By Joe Procopio
Congratulations Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina! You’ve done it. You’re now an entrepreneurial hub rivaling that of any city in the nation, attracting talent and investment from all over the country while cranking out exit after ridiculously-valuated exit. You’ve got your heart in Downtown Durham, your brains in the Universities, your backbone in the infrastructure, a calcium-fortified support system, and a very big mouth of a media touting every kid who walks out of UNC or IBM and purports to start the next next next Twitter.
None of what you just read is true.
But it could be. It’s truish.
What If It Were True?
That’s a damn good question. And it’s what I had on my mind while walking the wide-aisled halls of the Raleigh Convention Center for this Year’s CED Venture. This year, the conference returned to Raleigh (good move) from Pinehurst (too far to commute and everything closes at 9:00 p.m.), and took on a new look to match CED’s recent re-imagining in September.
This is also a good thing. The move into the American Underground along with fellow anchors Launchbox and Joystick meant there was a lot of new energy. There were hordes of entrepreneurs walking the halls when they weren’t manning demo booths.
Companies as young as Argyle, Adzerk, DejaMi, CityPockets, Jaargon, Appuware (which had been live for 12 hours) were all showing off. And when they weren’t, they were mingling, and when they weren’t, they were drinking.
I’m for that.
Four out of Four
Over the last 58 days, I’ve been to four major events involving startups from or related to the RTP, each completely different and each totally valuable.
In early March, there was the Southeast Venture Conference in Atlanta. Yes, this wasn’t in RTP, but that only goes to show you the regional strength we’ve created. In late March, Startup Madness provided a look at some of the earlier stage companies making their mark in the Triangle.
A few weeks back, the newly-expanded East Coast Game Conference highlighted the sheer awesomeness (is there a better word for a video game conference? I think not) of the local gaming ecosystem. And my tour was capped with CED Venture, which did a fine job of proving that after 28 years, it could still run with the youngsters (so to speak). I know this because it’s what I do every day.
Ouch. My back.
So I’m calling it. RTP, and Durham especially, has made its mark, established itself, slapped on a new coat of paint and done some amazing things to get that spark going that’s been eluding this area for years.
Let’s imagine that we’ve taken that next step, and the RTP has moved beyond New York and Boston and is rivaling the Valley for the best talent, the most activity, prominent deal flow, and copious successful exits.
What would that next conference look like?
I walked around CED Venture and asked this question, and the answers from the attendees not only proved out my theory that we’re on the right track, but also confirmed some of the advancements we’ve made in the conferences themselves from slight innovations, tweaks in each.
In all of this pestering, there was one question asked of me, and that question kind of brought it all together. A particularly insightful out-of-town investor, while going over the pros and cons of the companies gathered in the demo room, asked me if there was another wave or two of upcoming entrepreneurs beyond these. Without hesitation, my answer was “Hell yeah.”
Then I thought about these four events, and figured out how to bring it all together.
The Lite Ticket
At these conferences, every once in a while I have a booth or I’m doing a pitch or I’m helping a company demo, but mostly I’m a stalkerpreneur, walking around the conference, sitting in on sessions, trying to learn and network. Stealing stressballs.
And the thing about the RTP entrepreneurs is they’re getting younger, they’re starting sooner, they’re more agile, lean and, well, hungry.
This year’s East Coast Game Conference had three levels of admission, including a $99 rate that got you in the Convention Center and some of the sessions. No frills, no free lunch, no fancy bag. I know these things need to make money, but your everyday unfunded entrepreneur has moxie, has get-up-and-go, has drive, and has passion.
You know what they don’t have?
Straight cash homey.
What the lite ticket does though is it fuels that next group, gets them involved, on the radar, and sets them up for bigger things. Almost every company from Startup Madness, including this year’s winner Rippple, had a presence at CED Venture. Beautiful. With a lite ticket, that math gets exponential.
The Pitch Thing
I’m starting to turn against the elevator-pitch-as-entertainment concept. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe everyone needs to get their story out, but it has to be handled with care. Having done it, I can tell you it’s hard enough condensing your life’s work and all your hopes and dreams down into two minutes. It’s harder still to do that on a stage trying to figure out which folks in the audience are taking notes and which ones are tweeting about where the happy hour might be.
For the record, I do both.
One of the highlights from CED Venture was the use of panels to showcase some of the startup talent, sometimes side-by-side with the investors. Sure, we need to hear about the state of the industry and trends and opportunities from the expert side, but putting the founders on a panel is a great way to get their story outside of the canned two-minute spiel.
But my answer to the out-of-town investor came from this concept: There was a just-as-large contingent of talent exuding a just-as-fever-pitched intensity at the very same location a few weeks back during the East Coast Game Conference.
In my blog, lamented the fact that there weren’t enough of us startup hacks at that conference, and the reverse is also true, but not to such a degree. I also noted that the camaraderie that exists in the gaming industry is top-notch, and that we could learn even more from them about helping each other and boosting the local image.
Talk about a best-kept secret. RTP is probably number two in the country in gaming. Who knew?
OK yeah, you probably knew.
Again, having Joystick as a co-anchor in the Underground with Launchbox and CED is a very good idea, and there were some gaming companies stalkerpreneuring and even demoing at Venture. Plus the first keynote at CED Venture was the incredible (I’m an unabashed fan) Dr. Michael Capps from Epic.
The first thing he said was there would be no talk of debt-to-equity ratios or anything of that nature because that wasn’t his area of expertise. He then proceeded to hold everyone’s attention for the next 60 minutes talking about video games, mistakes, and alternative ways of creating a multi-million dollar company.
In my mind, this is where that next wave is coming from, something I alluded to the first time I wrote about the inaugural Game Conference two years ago. That one also had Michael Capps as the keynote. I know. I just blew your mind.
So if CED Venture taught me anything, it was that the area has done the up-and-comer thing. We’ve started playing like we’re number two, even though we aren’t. Yet. And that’s the exact right move.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for sports media startup StatSheet . He also owns startup consulting firm Intrepid Company (and creative network Intrepid Media (IntrepidMedia.com). Did you see where he hinted that he was the big mouth of media? Kind of pathetic, no? Joe can be reached via Twitter @jproco.
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Tags: Adzerk, Appuware, Argyle, CED Venture 2011, CityPockets, DejaMi, East Coast Game Conference, Jaargon, Joe Procopio, Michael Capps, Rippple, Southeast Venture Conference, Starup Madness, StatSheet