, unlike Durham, it doesn’t need to frame its economic development, or for that matter its downtown, around said hub.
Raleigh can and should have Red Hat, and now Citrix, located downtown to anchor its economic development, but it also needs to foster its own startup community, also located downtown, to spur the next wave of Red Hats and Citrices.
After all, look at how many startups came out of Red Hat and behemoth corporations like it. That’s the way it works. Wouldn’t it be cool if that behavior were not only sanctioned by the corporation, a phenomenon that is increasingly gaining acceptance, but the startups themselves could pop across the street to set up shop?
That quest continues tonight – as Innovate Raleigh meets up to show off and discuss Work in the Triangle, a mutli-organizational effort (and a well-designed effort, by the way) to bring talent to the area. They’ll be working with local organizations to highlight the talent and resources that are already here, including the quality of life, the things to do, the “best of” vibe that the Triangle is constantly recognized for.
After all, a great startup begins with great talent, so this is a decidedly solid next step.