Just like our food choices are said to reflect our values (remember how your mom always told you, ‘you are what you eat’?), the measures we use to define our startup ecosystem’s successes or failures reflects our region’s collective values and goals.
New Year, Nine New Measures for Triangle Startups
For example, if all we report on is venture capital raised by our startups, then it can be assumed that funding is our primary yardstick for success.
But after observing and interacting with entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts throughout the Triangle this year, I believe funding, while important, is just one of many things our region values and might even rank lower on the list of measures to track than we might think.
In 2014 alone, I have seen our community rally around the issue of a lack of diversity in the startup community and attempt to reverse the trend through initiatives like SOAR and Triangle Startup Weekend: Women. I saw local startups and entrepreneurs work to solve real-world problems, while their peers in others states started their business to earn a quick dollar or to create vanity projects.
I saw organizations collaborate to establish programs like The Iron Yard and Tech Talent South code schools to give those without tech skills the chance to learn them. I observed established, successful companies like Citrix and Red Hat support fledgling startups through accelerator programs, dollars and mentorship. And as gasps were heard throughout the Triangle when some of our most established companies in our region issued substantial layoffs, I smiled as I watched a startup hub welcome laid-off employees into their space to start something new.
With all these observations in mind, it’s clear the Triangle is not the “next” Silicon Valley. We’re something different and unique, and we have the opportunity to be a leader in areas that the Valley is not—like building a diverse startup ecosystem. Our story is different than other regions. It is one of grit, determination, revitalization, passion, community, and the honoring of our past while shaping our future. It’s a beautiful story, with many parts yet to be written.
And yet, are our reports and data telling the Triangle’s real story? Can people outside of our region get a true glimpse of what it is like to be an entrepreneur in Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill without visiting or living here?
The narrative of our story is slowly leaking out there, with pieces like the Innovate Raleigh report and American Tobacco’s (our parent organization) new documentary, “Because No One Else Would,” detailing the region’s pioneering past, decline and eventual revitalization. But what about the numbers we track and report, do they show others our grit, passion and community-centered values?
I’m not an expert, nor have I been able to keep up with every piece of data organizations throughout the region release, but based on what I’ve seen thus far, I would say our current method of reporting at best reflects that we’re a region on the rise, and at worst lumps us in with our peers.
But we’re about to start a new year, and what are new years for if we can’t set some resolutions? I won’t ask you to leave your weight loss or self-betterment resolutions in 2014, but what if, in addition to those, we resolved to redefine the measures we report to better reflect our startup ecosystem’s values, strengths, goals and unique spirit in 2015? I may be a data nerd, but I cannot think of many other things that would support and benefit our startups and startup ecosystem more.
At this point, I hope I’ve convinced you we need a new way of reporting our data. But how do we design measures to reflect our community’s grit, passion and values?
There’s a reason why such measures are uncommon—they’re hard to design and even harder to find data to report on. By this point, I’m sure you’ve seen the American Underground’s Annual Report. If you know anything about the American Underground, you likely made a connection between the numbers displayed and visualized with the organization itself or at least one of its three spaces.
“We need more stories circulating in the national press about the great things happening here and robust data to reinforce it,” he says.
Designing adequate measures to tell our unique story will be challenging. Finding the corresponding data will be even more challenging. And using all the data to design a readable, interesting report that does not sit on a virtual (or real) shelf gathering dust each year is a tall order.
But with all the talented, brilliant, passionate people in our region, I would wager it is all possible, and I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with. I know we’ll be working up our own strategies here at ExitEvent too.
So here’s to 2015, a new year, and a new way of reporting news and data about the Triangle’s special and unique startup ecosystem. Cheers, y’all.