By Joe Procopio
I’ll start off 2012 with two disclaimers.
One: Apologies to you Mayan calendar believers, I didn’t mean to alarm you with the title. 2012 won’t be the year that random Durham entrepreneurs spontaneously combust – although that could happen, it’s highly unlikely. I’ll make it up to you by not making an easy joke at your expense.
Two: I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the RTP Startup Ecosystem this year. I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my time here. For all I know, Durham could become the food truck capital of the world, pushing technology, bio, and gaming aside, and prompting food truck tourism and a Food Truck Alley along Jackie Robinson drive.
For all I know.
But I can tell you this. What happens in the oh-twelve is going to build off of what happened in 2011. And if you have to put a single word on what the RTP did to justify its position in the startup universe relative to Silicon Valley, New York, Boulder, etc., that word would be: Organization.
Note that it’s not: Money. That’s what 2012 needs to be about.
In 2011, the RTP startup ecosystem finally took it upon itself to connect its various garages, coffee shops, and secret evil lairs in an effort to combine strengths, learn from one another, and sort out who is who and who is working on what. It was 99% a grass roots effort, which is good, in that it was very inclusive, but not so good, in the sense that the movement is still pretty underpowered. All in all, it was a measurable jump-start, but there’s a lot left to do.
So let’s take a look back over the year that was and make some assumptions about the year that is.
Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s do this via a collection of 2011 highlights from my column.
At least it’s not a top 10 list. Happy New Year.
Doing It Right
Several RTP companies landed major funding in 2011. Having walked that walk as part of the management team of Automated Insights/StatSheet (another disclosure), I can tell you that raising money last year wasn’t easy. But that also means that the companies that did receive funds are solid.
In Rabid Wolverines: Why Argyle Social is the Test Case for Durham 2.0, I talked about the aggressive, confident approach of Argyle and Eric Boggs, a refreshing attitude as Durham 2.0 started to spring up.
The Underground Got Relevant
Then in July, I sat down with James Avery and came out the other side with Adzerk’s No-BS Approach Results in $650K. Adzerk was proving the Durham startup thesis, founded by pivoting an existing business in RTP, moving into American Underground, taking advantage of the support groups springing up throughout the area, and ultimately running the gauntlet of both local and national VC raises. Successfully, as it turned out.
Launch Party? How About Launch Festival
Later that same month, I told you about a product launch that turned into an old-school dot-com style party in Bringing Sexy Back: Why deja Fest Is More Than a Launch Party. deja mi’s founder Justin Miller organized (there’s that word again) a two-day, 26-band event to prove out his venue-based media sharing application before it got the live customer treatment at the Hopscotch Festival in September.
All Work and No Play
By the way, those three companies were in attendance, along with about a dozen others, at Pongageddon: The RTP Startup Ecosystem Goes Rogue in March, a day of pizza, beer, and local startups competing for a ping-pong trophy hosted by StatSheet. This was one of the first formal get-togethers of some of the local entrepreneurs, but it would definitely not be the last.
The Graduating Class
But 2011 wasn’t just about the established and funded. In December, I got the chance to judge a UNC-hosted startup event and wrote about Ten Promising Rookie Startups from the Carolina Challenge. This included $1000 winner (and established though not funded) YardSprout and 47 other startups, most of whom I had not heard of before that night but will keep an eye on this year.
So yeah, that was 2011, but that was just the stuff I wrote about startups, and those few companies I got to are just the tip of the iceberg that is the 200+ tech startups in RTP. In a future installment, I’ll reminisce about the explosion of support organizations and how even those organizations got more organized.
Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network (http://IntrepidMedia.com). You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.
- In the RTP: Why Aren’t You an Entrepreneur?
- Epic Hack Day: an open to all code fest in the NC Triangle
- Durham expanding its increasingly robust startup ecosystem
- Durham to stuff the next big thing in a tiny little office
- Ten promising rookie startups from the Carolina Challenge
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