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Durham expanding its increasingly robust startup ecosystem

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Artist’s rendering of the new Durham @Main Street site for startups, expected to be ready by spring.

Durham, North Carolina is expanding it’s increasingly vibrant startup ecosystem.

The American Underground — located near the Durham Bulls baseball stadium, is expanding to a downtown space custom designed for early stage startups.

The Research Triangle area, long known as a top U.S. technology hub with tenants such as IBM, Cisco, Glaxo Wellcome, RTI and others, has also generated startups that became industry leaders such as SAS, Red Hat, Bandwidth and Quintiles.  Not only Durham, but Cary and Raleigh are also evolving strong startup support systems.

The new Durham space, located at 201 West Main Street, the new space is an extension of the award-winning American Tobacco Historic District, home to the original Underground hub as well as many sizable mature companies, and strategically located between Research Triangle Park and world-class universities.

Space for 50 startups

Underground @Main Street, as the expansion hub is known, weighs in at 22,000 square feet with room for about 50 startups (see list below of already-committed companies).

The space — expected to open in the spring — covers two floors and will employ lessons from around the tech world to foster the collaboration, learning, and connections young companies need to thrive.

The City Center building at 201 West Main Street, owned by Self-Help, has a history of hosting entrepreneurial initiatives including the Bull City Startup Stampede and now houses prominent technology companies PathCentral and Blogads.

The new @Main Street site adds to Durham’s growing startup hub, which already boasts close to 100 early stage companies in residence,  The Triangle Startup Factory accelerator, and packed networking events.

Partners put muscle in the ecosystem

Underground leaders recruited regional partners, including the Research Triangle Park Foundation. Says CEO Bob Geolas: “We believe in investing in the entrepreneurial community and we are committed to making those investments and partnerships work. RTP is focused on regional entrepreneurship that will create more jobs and educational opportunities for our state.”

NC IDEA — a catalyst for young, high-growth, North Carolina tech companies — will sponsor relevant content for entrepreneurs via events, networking and other programming.  University partners include Duke, NC Central, NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More information on their plans is coming in early 2013.

Bandwidth, a Triangle-born company that has grown into one of the nation’s largest telecommunication providers, and Yealink will equip startups at @Main Street and @American Tobacco with complimentary phone systems.

“Bandwidth and Yealink believe in the revolutionary power of startups,” says Bandwidth marketing chief Noreen Allen. “As they grow and succeed, we want to be right there supporting them.”

Growing Ecosystem Earns Broad Community Support

Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative is another key supporter. The program seeks to coordinate and enhance the university’s capabilities in education, research and translation to enable both commercial and social entrepreneurship.

“American Underground will help us reach an important goal  — connecting Duke with the vibrant community of entrepreneurs in Durham,” said Eric Toone, the new director of the university’s Initiative.

Self-Help Vice President Tucker Bartlett noted, “The Underground @Main Street fits well with our 30-year mission of fostering small businesses, and empowering communities to provide broader opportunities for everyone. The redeveloped City Center building has been key in helping revitalize downtown Durham, and we look forward to the birth and growth of more successful ventures here.”

@Main Street’s roster of startups already includes Sqord, Archive Social, StartupSpot, Pluribus Systems, Green Plus, Synchear, Impulsonic, Mint Market, SalesTags, Privateer Digital Media, SongBacker, Thryv, iKlaro, HaitiHub, and PlusDelta Technologies.

Interested companies should visit to apply for space @Main Street.


American Underground infograpic

Video about the Durham entrepreneurial ecosystem

A list of Durham-based startups with Web addresses

Want to see the pix someone took across the stadium?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

By Allan Maurer

BerstSo, you’re at the big game and the Quarterback makes a startling play but your cell phone camera misses the crucial moment by an instant. Throughout the stadium, though, hundreds, perhaps thousands of other sports fans took photos. Don’t you wish you could see their pix?

If you had the Berst app on your phone you could.

Berst, founded last fall at the Triangle Startup Factory on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC, is the brainchild of foudners Matt Ramsden and Caleb Foster.

“We had been working on things together and the idea came up after we were playing tennis one day,” Ramsden explains. “We thought it was a really big thing but also something we could use ourselves.”

Berst makes a mobile app for the iPhone and Android phones that makes it easy to connect with people around you. Unlike many such apps, everything it presents to the user is based on location.

