This week Engine is traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. For more updates follow #RiseofRest on Twitter.
After our first stop in Richmond, Virginia, the tour continued south to the Triangle in North Carolina. This area—encompassing the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—has already experienced significant success in its innovation and technology economy. Its top universities, leading healthcare and biotech companies, as well as world class research facilities at Research Triangle Park have all contributed to the region’s emergence as a center for tech talent as well as startup density and success. STEM jobs here grew by 39% in the past ten years—more than any other region in the country. And in 2014, 59 companies in the area were acquired and six went public.
These impressive numbers tell part of the story, but during our whirlwind day across the region, we learned there’s a lot more to building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem beyond existing industry leadership. Much of the local startup activity takes place within several impressive and energetic co-working spaces: HQ Raleigh in Raleigh, and American Underground, which has locations in Raleigh, Durham, and in a retrofitted old tobacco factory—a reclaimed relic of the region’s old economy. American Underground is home to over 850 entrepreneurs who come from the area’s many universities or decide to locate their companies here due to the ease of access to great talent, support and mentorship. And antother group of young entrepreneurs finds that kind of support right at home: the Thinkhouse is Raleigh is a live-in dormitory for startup founders.
What’s also exciting about this cohesive community is its genuine commitment to expanding opportunity and diversity: it’s a topic that’s top of mind for local leaders across industries. We spent some of the day with Talib Graves-Manns, founder of an education startup called RainbowMe and Durham’s Code2040 Entrepreneur in Residence. In addition to building his company, he is helping create a network of black entrepreneurs in the region. There are also organizations dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs, like Soar Triangle and e51.
The day’s pitch competition was an opportunity for Raleigh-Durham to showcase many promising early stage ventures, as well as the support community that helps them succeed. The winner of Steve Case’s $100,000 investment was Archive Social, which provides tools that enable governments take greater advantage of social media. Archive Social presented themselves as a unique outcome of the Triangle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem with roots in a local accelerator, capital from local funds, and clients in local and state governments.
The Triangle is a model of how a region can leverage its many resources, even across independent counties and cities, to cultivate future generations of economic growth. And with their commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship, we hope they can set a national example.