HQ Raleigh has put North Carolina’s capital city on the map for entrepreneurship for the first time, and in just two years since opening its doors.
It’s given hundreds of local entrepreneurs a place to work, hang out and collaborate, and its staff has hosted and co-organized numerous contests, events and efforts, including the citywide Innovate Raleigh initiative.
Large corporations have gotten involved. Citrix and Red Hat will graduate their first accelerator companies next Monday. And Seventh Generation set up a social venture investment arm in the space and recently acquired Raleigh startup Gamila Products.
The first-of-its-kind ThinkHouse living-learning community is providing a bridge for recent college grads to get their companies launched and funded. It’s also an experiment in entrepreneurship education, with hopes of national expansion.
But HQ Raleigh founders Brooks Bell and Jess Lipson, Christopher Gergen and Jason Widen realize the success of North Carolina is key to their own and to their companies. So they didn’t hesitate when a capable group of entrepreneurs and developers asked for help opening a space in Greensboro, and for use of the HQ brand name. It opens in May 2015, and will be open to HQ Raleigh members.
HQ Greensboro isn’t necessarily the start of a statewide or regional chain of co-working spaces, but the local staff say they’d consider another location if the right partnership came along. For now, they’ll work to establish the community in Greensboro, and find links between the two hubs, which I’m told are easily connected by rail stations.
I’ll admit I was a bit surprised at the decision to open in Greensboro, mostly because I’m still new to North Carolina and hadn’t done my homework. I also hadn’t heard of any big startup successes in town. ExitEvent has gradually expanded its coverage to Wilmington, where UNCW is providing entrepreneurial resources at its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and several startups have earned national recognition. But Greensboro is a bit of a mystery.
So I did a little research these last two days to get a feel for the size and scope of the entrepreneurial community in town.
Unlike Raleigh and Durham, where private companies have led entrepreneurial efforts, the Greensboro Partnership is behind many activities, including a brand new co-working space donated by Elon University and renovated by Action Greensboro called Co//ab. It will be home to the Triad StartUp Lab accelerator, Pitch Prep, Strategy Scrub and Slam programs, and the partnership’s Entrepreneur Connection offices.
The economic development group is on a mission to identify and support 1,000 entrepreneurial ideas in the community through these events and programs.
Already in existence for the last 27 years is the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, which has graduated 260 companies and at 92 percent occupancy in a building it opened in 2012, serves 58 today. A cool thing about the center, and perhaps offering lessons to this region, is its commitment to diversity. About 64 percent of the companies are owned by minorities, including 40 percent owned by women. It will be interesting to see if HQ Greensboro mirrors these figures (Nussbaum is open to all types of entrepreneurs, not just high-growth ones).
Other developments show promise for the entrepreneurial community too. In Nussbaum’s old space three miles from the new HQ Greensboro, Durham developer Self-Help Ventures Fund is undergoing an $80 million mixed use development, with apartments, retail & restaurants and office and creative space for entrepreneurs, artists and designers. It’s set to open in 2016.
Around the corner of HQ Greensboro is the planned Union Square Campus, a partnership between UNC Greensboro, North Carolina A&T University, Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and Cone Health to train and educate nurses and health professionals. The vision is to spark more development in the blocks surrounding it.
Perhaps most critical to the new HQ’s success is the four-month-old makerspace next door called The Forge. The HQ folks expect to have more manufacturing and product-oriented tenants as a result of the proximity. The makerspace has surpassed 100 members.
What’s different in Greensboro
Greensboro also offers some different industry strengths than the Triangle. Much of its economy is based around manufacturing and aviation, with Honda Aircraft’s world headquarters and R&D operation in town as well as a large FedEx Express presence and several aviation maintenance and repair facilities.
UNC Greensboro and North Carolina A&T University have a Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering and co-operate the Gateway University Research Park, with an incubator for nanotech startups.
There’s a Genomic Medicine Initiative by UNC Greensboro, Cone Health and the Duke University School of Medicine, analyzing genetic information and family medical history and other diagnostics to predict the likelihood of people acquiring disease. There are large manufacturing or research operations for LabCorp, Procter & Gamble, Syngenta, Solstas Lab Partners, Patheon and the headquarters of circuit manufacturer RFMD.
There are supply chain management degree programs at both major universities, and major distribution centers for Ralph Lauren, Procter & Gamble, Harris Teeter, Lenovo, Sears and more.
There are some interesting startups too, like GuerillaRF, the venture-backed semiconductor startup ExitEvent wrote about in September, 3D printer maker Fusion3 Design (its CED Tech Venture Conference pitch below) and RFMED Solutions, with its wireless sensors that help caregivers monitor their elderly patients. Creative and consumer-oriented startups seem to be most prevalent in the recent Triad Startup Lab class.
What’s in it for the Triangle?
So here are the benefits I see for Triangle companies in the new link to Greensboro:
- New potential clients or industry sectors to explore, especially considering the Triangle’s hotbed of enterprise software companies.
- Access to a new set of mentors and funders (probably angel investors as I found only one angel network and two venture capital firms in the Triad (Winston-Salem), one of which is brand new)
- Supply chain expertise for consumer product or hardware related companies.
- A place to work when visiting family or friends in Greensboro or Winston-Salem.
- Additional talent pool from local universities and a community college, all with programs focused on the region’s industry strengths
- An easy expansion city for startups with plans to grow their service or product region-by-region.
And for the broader community, more links between our state’s cities help build awareness of North Carolina and the Southeast as a solid place to start a company. They give venture capitalists another stop on their North Carolina visits, and entrepreneurs outside the region a clear path to expand their footprint inside of it.
So come May, you might just want to hop on the next train to Greensboro.