Seeing their photos of the game

“If you’re at an NBA basketball game,” says Ramsden, you can call someone across the country, but not across the stadium.” He notes that you may not necessarily want to be friends with them, but you might want to see their photos from the game.

The same is true of concerts, weddings, and “a lot of experiences like that,” says Ramsden. “This is something we know will exist in the next few years. We want to be the ones who do it right.”

When you open the Berst app, he says, “The connection we use is location rather than friendship or interest.”

Users can, however, invite their Facebook and Twitter friends and those on other services to get the app.

“But with Berst,” Ramsden says, “Everyplace you move what you see is different and super relevant to you.”

So, if you’re at a baseball game, your friends in Rhode Island probably won’t care about the photos you’re taking, but the people at the game care a lot about that homerun that just happened. Berst removes the friction from people being able to do that (share photos, etc.).

Working on monetization

Ramsden says his partner, Foster, “Isn’t formally trained but he’s been coding since he was 10 or 12. He created a video game for his friends at 14. He was that kid.”

The app is currently free, but Ramsden says the firm is working on ways to monetize it. “The biggest thing for us now is to reach scale. The difference between 10,000 users and a million opens up a lot of ways to make money.”

While they’re currently focused on getting the app right and scaling up, Ramsden said they’re weighing their options regarding potential funding from outside sources.

“We think it’s a huge opportunity and market,” Ramsden says.


Triangle Startup Factory launches six startups at Pitch Day

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Back in March, when I wrote about the five companies that had been selected for the first class of Triangle Startup Factory, my theme was that in the startup world, nothing happens overnight. It took a long three years and some pivoting to get TSF to the place it is now, and each of the companies, for the most part, had been in the trenches for a while.

Today, those five — Archive Social, RxAnalyticsArcametricsRuzukuBerst, plus late arrival Entasso will hop on stage in Bay 7 of American Tobacco and show you, and a number of potential investors, what they’ve created. Five of the six will ask for money (not from you, you’re cool).

Half of the Factory

I sat down with half of the TSF management team this week — serial CEO, board member, advisor, and mentor Dave Neal — to talk about the class, the semester, and what everyone learned.

Dave sees the pros and cons of the Triangle as a startup hub. The pros are many, and they start with the ideas, which are big, and extend to the talent pool, which is vast. The cons are few and, played right, can be strengths.

The Who and Where

We talked about the class. It’s a class with lots of potential. Having known Anil from Archive Social and Rick and Abe from Ruzuku for a while, and having met Alison from Entasso and Deepak from RxAnalytics shortly before they were selected, I can honestly and definitely say that they started with a great group of entrepreneurs.

We talked about the geography. TSF got a very diverse group of applicants for their first run, and even so, the strength of the RTP led to five of the six being local, with Berst coming down from Chicago.

The Other Side

Dave had a blast, and from what I’ve heard, everyone involved got a lot out of the time they spent at the Factory, from the speakers to the advisors and so on. Dave has been involved in angel-backed, VC-backed, and bootstrapped startups, as well as advising some 18-24 companies over the last two years, so for him, being on the other side of the table was eye-opening

Lessons Learned

I asked him if he’d do anything differently the next time around. He mentioned the application process and changing a few things there. Some of that is already in place – for example, there was no early application process last cycle, so when this cycle’s early application period ended on May 31, TSF found they had a healthy amount of startups already. The final deadline is June 30th, so there will be several more, if not many.

He also talked about amping up the feedback. Like the process any god startup goes through, there’s usually a great deal of feedback and learning and testing and adapting up front, then a heads down period for execution. TSF startups went through much the same process Dave sees feedback being applied to the teams more strongly and through the entire session for the next run.

What’s Next

Obviously, today’s festivities are big, and there will be a lot of follow up for the teams, but they aren’t getting tossed out of the nest tomorrow. All six plan to stay in the TSF space in the Underground until the next cycle begins on August 27th, as the TSF directors provide more connections, more mentoring, and more advisement to the teams in their next crucial fund-raising stage.

TSF has established itself now with two programs per year and a financial offering that ranks in the top four nationwide, but Dave and Chris know they’re not done, not by a long shot. What happens with these startups over the next three months, even the next three years, will reflect on TSF and the validity of its program.

Dave knows this, and he’s tweaking while he extends that runway, even as they ramp up for the next class.

Joe Procopio (@jproco) heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and writers network Intrepid Media. You can read him at

In the RTP: Why Aren’t You an Entrepreneur?

Friday, January 27th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

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.

