Editor’s note: Tom Snyder, executive director of rapidly growing Raleigh-based RIoT and a thought leader in the emerging Internet of Things, is the newest columnist to join WRAL TechWire’s list of top drawer contributors. His column “Datafication Nation”is part of WRAL TechWire’s Startup Monday package.


RALEIGH – Only a dozen years ago, there were only a handful of entrepreneurial support organizations (ESO’s) existing across the Triangle.  The Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), NC Biotech Center and First Flight Venture Center each had more than a decade under their belts, and NC IDEA was becoming established, but there were few other resources for aspiring entrepreneurs.

In 2010, the landscape began to change with incubator space (Wireless Research Center) and venture capital (RTP Capital) entering the scene. The early 2010’s saw numerous new Entrepreneurial Support Organizations launch, leading to a healthy ecosystem in the Triangle (and similar growth across NC). Some of the early local innovators included:

  • Coworking – American Underground and Raleigh Founded
  • Convening – Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, RIoT, Digital Health Institute for Transformation
  • Capital – Cofounders Capital, Bull City Venture Partners,The Launch Place
  • Accelerators – Startup Factory (since closed), RIoT, Launch Chapel Hill


Last week, I saw clear evidence of the density of resources across the region in a way I’ve never seen before.  On October 5th – a random Thursday – there were so many concurrent, valuable events happening that no organization could have adequately participated in them all.

  • The Big Launch Challenge – The Launch Place’s annual pitch event (won by Boreas Monitoring, out of Wilmington)
  • Triangle Innovation Summit – A convening at the new Bandwidth headquarters that included many of the most successful startup founders from across the Triangle.
  • ConvergeSouth – Flywheel Foundation’s annual gathering of startups that drew more than 50 startups and 200 people to Concord, NC.
  • The Angel Capital Association Angel University – a one-day course to help investors and startups to learn more about angel investing.
  • SAS Life Sciences Community Connection – opportunity to bring together entrepreneurs and businesses solving critical problems in health and life sciences.
  • NC Advanced Mobility Symposium – RTI brought together researchers, academics, startups and policy experts to prepare NC for the advanced mobility industry.

With so many opportunities to engage and connect, begs the question – has the region become oversaturated with educational and networking events and startup support programs?

My organization, RIoT, has been one of the more significant conveners over the past decade and it is increasingly difficult to find dates that don’t conflict with other local conveners. The good news is that almost universally, the ESO’s that have grown in the region are extremely collaborative and make strong efforts to support each other, rather than compete for resources, sponsors and entrepreneurs. Some competition is unavoidable, but the leadership recognizes and practices a rising tide mentality.

I would argue that no one leads by example more clearly than NC IDEA. In the last decade, NC IDEA has brought on new programs aimed specifically at increasing participation and cooperation. They launched the Black Entrepreneurship Council to channel support to minority-led startups. They launched the Ecosystem Partners Program to foster collaboration across the state and increase impact in smaller towns and rural communities. Their Engage grant helps ESO’s to bring people together and their Lighthouse project is on a path to train 100,000 people to unlock entrepreneurial potential. NC IDEA has collectively deployed millions of dollars across these programs, which in turn have helped make North Carolina one of the top states to start a business (#1 state for business overall, if you agree with CNBC).

As much as I would like to be able to attend every single class, workshop, networking social or technology conference, I’m glad there is dense activity where we live. Choice leads to opportunities. Some fragmentation means that we don’t only see the same people at event after event, but have the opportunity to meet, learn from, and perhaps help out new people. I expect that in the next decade, we will continue to see new ESO’s launch across the region and I also expect to see a start to consolidation, as some of the original players come together around more purposeful joint ventures.

In the meantime, if you are new to the area, or simply have been spending too much time working from home and away from the in-person scene, here are a few coming events that I recommend as “gateway” events to help you find new collaborators and friends.

  • October 16 – RIoT Demo Night (register for free)
    • Hear from NASA as they seek collaboration with startups and entrepreneurs in their Moon to Mars mission. Meet more than 50 companies showing off innovative technologies to an audience of 500+
  • November 9 – Connected Triangle+ (register for free)
    • Raleigh’s annual smart city conference draws several hundred people from regional municipal and county governments to discuss how to make our communities better places to live through technology deployment and public-private partnerships. Event includes a startup pitch, exhibitors and a social. FREE, including food/drink
  • November 13-15 – NC IDEA Ecosystem Summit (register)
    • Annual state-wide convening of the Entrepreneurial Support Organizations across North Carolina. Learn best practices for growing your startup and supporting the greater community. Explore how entrepreneurship can be the foundation of state-wide economic development strategy.

I look forward to meeting you somewhere across the crowded landscape of our healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem.