While the American Underground startup hub in downtown Durham will strive to continue the momentum it gained in 2017, it has a few new strategies in development as well, says new Executive Director Doug Speight.

The American Underground startup hub in downtown Durham had a stellar year in 2017, as funding of its resident firms jumped 47 percent and its efforts at increasing entrepreneurial diversity saw success. It detailed its achievements in its recent Annual Report.

“We saw a major increase in funding,” Speight said in an interview with WRAL Techwire. That resulted, he said, “From our companies getting more visibility with national investors and the size of raises increasing, particularly at the Series A level. That reflects the sentiments of investors. A lot of money needs to be deployed.”

Those larger rounds can be “problematic,” he notes. “In some cases, other deals get overlooked as large placements are made.”

One surprise that came out of AU surveys is that a majority of its resident companies are generating revenue and about half are cashflow positive, Speight pointed out. “That shows the fundamentals of these startups are solid.”

In promoting diversity, AU also had a good year, seeing 30 percent increases in its resident founder base of both women entrepreneurs and those of color. “Any state in the nation would be envious of that and we intend to continue that momentum into 2018,” he said.

“We had a very active year,” said Speight “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it reflected the leadership of Adam Klein and Molly Demarest.” Klein is leaving the executive director role at AU to take another position while Demarest, formerly director of operations, is also taking new responsibilities.

Speight, veteran of five startups in engineering design, consumer products, and fintech, among other industries, was named CODE2040 Entrepreneur in Residence at AU in 2016. Google-funded CODE2040 is aimed at increasing diversity among entrepreneurs. He has visited many cities to explore their startup ecosystem and entrepreneurial culture.

In addition to crucial matters such as funding, AU also focuses on the needs of entrepreneurs in terms of personal and business growth, Speight said.

One new push in 2018, he said, will be to reach out to what he called, “Trailing spouses.” The significant others of entrepreneurs who are often well educated and trained but do not always fit into the local ecosystem well. “We’re going to make a concerted effort to get them involved,” Speight said.

We asked him for three 2018 tech predictions.

“I think you’ll see more blockchain technology popping up in a number of industries, not just crypto currencies.”

Next he said, “I think you’re going to see companies do more experimentation. One of the challenges for this region is that we’re traditionally conservative in our approaches, almost too safe. I think we’ll see more audacious experimenting.”

Finally, he added, “This may be more my personal desire than a prediction, but we’re going to make a push to reach out to more women of color. The tech industry combined with the talents of women and women of color could completely change the local and regional economy.”