American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

LaunchBox Digital graduated its first class to come out of Durham in January 2011, with a big event at Bay 7 at American Tobacco ( (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 (

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 ( 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 ( 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 (  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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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

Jason Caplain

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 (

But maybe one-on-one isn’t your thing.

In April, I wrote about the, get this, 28th annual CED Venture Conference (, 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 ( You can read him at and follow him at


Three startup CEOs on digital trends changing our lives

Monday, December 12th, 2011
American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

The technology scene moves fast, but which innovations and trends have the staying power to change the way we live? Startup CEOs at Durham, North Carolina’s American Underground weigh in on the question below.

Gaming Transforms Learning – Jason Massey, Sustainable Industrial Solutions

“In 2012, we’ll see a focus on technology driving breakthroughs in our educational process…from early childhood development to college.  That will range from early intervention for learning disabilities to the college textbook racket going the way of the dodo. For evidence, just look to Chegg or Kno on iPads

Technology, tools and models developed around the explosion of online gaming with companies like Zynga, the power of social networks like Facebook and the time/location shifting tutorials of Khan Academy are creating opportunities for highly scalable but highly personalized educational experiences.

We are seeing amazing breakthroughs in understanding the mind and learning patterns.

Now, we can leverage the engagement and stickiness of online games to achieve a ‘game-ification’ of the learning process that will allow for more meaningful, measurable successes.   Great North Carolina companies like Lexercise are tackling dyslexia via online technologies.”

Trends in “behavior modification” via online games and experiences have the ability to transform our diets, smoking habits and treat our learning disabilities…go figure!  Once a “bubble technology” deemed a “time waster,” these platforms will transform our educational experience.”

Blazing Access Everywhere – Keval Mehta, Jaargon
“LTE (Long Term Evolution) will revolutionize the next few years.  Remember how great wireless was the first time you experienced it?  You could take your laptop anywhere you wanted, except too far outside.  LTE will allow you to finally stay connected anywhere you are with blazing speed.

LTE will disrupt broadband, cable, satellite and the way media is consumed.  We will use LTE to tether internet to our cars and even homes, which will replace our broadband subscription.

Video and audio can be streamed without skipping and new heavy bandwidth applications can be created to push the limit of high speed connections.

Buffering would be a thing of the past.  LTE would allow content developers to create even richer mobile and web applications that take advantage of this higher bandwidth user access.

For example, a user could download a Blu-Ray DVD in a few minutes at the airport before taking off on a flight.  Most importantly, it will open up possibilities for entrepreneurs to create new ideas that may have not been feasible due to bandwidth constraints in the past.

Verizon and other providers are spending heavily and betting that LTE will be the disruptor that they expect it to be.  Get ready to get on the autobahn of informational superhighways!  Hope your battery can keep up.

De-Centralization Opens Up Innovation – Nick Jordan, Smashing Boxes

“De-centralization of information will be an important result we will hopefully see in the next three to five years as a result of large organizations embracing new technology and thus opening many more channels for people to use to communicate and contribute.

Savvy users have already embraced news ways in which to consume and create content , through hardware innovation like smart phones and tablets, and the platforms that are used to distribute content like Twitter and Facebook.

What we will see in the near future is more adoption of these trends from habitual laggards such as government and politics.  Technology provides us the ability to learn about the issues, take action, be educated, and know that what we do and think matters.

I hope that politicians and government bodies embrace the possibilities for mass input on a large scale.

When they do, our country will see greater participation in public life, which will lead to more innovation, more dialogue, more accountability, and eventually a more prosperous nation and economy.  Imagine the possibilities!”

Tech Jobs Under the Big Top: Hot Dogs, Beer, Jugglers, Jobs

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Last night, a guy apologized to me for being between jobs.

It wasn’t the first time, far from it, but having spent the last too many years of my career either working at, working with, or starting a startup, I’ve been “between jobs.” I’ve had all the wrong factors conspire to bring about the worst news at the worst time and been left to ponder what the frivolity I was supposed to do next. Yeah, I’ve been there.

But dude, don’t ever apologize for being unemployed, especially in this economy and especially when you’re taking a chance on doing something potentially extraordinary.

Between a Job and a Hard Place

The reason I bring up the apology is to highlight the way Chris Heivly turned the notion of a job fair on its head on Tuesday night at the aptly-named Tech Jobs Under the Big Top event in Bay 7.

