Editor’s note: In day three of our “New Bull City” series, WRALTechWire profiles entrepreneurs and startups at the crest of a new wave of entrepreneurs sweeping through Durham.

DURHAM, N.C. – “There’s a new wave of entrepreneurs,” says Chris Heivly, co-founder and managing partner of Triangle Startup Factory, an accelerator based in downtown Durham, “and the future of Durham will be build on the backs of these new entrepreneurs.”

We’re sipping our beers on a cool afternoon at an outdoor table at Tyler’s Taproom. At the table behind us are a group of entrepreneurs and members of the startup community gathered to wish the co-founders of Sqord, Coleman Greene, Vish Avasarala, and Jeff Wright, good luck on their participation in Chicago’s TechStars incubator program this summer.

Greene, Sqord’s CEO, is certainly among the “new wave” that Heivly is discussing. Sqord is on quite a growth trajectory, and national media coverage has been pouring in over the last few months.

In September, the young company won the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Health Innovation Challenge, and the company has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, on NBC News, Mashable and the Washington Post.

The company, which helps encourage children to stay active, uses technology to track and reward exercise data. It’s all run through a watch-like device called a “PowerBand” that records activity like walking, running, jumping, skating, playing ultimate frisbee, or taking out the trash.

Though the company will move to Chicago for the near future, their roots are here in the Triangle, and their ties to Durham are strong. You can tell by the group that has gathered to congratulate the co-founders and wish them a fantastic summer.

Greene, whose wife and twin children will remain in the Triangle, said the company intends to return to the area. Sqord is just one of the many companies that comprise the “base of the pyramid,” says Heivly, before we joined the rest of the group.

“We’re building a much wider base in Durham,” explains Heivly, who compares building entrepreneurial communities to a pyramid. If the base of the pyramid is larger, the theory goes, “more entrepreneurs will get through to the top.”

Who are these emerging companies and their entrepreneurs?

A New Ecosystem for Music, in a Revitalized Downtown

In 2006, the founders of ReverbNation, Mike Doernberg, Jed Carlson, and three other music aficionados set out to change the music industry. “We set out to create a new ecosystem for music,” said Doernberg, “and ReverbNation has stayed remarkably true to this original thesis.”

The goal, said Doernberg, was “to build tools that would take advantage of the democratization of music.” Doernberg is no stranger to the startup world. His past ventures include SmartPath and Marathon Partners, and his resume boasts three successful venture-backed startups in software technology.

But Reverb was the first of his companies to select a headquarters location in downtown Durham.

“My previous companies have been in the Park,” said Doernberg, “and we wanted this company [Reverb] to have the feel and the vibe of the space we were using.”

“While it was very convenient to be in the Park, and there were a lot of nice things about being in the Park,” said Doernberg, “It was hard to give your company personality.”

Doernberg and his co-founders decided that “Durham was a natural fit,” and selected space in the Old Durham Garage, across from the Durham Athletic Park.

Durham’s startup ecosystem was still in its infancy, said Doernberg. But it did have “a rich history of music,” said Doernberg, which was attractive to the young company.

While Durham, when Reverb started in 2006, lacked the feel of an urban city center with a vibrant cultural environment, said Doernberg, Durham did have “some of that, and a population yearning for it.”

Now, said Doernberg, “Durham has built an infrastructure. It’s made an investment in entrepreneurs.”

Doernberg moved ReverbNation from the Old Durham Garage to its current space on the corner of Morgan and Duke Streets last summer. The space was formerly leased by Joe Davy and Kip Frey’s company, EvoApp, which shut down last May.

Frey, who knew that Doernberg was seeking additional office space, encouraged Doernberg to take over the lease on the facility as EvoApp was shutting down operations.

“It all happened really quickly,” said Doernberg, who recounted that the entire move between the two spaces took a mere 90 minutes. “And this space is perfect for us.”

Downtown Durham now attracts entrepreneurs, said Doernberg, because “there are these startup companies that are creating critical mass, and it attracts more people. It’s fantastic.”

Doernberg theorizes that there are three primary reasons that Durham has evolved into a startup technology hub. First, said Doernberg, is the entrepreneurial density.

Second, said Doernberg, is the infrastructure, led by the Durham Chamber and people like Jim Goodmon, the developer of American Tobacco Campus.

“The city has done a good job creating an environment supportive of entrepreneurs,” said Doernberg. “The Goodmon’s have been a huge part of this … and Duke University is a huge part of it.”

Third, said Doernberg, “Durham has a personality that people embrace.”

“Durham is a quirky city, it’s a quirky place,” said Doernberg, “and the people in Durham are far more unified,” said Doernberg, “in the way they want to see the city.”

With these three factors, said Doernberg, it’s obvious why entrepreneurs would select Durham. Given the infrastructure, the people, and the critical mass of entrepreneurs, said Doernberg, “if I was going to start a company from scratch, I would locate it in Durham.”

The University Professional Turned Entrepreneur

Sue Harnett, founder and CEO of Replay Photos, is a busy woman. She’s been able to fit in our conversation in the middle of two business trips.

