Raleigh, Durham, or Calvander?

Between our efforts to support Triangle StartUp Factory (our new well-funded accelerator), Tech Jobs Under the Big Top (a reverse job fair for early-stage software tech companies), and of course, this local online magazine, we are brought into many discussions.  Is there enough funding here?  What can we do to get a direct flight to the west coast?  Do we need more serial entrepreneur talent?  And now the latest thread – how do we get more startups in Raleigh?

And unfortunately, the discussion has been both overtly and covertly about Durham’s success as it evolves into the region’s startup & early-stage software Mecca.

Those that pretend that this has not turned into some sort of regional competition have their heads planted firmly you-know-where.   Because we all know that the same discussion takes place in the valley every day between Menlo Park and Mountain View.  Or between Cambridge and 128 in Boston.

What a colossal waste of time and energy.  How minor league.  How 3rd tier.

Brad Feld of Techstars, Foundry Group and a great blog recently articulated a very interesting notion about entrepreneurial communities. It went something like this: to be a robust community, there must be a minimum quotient made up by dividing the number of entrepreneurs by the number of workers in that community.  Ultimately, it is a measure of denseness and there is a minimum quotient in order to be viable community.  It appealed to the math side of my brain.

Brad went on to add that he came to this notion after spending three weeks in Cambridge and basically never had to leave the area to see all the people he wanted and needed to see.

Durham and software is at that point.  Whether it is Tyler’s in ATC or Beyu Caffe or Dos Perros, there is not a day I don’t bump into somebody and share updated information.  It is currently our region’s water cooler.  And it happened organically with no government subsidies, oversight or meddling.  I am not talking about the seeds planted years ago by the Goodmons to create the American Tobacco Campus.  I am talking about the explosion over the last two years.  If you are part of this wave you know what I am talking about.  There is a palpable energy in Durham that does not exist elsewhere in the Triangle.

So what’s my point and where do we go from here?  First, notice that we refer to this as Heivly.com and Triangle StartUp Factory.  We support the entire area and we will support any initiative to help Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Cary and other local communities embrace entrepreneurship.  But not around software companies.  Let’s support each community to identify their industry niche. Let’s rally companies in that niche to build a critical mass in a neighborhood. And then let’s celebrate and market that niche.

Let’s not split this region in half and waste precious resources on a competitive battle where no one wins.  If you do, I am just going to go ahead and move to Calvander.

Speaker, investor, mentor, startup founder. One of 3 or 4 Co-Founders of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B). Managing Director of $25M Venture Fund in late 90's. CEO, COO or President of various companies ranging from $200k to $20M in size. One of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory (35 investments across 7 cohorts), founder and MC of the Big Top Reverse Job Fair and national writer and speaker waxing poetic around startups and startup communities. Currently EIR @ Techstars with Brad Feld ~ Startup Communities, to help community leaders around the world grow their startup community.

7 comments On Raleigh, Durham, or Calvander?

  • Chris–you would include a link to a Mapquest map.

  • Where are you going with the Calvander reference?

  • Steven Johnson has written and spoken on this topic quite a bit. He addresses it in “Where Good Ideas Come From” as well as his TED speech on YouTube. The general idea is that there are places – physical or online – where people can come together to share ideas and innovate. I think that’s the point here. Durham has a few well known places where people come together, meet up and share ideas – and they are generally in the same tight, dense area. There are a few places in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, but they are more singular and dispersed. Tons of great meetings happen at places on Harrison Ave in Cary or Brier Creek, but they’re not well known nor close together. Perhaps creating a list here on TrianglTechTalk of WHERE entrepreneur’s, technologists and VC’s consistently can meet up would help create these area’s of density and lead to innovation.

  • Chris, you make some great points here. We need a hub and spoke approach to our tech entrepreneurship efforts as it plays out across the region. Having a strong hub makes the spokes stronger. I also think Durham has weaknesses where Raleigh has strengths as it pertains to entrepreneurship. So Raleigh determining its niche and pumping resources toward that isn’t threatening to us in Durham–I see that as an awesome way to build up Durham and the region.

    For us to really get this region into the national conversation as a startup hub (one of our stated goals), Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the entire region must work together to advance the hub. If we set our sights on competing with each other, we’ve set the bar too low. We can do better than that.

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  • Calvander is a great place to be! Very convenient to the hub actually, and with a much nicer quality of life :)

    I love this vision of a connected Triangle. My goal is to make it the third place people mention for tech entrepreneurship after Silicon Valley and Boston (particularly for Health IT). I think we’re well on our way to that. Thanks for this article.


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