The atmosphere was exactly what you’d imagine at an event with such a preposterous name, down to the straw and peanut shells on the floor. There were hot dogs to eat, beer and soda to drink, popcorn and cotton candy, jugglers, stilt-walkers, and red-and-white fabric draped in such a way as to recall a giant tent.

Big Top IT crowd

Big Top IT crowd

It was well done and charmingly cool — an atmosphere dutifully and subtly created to derail any sort of awkwardness on the part of the job-seeker.

But then you have to remember the context.

Life In and Out of the Cube

I’ve also worked on the corporate side. And I didn’t hate it. I’ve never been one of those punks with a chip on my shoulder trying to stick it to the man by starting my own company. Clarification: I am that kind of punk, but not about work or money. I have three kids and common sense. I’ll stick it to the man by listening to loud hard rock like every other suburb kid my age.

But again, I understand how that environment can elicit an apologetic response when one is forcibly removed from it.

Turns out, the guy had spent 20+ years at what had been a solid corporation, made it through more than a few waves of cutbacks and reductions-in-force, until finally his turn came and with little more than a thanks-for-everything, he was set out to begin his new, unsolicited journey.

In the startup world. This happens all the time. Basically you get up and bust your butt every day to make sure it doesn’t happen by the time you go back to bed.

You get used to that.

So Where Do You See Us In Five Years?

Heivly also turned the tables on the process. The companies involved were all startups at various stages, and they had to pay to be a part of it and they had to bring real, full-time jobs to the table. In all, 15 startups with 85+ open positions participated.

The startups also had to pitch to the job-seekers, rather than the other way around.

Full disclosure: I was there for StatSheet, a Durham-based sports media startup. And we kicked off a series of three-minute on-stage pitches to the job-seekers, telling them who we were, what we did, what the day-to-day was like, and what we were looking for. Ours included a video, as about half of the rest did. Others brought slides. All were compelling.

James Avery from pre-funded ad-delivery product company Adzerk used the Startup Guys viral video and a swear to get a huge and poignant laugh. On the other end of the spectrum, handset-maker HTC (I know, right?) had a top-quality video presentation that underlined their… bigness.

Doug Kaufman from deeper-than-analytics company SpringMetrics used subliminal messages to get the point across. Tobi Walter from financial-organizer Shoeboxed went for the brass ring with a live video feed. And energy device-maker PlotWatt took advantage of the three minutes to make a serious and very provocative pitch.

All Your Networking In One Place

If anything could have been different, we wished for more time for general networking with the job seekers to introduce ourselves in such a relaxed atmosphere, which is probably the best way to make some of those initial fit determinations. As a rule though, we were told (and they were told) to hold off on the serious networking until the end of the pitches, as a matter of respect and to make it fair.

But there was another, maybe unexpected reason to hold off. As everyone filed in at the beginning of the evening, I noticed a general stiffness among the crowd – lots of arms crossed, lots of blank stares. And again, I get it. There were 250 people registered for the event, and another 250 on a wait list. There was a line outside the door.

This was serious business, even if it was presented as exactly the opposite.

Vertical Circus Tents

Big Top presentationWhen the presentations were finished and everyone had eaten and (hopefully) had a beer to get the rest of that edge off, the startup folks were sent off to three tents – one for general business roles, one for sales and marketing roles, and one for technology roles.

We then talked one-on-one with whomever walked up and we answered any and every question they had about the company, the position, the day-to-day, anything we didn’t make crystal in a goofy 90-second video.

This was also very helpful, in terms of linking up with the people with the right skills who now had an inkling of whether there was a fit on their side. I stopped counting at 20 people, most of whom I wanted to talk to again.

But Did It Work?

I think I just answered that.

My colleagues also got a stack of resumes, business cards, and follow-up emails. Having since spoken to a few of the other startups involved, that success seems to have happened across the board.

So in the end it was an interesting experiment but one definitely built on more than a wild hypothesis. It speaks to the very nature of the startup world itself. Do things differently, disrupt, stand out, and at the end of the day you should have something very valuable.

Chris wrapped up by asking people to complete a survey, and that the results might determine whether or not there should be another one. I don’t think he needed the survey. It’s anecdotal, of course, but as things were winding down, I spotted the apology guy leaving Bay 7, smiling, and telling his buddy, “This was the most fun job fair I’ve ever been to.”

When have you ever heard that?