Her story, which is unusual for an entrepreneur, begins at Duke University, as an undergraduate student. Harnett came to Duke on a basketball scholarship. Later, after a short career as a professional basketball player (cut short by an injury), Harnett would return to Duke. After four years working within the Duke University Affiliated Physician’s office, Harnett joined the last class that would be awarded a Masters in Healthcare Administration from the Fuqua School of Business.

“I love sports,” said Harnett, “it’s in my blood.” In 2002, Harnett found herself working in the Office of Science and Technology at Duke University, trying to help commercialize the intellectual property that was coming out of Duke research.

“I started thinking about the ways that we could leverage some of the technology for use in the athletic department,” said Harnett, who volunteered regularly for the athletics program.

Within the athletic department building was a storage closet, and within that closet, said Harnett, “was a treasure trove of historical photos.”

Harnett, a Cameron Crazy herself, thought that it would be really cool if Duke could take all of those old photos of sporting events, and “develop products that all of our Cameron Crazy alumni would enjoy and would want to purchase.”

“I ran with the idea,” said Harnett. Duke University was her first client, licensing in early 2003.

Harnett, who kept her day job for two more years before a full ramp-up, built the business on nights and on weekends. By the time autumn rolled around in 2004, her and her team “decided that we had ourselves a business.”

“I didn’t want to work for a large organization for the rest of my life,” said Harnett, “and this company was a return to my past.”

Seed funding for the company came from a fellow Fuqua classmate, who helped put a deal together, said Harnett. The first seed round was close to $500,000, which provided enough money to grow the business.

The company, which until that fateful conversation in autumn of 2004 was operating remotely and had staff meetings at Harnett’s dining room table, moved into office space in Brightleaf Square in late 2004.

“I am really passionate about Durham,” said Harnett, “and I love downtown. Brightleaf has been a cornerstone of the development, and it’s been great to see downtown expand over time.”

The company has raised $2.5 million to-date, said Harnett, from a group of about 20 angel investors, many of whom are friends or former colleagues. They’ve moved into bigger office space, adjacent to Parker & Otis, a favorite location of Harnett’s and fellow entrepreneurs.

“The fabric of downtown has become so incredibly rich,” said Harnett, “it’s such a tribute to those people who took a risk.”

Harnett would never say it herself, but she is included in the group she just referenced. The company, which took a huge risk, now works with more than 150 universities and provides products for professional sports fans as well.

“As someone who grew up in New York City,” said Harnett, “I didn’t really think I’d wind up here in Durham. It’s been such a pleasant surprise to understand the value of the Duke network and the evolution of Durham.”

Collaboration and Competition in the Heart of Durham

I walk in the front door of Windsor Circle, right at the intersection of Chapel Hill Road and Main Street, to find Matt Williamson, co-founder and CEO of Windsor Circle, chatting with Adam Covati, CEO and co-founder of ArgyleSocial.

Williamson is prepping Covati for a meeting with a potential partner, a partner with which Williamson and Windsor Circle already work.

It’s all a part of the collaborative network of entrepreneurs, said Williamson, when he returned for our interview. “We all help each other,” said Williamson, “it’s one of the reasons that makes Durham a great place to be an entrepreneurr.”

Covati and Williamson worked together at Bronto Software. Williamson was the twelfth employee that Joe Colopy and Chaz Felix hired, and worked with the company for five years.

He launched Windsor Circle with three other co-founders, in January of 2011, a few days after his thirty-ninth birthday.

“I had it in my life goals to found a company before I was 40,” said Williamson, “so we threw it all to the wind.”

The timing was impeccable. Durham and the nation were slowly coming out of the recession, and the pedigree and work history of the co-founders of the young company, and, uncharacteristically, Williamson received an offer from an investor who wanted to fund them.

This is extremely rare, said Williamson, as “we were just a little more than four guys and a powerpoint.”

Williamson, who grew up in the northern suburbs of Durham, and attended high school at Northern High School, just organized and hosted his twenty-fifth high school reunion here in Durham, along the corridor where his office sits.

Williamson wanted to showcase downtown Durham. He took his classmates into the heart of downtown, touring Whiskey, Beyu, Revolution, and more. As they were walking through town, said Williamson, so many of his former colleagues expressed an awe at what the city has become.

“Durham is the entrepreneurial hub of the south,” said Williamson, because Durham attracts creative professionals. “There is a correlation,” said Williamson, “between entrepreneurs and creative types – artists, restaurateurs, musicians.”

“People are passionate about underdog stories,” said Williamson, “and Durham’s got this great story about being an underdog and the city’s resurgence.”

“Ultimately, you don’t start a startup to limp along or just exist,” said Williamson, “if you’re doing this, you’ve got to be passionate.”

“It’s belief that is going to get you there,” said Williamson, who through our conversation, implies that software entrepreneurs aren’t all that much different from those individuals starting restaurants, bars, retail shops and companies within the downtown corridor.

