Thriving Startup Community in Raleigh-Durham

There’s something about Raleigh-Durham’s high-tech startup scene that’s reminiscent of how the greater Boston area’s high-tech startup scene felt to me in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While I was 15 years younger then, and certainly more naive than I am now, that energy in Boston and Cambridge in those days was unmistakable and those who were part of the scene then will remember it as fondly as I do. Raleigh-Durham feels very much like that to me now and I suspect that other smaller markets comparable to Raleigh-Durham might feel the same way, as they each go through their own startup renaissance.  There are high degrees of enthusiasm, passion, and intelligence with very little arrogance, inferiority complexes and entitlement. While the startup ecosystem here has all the right pieces in place (world class educational institutes, state and local policy, public and private investments, infrastructure, talent, etc.) some for longer than others, the area needs a bit more time and cultivation until it gets to the next inflection point. There’s even a (mostly) friendly competition between Raleigh and Durham that adds to the area’s development.

My wife and I moved down from Boston to The Triangle, as its known, four months ago. Thus far, with very few minor exceptions, we are very happy with our decision. Sure we’re still in the honeymoon period but call me in January when, as I’m told by a neighbor, I may still have to mow my lawn while friends and family up north are shoveling snow, ice, and slush (sorry friends – I don’t mean to rub it in. Yes I do, I totally do.). In the past several weeks I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting literally dozens of startup founders, angel investors, local entrepreneurs, and have spent time at nearly all of the co-working locations. Along the way I’ve been blown away by just how warm, welcoming, and truly generous literally everyone has been. One meeting leads to five more meetings, one introduction leads to several more. No doubt the Raleigh-Durham area is a thriving, albeit young, startup community that has its best days ahead of it and that’s an exciting feeling.

While, broadly speaking, the startup world in general undoubtedly moves at a pace that’s hard to fathom, the history of high-tech startups is actually a very brief history – twenty years old at most. And while Silicon Valley, the Bay Area, Boston, New York City are the usual suspects when it comes to thriving startup scenes, at least in the mainstream, tier-two cities like Boulder, Austin, and Raleigh-Durham (among others) don’t get enough mainstream attention. They’re all going through their own kind of renaissance and with it a new generation of entrepreneurs. It’s analogous to Major League Baseball expansion markets like Tampa Bay or Washington D.C.: at first people laughed at the idea of a major league ball club playing in Tampa Bay, but as time’s gone on their viability has become well accepted. It’s nearly 2015 and vibrant, thriving startup scenes are blowing up all over the world, from London to Tel Aviv, from Perth to Portland, from Moscow to Montreal it’s not hard to find extraordinary talent, fascinating startups, Angel groups, venture capitalists, meet-ups large and small, government investments and initiatives, and lucrative exits. Each of these markets has its own vibe, its own culture, its own ecosystem, its own “thing” that it’s becoming known for. Just don’t compare these markets to Silicon Valley. That’s a huge distinction. Unlike some cities, these tier-two markets aren’t trying to compare themselves to or compete with Silicon Valley, they’re not trying to be the Silicon Valley of [enter city/coast/region/country/continent]. These markets have their own identity and they’re proud of it.

Raleigh-Durham is revealing itself to me as nothing short of a market that is on the verge of an explosion of the best kind, that’s quickly approaching its next major inflection point. From North Carolina state initiatives, local and city initiatives, private investments in infrastructure, old money, new money, and corporate investments and partnerships this is a region that has not just the will and desire to do wonderful things but the policies, talent and brains to do it well. From Capitol Broadcasting Company‘s investments and interests and those of the Goodmon family, the truly impressive and successful serial entrepreneurs I’ve had the exceptional pleasure of meeting, to the numerous networking events, meet-ups, evangelists, angels and VCs, Raleigh-Durham’s startup scene has everything it needs to be everything it envisions for itself.

I’ll be writing more about specific examples of what makes this region so substantial so stay tuned. In the meantime check out some of the related articles below.