Editor’s note: Adam Klein is chief strategist at The American Undergroundin Durham. He is writing for WRALTechWire from Qatar where Durham’s “Smoffice” is competing for the Most Unconventional Economic Development Project award at the World Chambers Congress.

DOHA, QATAR - No U.S. city has ever won an award at the World Chambers Congress – a fact that drove our team from the Triangle to focus very hard on the strategy behind our presentation this morning.

As if we weren’t fired up already, I had the “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky playing in the background while we worked. We presented at roughly 4 a.m. EST before an international crowd and panel of five judges.

For the past few days we’ve been scouting other competitions at the Congress to see which presentations stand out, which strategies speakers use to engage the audience, and more. I have to say this is a much more formal affair than we are used to at most conferences – every speaker has a prepared speech and there is a good bit of pomp and circumstance layered into everything.

It is also the case that chambers in other parts of the world are very different than those in the U.S. I won’t go into the reasons why but most foreign chambers operate more like state or federal departments of commerce and not private non-profits like in the US. Membership in chambers in these countries is often not voluntary but required.

The Big Opponents

So, the initiatives we were up against had much larger budgets and authority behind them:

  • Korea built a system to flag unsafe consumer products.
  • Finland rebuilt an entire communications site and strategy.
  • Slovenia designed a Better Business Bureau-like web site.
  • Germany initiated a slick process for connecting immigrants with high tech job opportunities.

Our quirky 25 sq ft office definitely stood out! (Note: We did convert that number to meters thanks to our Chapel Hill colleague Aaron Nelson – 2.5 sq meters).

Sticking to What We Do

Last night and even this morning we were debating whether to formalize our presentation to fall in line with the rest of the initiatives or keep it quirky, keep it Durham. In the end, we took a hybrid approach.

Casey Steinbacher, our main presenter, dressed formally and scripted all of her remarks but we used our Prezi to keep the tone and informality throughout the presentation. A famous golfer, speaking about his golf swing, once said it was best to dance with the girl you brought to the dance, meaning stick with what got you there in the first place. And that’s what we did.

The presentation went very well, though our team is mostly sure the team from Finland is going to win.

I’m not going to start international controversy here but a few of the judges on the panel are from neighboring, friendly countries … just saying.

In any case, we represented Durham and the Triangle well, highlighting the incredible burgeoning ecosystem developing in our community and getting to do so in an international setting is a high honor. Names like Duke University and the Research Triangle Park carry a lot of weight as we’ve spoken with colleagues from around the globe.

The hard part is now before us as we wait about 24 hours to find out if we win. We will know tomorrow morning (Thursday) at about 6 a.m. EST and will certainly continue updating our Twitter and Facebook pages (@AmerUnderground, @TheSmoffice, @AdamMKlein).

Stay posted – and go Durham!


(Editor’s note: The American Underground is part of the American Tobacco Historic District, which is owned by Capitol Broadcasting. Capitol is the parent company of WRALTechWire.)