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for sports media startup StatSheet. He also owns consulting firm Intrepid Company and creative network Intrepid Media and runs the startup social ExitEvent.  Joe can be reached via Twitter @jproco or via

Durham-based LaunchBox Digital 4th on ranking of US Startup accelerators

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
American Underground

artist's rendering of the American Undergroun at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC

DURHAM, NC – Durham’s LaunchBox Digital is the only Southeast firm, unless you count two in Texas, to make a list of the top 15 U.S. Startup Accelerators by Tech Cocktail.

The list, compiled as part of filed work for the Kauffman Fellows program by Aziz Gilani in partnership with Tech Cocktail and Kellogg School of Management, weighed financing events, the success of companies funded after completing the program, and program characteristics to establish the rankings.

TechStars Boulder edged out Y Combinator for the top position, while Chicago’s Excelerate Labs and LaunchBox Digital were very close as the third and fourth top programs.

Others, in order, are: TechStars Boston, Kicklabs, San Francisco, TechStars Seattle, Tech Wildcatter, Dallas, DreamIt Ventures, Philadelphia, The Brandery, Cincinnati, OH, Capital Factory, Austin, NYC SeedStart, Betaspring, Providence, RI, BoomStartup, Salt Lake City, UT, and AlphaLab, Pittsburgh, PA.

We recently reported on LaunchBox startup Spring Metrics, which landed seed funding and moved to larger offices in downtown Durham not long after joining the program. Spring Metrics CEO Doug Kaufman recently told us the accerlerator, located in the American Underground in the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, was essential to its quick start and ability to get seed funding.

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Blackstone Group to disclose Research Triangle entrepreneurship initiative

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The Blackstone GroupDURHAM, NC – Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of The Blackstone Group, a $150 billion investment firm, will join elected officials, higher education and non-profit leaders from North Carolina and the federal government’s top technology officer on Monday (April 25) to announce a new entrepreneurship initiative in the Research Triangle Park region.

Some reports speculate that the initiative could be a multi-million dollar project to boost entrepreneurship, new business development and job creation funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

Blackstone was an early partner in President Obama’s Startup America initiative, to which it pledged $50 million.

The Research Triangle area has been an early focal point for Startup America, which held its first public event in Durham. Ping Fu, CEO of RTP-baswed Geomagic Software and UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, both on the President’s Innovation Council, have been strong backers of the Startup America program.

In other entrepreneurship efforts, Blackstone supports “LaunchPads,” and large-scale integrated, region-wide efforts.

In addition to Schwarzman, scheduled speakers include N.C. Governor Bev Perdue; U.S. Senator Kay Hagan; U.S. Representative Brad Miller; Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer; Duke University President Richard Brodhead; N.C. Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms; North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson; and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp.

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship in areas hardest hit by the global economic crisis.

TechJournal South is a TechMedia company. TechMedia presents the annual conferences:


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Digital East:

Digital Summit:


Startup Madness: It’s Not As Crazy As You Might Think

Monday, March 28th, 2011

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

You might know about the Startup Madness event coming up Thursday, 3/31, at Bay 7 in American Tobacco. You may have even attended the event in its former incarnations, Launch Days I and Launch Days II: The Launchening. You probably aren’t aware of the  Launch Days Organization, or that it’s bootstrapped, but if you are, you’ve possibly heard of or may even have met its one-man-band, Scott Kelly.

If you’re familiar with any of this, you likely have questions.

Who is this guy?

What is Startup Madness?

What is his company and what does it do?

What’s the plan?

What’s the endgame?

Does Joe still have a beard?

I’ve Got Answers

I’ve known Kelly for about a year, back when I was doing ExitEvent and he was trying to get his mind around the concept of what Launch Days should be. I’ve never worked with him directly, but I’ve been impressed with his sheer relentlessness if confused about the why.

He successfully pulled off Launch Days I in May 2010, getting over 100 people to pay admission for a networking event that celebrated early stage companies. The first batch of companies included Ruzuku, NeoBudget, BuzzBox, and Argyle Social.

Getting people to pay for anything, especially startup related, especially early-stage startup, is a Rubik’s Cube. And the admission fee also raised the question of Launch Day’s mission. Some light sponsoring of the event, including that from Kelly’s employer, KeySource Bank, added another question mark.

But look, you can’t put on an event without recouping the costs. It’s a for-profit organization and decidedly and unabashedly so.

See? Answers.

The Sequel

Launch Days II had more of an agenda, including a voting  portion for a prize package consisting mostly of advice and introductions from known entities and experts, and this raised a few more questions. Was Launch Days trying to be an accelerator like LaunchBox? And the similarity between the names of the two orgs caused even more confusion.

