So what’s happening among the startup ecosystem based on due diligence at the grassroots level and up? Perhaps no one in North Carolina knows better than Mark Easley, the investor and Silicon Valley industry veteran who was among the leaders driving crowdfunding legislation to passage in North Carolina. He still sees a lot of enthusiasm but also expects changes.
For example, “startuppers” as he calls them are searching for opportunities to capitalize on the “4th wave” of tech innovation: Building “intelligent infrastructure.”
In a Q&A that’s the latest in WRAL TechWire’s State of Startup series, Easley explains his conclusions.
Do you see any indications that the number of startups is showing any sign of slowing down?
No. But I think there has been some changes to the ecosystem that might make it appear that way, such as the shutdown of the Startup Factory [which is no longer making new investments but supports its portfolio].
But there have also been some good growth indications such as the announcement of the new Techstars Accelerator by Metlife in Cary. And the university entrepreneurship programs in the area are getting bigger all the time. I think the number of new startups is on pace with previous years.
Based on your due diligence and contacts, what do you believe the level of enthusiasm is among entrepreneurs?
I have attended a number of pitch events this year, and I think the level of enthusiasm is good. But it also depends on what type of market the startups are going after.
Things like Big Data, AI, IoT, and block chain are hot and full of enthusiastic “startuppers,” while other sectors like healthcare are experiencing general market problems that make their life difficult.
What’s the enthusiasm among those who are thinking about starting a new venture?
Fintech including crowdfunding is disrupting the finance industry in real estate, personal loans, small business loans, investment crowdfunding, student loans, and other sectors.
And I think Internet of Things is the biggest sector opportunity we have ever had here in the Triangle.
It is what I call the “4th wave,” where we are building intelligent infrastructure to network up the world.
The first three waves were the PC industry back in the 80s (a computer on every desk), building the internet back in the 90s (network all those computers together), the mobile revolution of the 00s (a computer in every pocket) and now the Internet of Things (network all kinds of things).
This one could be the biggest wave of all, with the most unpredictable opportunities and results. And we have all the software and hardware infrastructure companies right here in the Triangle to make us a major hub of this wave. We just need to make the investments to get it to happen.
Do you see any signs that coworking spaces may be overbuilt, so to speak, with ongoing expansions and a new site coming in 2019 from WeWork?
I am not sure on that one. I usually use the Frontier and it is jam packed every day. I hope they expand it soon.
If the economy continues to grow at a 3 percent or higher rate, will this keep the startup enthusiasm strong? Or could the opposite occur as entrepreneurs decide to stay at their current job?
Some of both. I was in Silicon Valley for over 20 years, and the spinout companies came during both good times and bad.