DURHAM – It’s official. American Underground (AU) and Big Top are now one.

The result: a revamped website, plus a smorgasbord of newly combined offerings that include real estate, enhanced programming and a digital platform to connect local talent and startups across the state.

Now billed as a “region-wide startup hub,” the group rolled out its new branding when it hosted its annual Triangle Startup Night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Thursday night.

“We have a new American Underground today,” AU’s general manager Molly Demarest shouted to WRAL TechWire, making sure to be heard over the stadium announcer’s play-by-play commentary blasting on the intercom.

American Underground merges with Big Top, expanding its range of services

“We’ve taken what we’ve seen work well with AU and Big Top, and combined them into one. We feel really good about where it’s going. We believe startups increase and diversify opportunity, and what we’re trying to do is create a more cohesive way for experts across the region to help founders and their teams access resources.”

More than 250 people packed the stands behind first base for the much-hyped event, watching their local team play against the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs.

Earlier this year, the Durham-based startup and entrepreneurial hub announced the planned merger with Big Top, a Triangle-networking platform and events series.

In 2017, AU acquired Big Top. But up until then, the two had been operating as separate entities.

“We found that we had essentially created two competing brands,” explained Demarest. “It didn’t make sense long term. When we think about making it easier for people to navigate, combining the two made most sense. That’s what today marks.”


AU – one of 11 Google for Startups hubs in North America – launched seven years ago in the basement of an old tobacco warehouse at the American Tobacco Historic District. Owned by WRAL TechWire parent Capitol Broadcasting, it now encompasses close to 125,000 square feet of space at three locations in downtown Durham.

Now newly merged, AU remains a physical launch pad for startups and a gathering spot for the entrepreneurial community.

But now, members receive a digital subscription to a “hyper-focused” networking platform with a database of more than 10,000 registered members, and access to programming and events.

“Think a company based in Raleigh like Feedtrail, for example,” said Demarest. “Raleigh is where it makes sense for them to be, and they’re actually in their own space, which is a perfect fit for them. But how do they stay plugged in to what is happening across the Triangle community? We now have a way for them to do that.”

And according to the latest stats, tapping into this community could be an advantage.

Since 2013, 57 percent of the companies have been headquartered in AU have been cash flow positive, and over 83 percent have generated revenue, according to AU’s most recent annual report.

Demarest: “So imagine what would be possible if we say, hey, the walls should not confine to what this should look like and let’s bring this all together?”