The answer to the first question is maybe then, but not now. Launch Days had been churning on its focus and reason for being. It could have been an accelerator of sorts, or a network, but has since settled to focus solely on the event.

As for the second item, no, the two organizations have no relationship at all, thus the name change to Startup Madness (which, unluckily enough, is also being used by Brad Feld and TechStars).

Kelly has a list of new names under consideration. I suggested LaunchJournal South.

The companies presenting at the second event were Group Story, JobKatch, Loyalese, SpotPulse, School House, 31 Projects, and WeGeo. School House won the vote handily, and they’re currently rocking along.

Method to the Madness

This time the point of the program is to open up the startup community to the early-stage entrepreneurs and vice versa. The prize is the open rolodex, introductions to various parties, but mostly it’s the opportunity to demo a product or idea to a room full of people who might be able to help.

And that answers a couple more questions

The goal of the Startup Madness event and Kelly’s soon-to-be-renamed company is to create a valuable experience for the entrepreneurial community, and that includes the early-stage companies who present, the audience who wants to help – that could be talent, investment, connections, customers, as well as those invested in the RTP startup ecosystem at large.

Kelly has no intentions of competing with TechMedia’s Southeast Venture,  CED’s Venture, or any other investor event. In fact, the point of Startup Madness isn’t to raise money. It’s more to raise awareness.

It’s his hope that these companies eventually graduate to the larger investor events, and overall the ecosystem here grows larger, receives more recognition, and ultimately deal flow is improved.


Kelly seems to be settled on the events, and also settled on the connection and networking principles of those events. You won’t get a monster windfall from winning Startup Madness, but it will open some doors.

And in the spirit of networking and connection, this time around there’s an afternoon session that includes a spot for students from UNC, Duke, and NC State to compete and receive feedback from a panel with Preation’s Aaron Houghton, Palmer Labs’ Miles Palmer, and EvoApp’s Joe Davy. There’s also an entrepreneur-only lunch and Q&A with Appia’s Jud Bowman.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s time dedicated to public introductions and updates from LaunchBox, NC Idea, and Bandwidth’s Henry Kaestner.

The companies are broken down into two groups this time, Windsor Circle, gokit, and Rippple (with three Ps) are ready to release a product while Adzerk, Obsidian Solutions, Fitsistant (obviously my favorite name), and Motive Logic are existing early-stagers looking to add customers.

What’s the Endgame?

That’s the final question. Beyond pulling off a successful third event in Durham, next on Kelly’s to-do list is to change the name and then replicate what he’s done here in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro, tweaking and expanding as he goes.

So you see, it’s not crazy.

Well, no more so than any other early stage venture.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for sports media startup StatSheet ( He also owns startup consulting firm Intrepid Company and creative network Intrepid Media. Joe also suggested InterLaunch Partners, LaunchStick, and C-E-Launch before realizing it had stopped being funny. Joe can be reached via Twitter @jproco.

Durham American Underground adds six new tenants

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

DURHAM, NC – The American Underground, which occupies the lower levels of American Tobacco’s historic Strickland and Crowe Buildings and is designed to foster collaboration among startups and small businesses, has added six new tenants.

The newcomers include Themis Media, Smashing Boxes, NC IDEA & IDEA Fund Partners, Sustainable Industrial Solutions (SIS) and Zetta Worldwide Tech.

“Locating to the Underground and being amidst Durham’s emerging startup scene  will allow us to be even more accessible and collaborative with entrepreneurs,” says David Rizzo, president and CEO of NC IDEA, which  provides early financing through grants.

“The ‘natural’ and organic networking opportunities that will present themselves just by being  right there at the center of activity will immediately prove invaluable.”

Adds Jason Massy of the energy efficiency-focused Sustainable Industrial  Solutions (SIS), “Since moving back to North Carolina, this is the first place that I’ve experienced in the region that has the organic startup  culture of a place like Silicon Valley.”

Wide ranging new roster

The Underground’s new roster is wide ranging.  Themis Media, for example, describes itself as “like Rolling Stone but for video games.”  Just down the hall, IDEA Fund Partners provides seed and early stage equity funding and expertise to niche companies  throughout the region.

“The scene in downtown Durham, especially at the Underground, is electric  and filled with optimism and creativity,” says Nick Jordan of the Web  development firm Smashing Boxes.  “The collective energy gives us entrepreneurs confidence that the things we are working on matter and will make a difference.  Entrepreneurs face an uphill battle when  starting a business, and being around fellow entrepreneurs is great  therapy to help you persevere.”

