RALEIGH — The halls of the former ShareFile headquarters were once again buzzing with ideas as investors, founders and ecosystem supporters gathered for the annual Venture Connect Summit. Organizers expect around 1200 attendees for this year’s event.

Day one of the event started strong on Wednesday morning with Triangle entrepreneurial luminaries Bill Spruill and Jesse Lipson taking the stage early.

Mike Capps of Howso awards Lauren Goodell of Zinnia with the Audience Choice award in the AI category.

Obsessed with customers

Spruill, a serial entrepreneur turned investor and CED Chairman kicked off the event and introduced Lipson’s morning keynote session. Lipson used the opportunity to share his startup story, from the successful launch of ShareFile, which was acquired by Citrix in 2011, to his current endeavor, Levitate.

In his remarks, Lipson attributed his success to “dumb boldness,” and the sometimes reckless decisions required to push forward with entrepreneurial endeavors. But he was quick to offer a counterpoint that the initial dumb boldness needed to be tempered, and quickly.

“The way I think about this is it’s kind of a temporary suspension of belief, to jump in and do something that you really have no right to do,” Lipson reflected. “But then switch into a mode of being incredibly careful because you continue to be reckless you won’t be very successful as an entrepreneur.”

Lipson also talked about his focus on the customer while at ShareFile.

“Our mission pre acquisition was to raise the bar for service in the field of technology. I was obsessed with customers,” explained Lipson. He believes that attention helped the company become a success, and his commitment to that customer connection is evident in the bones of his new company, Levitate, which offers relationship marketing solutions.

CED’s Venture Connect heads to downtown Raleigh’s Citrix Building this week

Lipson’s talk also touched on the history of the Citrix building in downtown Raleigh, the venue for this year’s event. While the space is currently empty, it’s providing a great solution for the Venture Connect conference, providing plenty of room for pitches, networking and impromptu meetings, plus indoor/outdoor spaces and spectacular views. With any luck the event will help land a new business in the space.

ShareFile themes

Thursday morning’s keynote represents another tie to ShareFile, coming from current ShareFile Senior Vice President of Product & Technology David Le Strat. Le Strat joined ShareFile a few months after Lipson’s exit, ostensibly replacing him. While the two never overlapped, they share the vision of prioritizing the customer.

The Citrix acquisition of ShareFile in 2011 resulted in a phase of consolidation, and the ShareFile product was shifted to delivery as part of the Citrix IT suite of tools, with a focus on enterprise customers. Le Strat believed that shift overlooked the needs of potential users. In 2021 he made the case to reposition ShareFile, and returned it to a separate business unit.

“Your value [proposition] is really important, and sometimes when you try to reach market fit, you can get confused. You follow the next hot thing which is fine if that’s your North Star and that next hot thing aligns with where you want to go,” Le Strat explained. “Understanding your customers, understanding their needs, understanding how you’re going to meet them in the evolution of your technologies, is really key.”

It’s that kind of insight that LeStrat looks forward to sharing with startups during his keynote, but he’s also hoping to use the event to make some new strategic connections. While he’s not shopping for an acquisition, Le Strat believes the time is right to “revive” ShareFile’s connection to the local entrepreneurship community. And he is enthusiastic about finding collaborations that might support a startup getting to scale.

“It’s opening the door for us to say that we have a platform and are willing to collaborate, and we can potentially accelerate that time to market,” Le Strat said.

What a startup show: Behind the scenes at the biggest-ever Venture Connect

Day Two: Pitches and celebration

Day one continued with pitches across a range of industries from DeepTech to AgTech.

Andrea Inoken pitching for Cadence Cash

Andrea Inoken pitches for her company Cadence Cash during the FinTech session.

Day Two pitches are more niche, with pitch sessions including “Consumer Software & Marketplaces,” “Consumer Innovation & Marketplaces,” “Diagnostics,” and “EdTech & the Future of Work.” A panel on university involvement in Biotech Ventures will take place in the afternoon. The conference will conclude with a Summit Celebration, highlighting other perks of the Triangle ecosystem: BBQ, craft beer and live music.

Tickets are still available at the door and more information is available at https://cednc.org/venture-connect/.