“Being right here has been really powerful,” said Williamson, “and it is very gratifying to think that I’m creating employment in the very real sense.” Williamson is speaking about hiring staff and employees, and paying their salary, but also in supporting the economic growth of downtown.

“The only thing that will hold Durham back will be entrepreneurs fearful about taking the first step,” said Williamson, who said that Covati encouraged Williamson to take a risk and launch a company back in 2011.

“The thing that differentiates successful entrepreneurs,” said Williamson, “is that they’re the ones that take risk.”

The CEO Who Is Changing the Commute

Rob Cotter, founder and CEO of Organic Transit, is changing transportation in urban city centers. The company, which is headquartered in Durham, was conceived in 2009.

Cotter has lived in the Triangle for the past 20 years, and the landscape has changed drastically. “The biggest change in Durham has been in the last five,” said Cotter, “It’s hit a crescendo, and a wonderful one at that.”

Two years ago, Organic Transit was accepted into Startup Stampede, an initiative led by the Durham Chamber of Commerce to provide early-stage startups infrastructure in which to explore their business ideas.

“During that time period,” said Cotter, “I developed a following, a network, and a group of angel investors.” None was more important than John Warasila, founding principal of Alliance Architecture, and angel investor.

Warasila, whose company designed the interiors for McKinney and Square 1 Bank at American Tobacco, encouraged Cotter to remain in Durham and head up production for Organic Transit’s line of pedal-and-motor powered vehicles.

“A guy like Warasila is willing his way through the city and improving it for everyone by opening up space to startups,” said Cotter about Warasila’s involvement and investments in the startup infrastructure. Startups Argyle Social and Vitrue also occupy space owned and designed by Warasila, said Cotter.

“I think that’s why he wanted us [Organic Transit] here,” said Cotter, “because it fulfils a part of his vision for what he wants Durham to be – fun, attractive and healthy.”

It’s these three qualities that Organic Transit vehicles exhibit. “For months, people would pass by our office and think we were an art project,” said Cotter, whose company showcases their vehicles on Main Street.

The company plans to expand, said Cotter, and occupy manufacturing space in the downtown Durham warehouse district that is rapidly becoming known as the “brewery district.”

“People are always searching and seeking out the next place to go,” said Cotter. “Durham has successfully become that sweet spot, that place.”

Cotter still remembers a time when downtown Durham was in economic decline. “In a thirty-year period, Durham went through an extremely detrimental economic era,” said Cotter, “but it’s risen out from its own ashes.”

The Former IBMer With Entrepreneurial Dreams

“I left IBM in 2010,” said Anil Chawla, “and began working on what would become ArchiveSocial in 2011.”

“I always knew I would start a company,” said Chawla, CEO and founder, who first pitched ArchiveSocial to the general public in January of 2012.

The company does exactly what their name suggests – archives social information from across a company’s online and digital media, and preserves it for future reference. Their clients, said Chawla, recognize that there is no obligation from Twitter or Facebook to view historical data, which could potentially leave them at risk of lacking information if opened in future litigation.

AchiveSocial solves that problem. Chawla was selected for the first class of Triangle Startup Factory, an accelerator that provided office space and an infusion of working capital. “Coming into TSF, we were ready to launch ArchiveSocial with a handful of customers,” said Chawla. “By the end of the program, we had flipped into selling the product, had our first paying customers, including a major university.”

Chawla speaks praise about Triangle Startup Factory. “TSF really helped us make a transition from want-to-be entrepreneur,” said Chawla, “to be a viable company.”

Now, “we have dozens of customers,” said Chawla, “and we’re alive and kicking.” The company is enjoying its new digs in the American Underground.

Why Durham? It’s simple, said Chawla, “Durham is really shining on a national stage. It’s like an Austin or a Boulder.”

“I think the community is self-sustaining,” said AC, “but we still need more success stories.” Success stories like ArchiveSocial? Chawla traveled to Silicon Valley this weekend and brought home a TiE50 award, a big achievement for a company based in Durham. Past award winners include HubSpot, oDesk and Cloudera.

Durham boasts companies like ArchiveSocial, and more than 280 other technology and life science companies run by entrepreneurs that live, work and play in the region.

We have entrepreneurs in Durham that are changing the way we think about the world. Semprius is developing and building the world’s smallest photovoltaic cells, a mission that earned the company a listing on MIT’s 50 most disruptive companies in the world, and XeroFlor is developing the technology to build cost- and environment-saving roofs.

Down the Road

We can’t profile each of these rising stars during this series, but we expect to cover these emerging-growth startups at WRAL Tech Wire as the story of Durham continues to unfold.

Of course, not all companies will succeed. Let’s return to my afternoon conversation with Chris Heivly, who, as you will remember, was discussing the theory of the entrepreneurial pyramid.

“If the base is bigger,” Heivly says, “the more entrepreneurs will get through to the top.”

Next: What happens when a company doesn’t reach the top of the pyramid? What happens to the entrepreneur? To their employees?

Join us Thursday  for the next edition of “The New Bull City,” as we study the startup failures, the pivots, and the lessons learned from both.