Sharita Lawson of Zetta Worldwide Tech agrees, “We wanted to be in an environment where we could pull from the creative energy of those around us and also receive support, both moral and professional, from individuals who have similar visions.”

Here’s a look at the new tenants in their own words:

IDEA Fund Partners, John Cambier: “Since 2006, IDEA Fund Partners has provided seed and early stage  equity funding, along with company building expertise, to IT, materials  technologies and medical device companies throughout North Carolina, as  well as the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

NC IDEA, David Rizzo: “NC IDEA is committed to supporting North Carolina’s economic development by helping young, innovative companies grow, create jobs and become major contributors to the business community mainly by providing early financing in the form of grants. By the end of 2011, we will have awarded over $2 million to 60+ companies.”

Sustainable Industrial Solutions, Jason Massy: “Sustainable Industrial Solutions (SIS) is making American  manufacturing more competitive and reducing greenhouse gases one factory at a time.  We leverage energy efficiency, paid-from-savings  implementations to embed sustainability best practices in a facility.”

Smashing Boxes, Nick Jordan: “We are a user-centric design and development firm that helps organizations build their brand, their audience, and their customer base through Web  and mobile technology.  We work with everyone from prefunded startups to Fortune 500s to nonprofits.

Themis Media, Alexader Macris: “Themis founds, incubates, and operates businesses in new media and interactive entertainment. Founded in 2001, Themis created one of the  first online social communities for games (WarCry), pioneered the first interactive gaming company to focus on community building, player retention and MMO support services (TAP Interactive), and founded the prestigious video game destination The Escapist.  Themis’ media properties reach more than 4.5 million unique visitors every month.”

The new crew joins ‘veteran’ Underground-ers Acorn Innovestments,  Adzerk, CED. Jaargon Ltd., Joystick Labs, LaunchBox Digital Preation and Two Toasters.

The American Underground is not the only place providing a collegial atmosphere and offices aimed at giving startups a boost. TechStarts Plus in Cary, which recently changed its name from TechSuites Plus, is also creating a startup friendly ecosystem. For more information see our previous story about TechStarts:


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Startup Stampede: launch a company in 60 days with free space and support in Durham

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Durham StampedeDurham is becoming a hotbed for startup companies, with more than 50 in downtown alone. The success of the American Tobacco Campus and its startup friendly American Underground, the proximity to Duke University and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill,  Research Triangle Park located 10 minutes away, and the city’s modest-cost-of-living are all contributing factors.

In a guest post on Jason Caplain’s Southeast VC blog, Adam Klein, director of Strategic Initiatives, Durham Chamber, wrote, “The idea for the Bull City Startup Stampede came during a conversation with Preation founder and iContact co-founder, Aaron Houghton. We were talking about how the startup scene in downtown Durham is thriving and that we’d love to expose more entrepreneurs to this environment. That’s when Aaron started talking about a wacky sort of spectacle eared at giving Triangle-based startups a first-hand experience of Durham…from there we launched the Startup Stampede.”

Houghton tells us, “It doesn’t cost the entrepreneurs a thing and they don’t give up any equity.  The space is right in the middle of the startup scene in downtown Durham, 50 startups are within talking distance from this office. The 50mb Internet connection in the space is not currently offered to businesses in NC via cable providers but Stampede companies will get it first (for free) which is really cool.”

Klein added, “The programming for the event will be light but we are planning to bring in some very successful Durham entrepreneurs each week to talk with the Stampede participants about the ups and downs of launching a company.”

Durham startups already employ about 500 people and it’s well known that small businesses account for the bulk of new jobs created. With the RTP’s large tech companies shrinking workforces, we think this emphasis on creating and nurturing startups bodes well for the Bull City’s future.

Applications are due March 11 and selected participants will be notified by March 18. There is no specific industry focus but Kleins says, “We are mostly interested in the background of the founder/team, the market opportunity and the scalability of the concept.”

–Allan Maurer

Email TJS Editor Allan Maurer: Allan at TechJournalSouth dot com.

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90 Days Work in Eight Minutes: LaunchBox Digital 2010 Demo Day

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio
Joe Procopio

RTP was a dark place for startups in the late 2000s.

