“For the first time in 20 years, I’m working for someone else. I tell people I’ve upgraded my boss.” – Chris Heivly
RALEIGH – Since January of this year, says Chris Heivly, a co-director of the Startup Factory, “I’ve been doing something completely different.” What’s that?
We caught up with Heivly for an update on what he’s doing now prior to his session at the Internet Summit.
“For the first time in 20 years,” Heivly said, “I’m working for someone else. I tell people I’ve upgraded my boss.”
Heivly joined Boulder, Colorado-based Techstars in January as an entrepreneur in residence (EIR).
Heivly and his partner, David Neal, stopped making new investments through the Durham-based Startup Factory accelerator last fall after investing $6.64 million in 35 companies.
About a third of those are “doing really well, a third are still trying to find their way, and a third are dead, typical of what you might expect with startups,” Heivly explained..
Two doing particularly well are Archive Social and Able Device.
Able Device has developed a way to quickly develop, deploy and manage IOT devices. It is getting traction, winning clients and landing funding, he said. Archive Social, meanwhile, helps more and more clients make better sense of the social media data onslaught.
Heivly, while still based in Durham, says the new Techstars gig is “onvigorating and fun” taking his evangelism for creating startup communities to other cities from Cleveland, Ohio, to Lima Peru.
Going from Triple A to the Majors
Techstars was one of the original startup accelerators, and Heivly first connected with them when he began Durham-based Launchbox, which morphed into The Startup Factory. He asked: “How do I do this?” Techstars “gave me their playbook.”
So, when he and Neal shut down the Startup Factory, Heivly gave Techstars a call and said he had helped grow Durham’s and Raleigh’s startup communities and was thinking about doing it elsewhere. Techstars said “Come join us.” It was like being promoted from a Triple A baseball team to the majors, Heivly said.
Since 2007, Techstars has expanded from its base in Boulder to create 35 of its three-month startup programs in 27 cities globally. While the Startup Factory would invest in 12 companies at a time, Heivly noted, “they do 350 a year” and have invested in 1,200 companies. “These guys are thought leaders,” he added.
Heivly still brings people from other communities to Durham “all the time,” he said.
“I just led a tour for people from Chattanooga this morning.”
He tells them that 10 years ago, downtown Durham, which is flourishing now, “was surrounded by barbed wire. You really could be caught dead in Durham.” At the time, he said, “This area was slightly less than the sum of its parts. It had all the pieces for a startup community, but no one had glued them together.”
He attributes much of the Durham revival and current status as a startup hub recognized by Google and national publications to the American Underground in Durham. “You need someone like Jim Goodman” [CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company, which operates The AU and the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, to help spur such transformations, Heivly said.
“I think we’ve done a masterful job in the last six or seven years of building a startup community. It’s interesting to think about what it will take to get to the next stage. The tactics you use to get from one to five are not the same as those you use to go from five to ten.”
Taking deep dives
So far with Techstars, Heivly has had conversations with leaders from 50 cities and interacted with 12 of those more deeply. With five, including Cleveland and Lima, he did what he called “a deep dive, a consulting engagement to help them over a three-month period.”
He said his job is “To come in and give them honest feedback and do it kindly. They need an outsider to do that.” Older communities built on competition have to learn that “your win is not my loss.”
An additional advantage of the Techstars gig, he added, “is that I get to see best practices in other cities and bring them back to Raleih-Durham.”
Heivly later led a session at the Internet Summit, “Take an idea and build a startup.” He based it on the ideas in his book, “Build a Fort.”