By Joe Procopio
In my last installment of this 2011 review of the RTP startup ecosystem, I went back over some of the companies I hung out with last year. Some. Just a few. Mostly the ones who did big, huge, extraordinary things. But of course that leaves out the hundreds (and yes, there are hundreds) of equally likeable and viable companies who did not do big, huge, extraordinary things last year.
I hung out with them too, just in groups and a lot of times with drinks.
And there were groups everywhere. If 2011 was the year the RTP startup ecosystem organized, it got most of that organization done at meetups, events, users groups, conferences, and galas. If it seemed like there was something startup-related going on every single week that’s because there was, and 2012 looks to be no different, just better.
There’s been no better time to be an entrepreneur in the RTP. Here’s why:
Foot on the Accelerator
2011 started off and ended with announcements from two completely different accelerators.
LaunchBox Digital graduated its first class to come out of Durham in January 2011, with a big event at Bay 7 at American Tobacco (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/01/90-days-work-in-eight-minutes-launchbox-digital-2010-demo-day/) (where it’s falsely rumored that I keep a secret sleeping quarters – I actually just sleep in Square 1 Bank’s conference room… don’t tell them). Seven companies held court for eight minutes apiece in front of brave ice-conquering crowd of hundreds.
Then in November, rumor turned into reality when Capitol Broadcasting and NC IDEA announced that new accelerator Groundwork Labs would be taking applications, well, now (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/11/new-startup-accelerator-groundwork-labs-launching-in-durham/).
Groundwork will be run by John Austin, and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s also running Joystick Labs, the gaming accelerator (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/04/gaming-for-everyone-john-austin-joystick-labs-the-east-coast-game-conference/). They held their first successful session in the summer of 2011, and will be ramping up again in 2012.
And it should be noted that while LaunchBox closed up shop in 2011, out of the ashes rose the homegrown Triangle Startup Factory (http://www.techjournal.org/2012/01/return-of-the-triangle-startup-factory-and-why-its-huge-for-the-rtp/). Also taking applications. Also now.
That means there are three “new” programs in the RTP for aspiring entrepreneurs to get their product from concept to reality with more help than should be legal. If you don’t apply to at least one of them, you have no one to blame.
Out of the Garage
Beyond the proliferation of accelerators in the area (and honestly, how often do you get to read a sentence like that), there were literally dozens of events in 2011 that highlighted, supported, or celebrated startups. And if you know me, you know I’m all about the grass roots.
In March, I wrote about Startup Madness, the second in a series of homegrown events from Scott Kelly that announce and market the launch of local tech startups (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/03/startup-madness-it%E2%80%99s-not-as-crazy-as-you-might-think/). Kelly just held another Launch Days very early this year, and has two startup events on the calendar for Spring and Summer that focus on high school and college entrepreneurs.
In June, Triangle Startup Weekend (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/06/try-before-you-buy-triangle-startup-weekend/) made a welcome return to the area with over 100 entrepreneurs spending three straight, sleepless days and nights building a company from scratch. TSW makes a repeat engagement in April this year, and will be very interesting as some of those folks ran with their companies and likely still haven’t slept.
Not to be outdone, the gamers put on their own party, Raleigh Game On (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/08/game-on-rtp-indie-game-companies-take-matters-into-their-own-hands/) packed 150 game developers and gaming enthusiasts into the Hive in downtown Raleigh in August. I, for one, have always felt like the gamers should and could be more visible in the RTP startup ecosystem. Between Joystick, Game On, and other recurring events like the TGI Social, 2011 was a big step in the right direction.
Even if you didn’t have a startup or even an idea in 2011, Tech Jobs Under the Big Top (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/05/tech-jobs-under-the-big-top-hot-dogs-beer-jugglers-jobs/) provided a real opportunity for getting in on the ground floor of a startup just by going to work for one.
And let’s just pretend I already talked about ExitEvent.
Oh, Yeah, There are VCs Too
I’ve always been amazed at how accessible the local VCs are and how few startups and wanna-be startups take advantage of that accessibility. Here are two ends of the spectrum I talked about in 2011.
Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures is involved with a lot of events, meetings, get-togethers, and so on, probably more so than any single local investor.
In January, we sat down and talked about one of the more intriguing (at least to me) things he does. Once a month (maybe every other month when he’s busy), Jason hosts breakfast for any entrepreneur who wants to get or give advice (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/01/jason-caplain-builds-better-entrepreneurs-over-bagels/).
But maybe one-on-one isn’t your thing.
In April, I wrote about the, get this, 28th annual CED Venture Conference (http://www.techjournal.org/2011/04/ced-venture-2011-mission-accomplished-now-what/), where for a small price (in terms of value), you can catch up with a keg of VCs, angels, and dozens of funded and unfunded startups. Watching and learning from the public pitches alone is worth the price of admission.
And by the way, that was on the heels of the SouthEast Venture Conference and the East Coast Game Conference, both of which are coming up again in 2012.
If anything, 2012 is going to build on this strong support structure that sprung up in 2011. So if you ever, ever thought about ditching it all and starting a company, well, my friend, this is your year. Apply, attend, meet-up, discuss, engage and party. Of course, there’s all that hard work and risk, but at least you’ll have hundreds of others slogging it out with you.
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 athttp://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.
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Tags: American Tobacco Campus, CED, ExitEvent, Game On, Groundwork Labs, Joe Procopio, John Austin, Joystick Labs, LaunchBox Digital, NC, NC IDEA, Research Triangle, SEVC, Square 1 Bank, startup accelerators, TGI Social, Triangle Startup Weekend