When Chris Heivly first told me about his ideas for an accelerator program in the RTP, it sounded like an impossible task, but his passion was evident. At the time, I was just beginning to toy with the idea of ExitEvent, my own take on a digital startup community with accelerator style tools, and Chris and I shared the same frustrations.

But I knew if anyone had the skills to pull off an actual real-live incubator here, it was Chris.

RTP is #1 on the  “Places Where We’re Headquartered” List

RTP is an awesome place to live, with so much quality of life that you can actually wake up to the sound of chirping birds and the distinct scent of vanilla wafting into your bedroom.

The area has more talent than you can shake a geek at, and it has most of the foundational tools in place for entrepreneurial success: A fair number of startups, helpful organizations like CED, NC IDEA, etc., and enough behemoth techie companies to bring in even more new talent and also invariably barf out decent crops of early-stage entrepreneurs.

So where were all the big success stories?

That question was the basis of several coffees (well, coffee for me, Chris doesn’t touch it, which is mind-boggling considering the demands of his chosen occupation), to discuss not so much the why, but the why not. Something was going to happen, that was inevitable. It was just a matter of when, how, and, of course, could it be sustainable.

Enter Lunchbox

When LaunchBox decided to move here a little more than a year ago, the stars aligned, mountains got moved, and everything started happening at breakneck speed.

That culminated at the first LaunchBox RTP Demo Day. It’s the third overall, if you’re keeping score, with the first two taking place in DC and producing, out of 17 companies accelerated, a ridiculous nine follow-on rounds and three exits.

People, those are good odds.

Ice… pocalypse?

The funny thing is it almost wasn’t. A freak wave of ice (well, if you’ve lived here long enough, it less “freak” and more “twice yearly”) put the Demo Day show in serious jeopardy. In fact, as I write this from the safety of my palatial offices (or “rumpus room”), I am NOT currently at this evening’s follow-on reception. But that’s cool. I’m all about the information, I’m not in it for the free drinks.

I’m sorry. I stopped for a minute to laugh.

Anyway, as I was on my way to American Tobacco for the show with the radio blaring warnings like “ZOMG! DO NOT GO OUT OF THE HOUSE! IT’S CHAOS! STAY AT HOME AND EAT YOUR FRENCH TOAST!” I expected the worst. Turns out, it was very well attended. And when I thought about it, I realized that I shouldn’t have been surprised. LaunchBox isn’t the only force behind the event, or even their own program. Far from it.

More Important Than Money

The biggest strength of LaunchBox is, without a doubt, the 100+ investors, mentors, and advisors on board to help the program and the companies within. Chris told me this. The startups themselves told me this. “More important than the money,” echoed one of the founders.

The second biggest strength is the outpouring from the community, mostly local, but even from folks like David Cohen from Boulder’s TechStars, who, along with TechStars co-founder Brad Feld, held an event here back in November that included spending a day with the LaunchBox startups.

Ice? That problem already has a solution. It’s called “gloves.”

So the investors, mentors, advisors, supporters, various community members, and I think I saw the Solid Gold dancers, all gathered in Bay 7 along with a covetous roster of investors from here as well as Boston, NY, even the West Coast, to watch these seven startups compress 90 days of sheer labor into eight minutes.

So Who Won?

Speaking of David Cohen, he gave Chris some advice early on – every week someone will ask you which company is the winner and every week you’ll have a different answer. Turns out this was indeed the case. Each company had and has its own strengths and shortcomings.

I’ve had several chances to drop by LaunchBox and talk to some of the startups, including one final visit last week before all the commotion. Here’s a take, as English as I can make it, on each one.

HealtheMe tackles obesity via a personalized learning “behavioral DNA” algorithm delivered via web and mobile. Before LaunchBox, they’d already been operating for three months with 40-50 subscribers.

Leaguescape allows for legal online betting on the data around fantasy sports. Yes. Legal online betting around fantasy sports. Aaron Houghton wondered aloud to me why they would need money in the first place. I answered: “Full page ads that say ‘Yes. This is legal.” Then degenerate sports and numbers freaks like me will knock their doors down.

Slipstream produces a Twitter plugin that reduces noise in the timeline by selectively hiding tweets based on information you give it.

Keona Health started life as a product development and research company but now they have software with a decision engine that optimizes primary care physician admissions, suggesting whether to come in and how to triage. UNC’s Campus Health is on board, and that’s their target market.

Fiscal Pie is online personalized financial planning and advice using social networking  and peer group comparisons. They thrashed quite a bit during the semester, probably the most of any of the companies.

CityPockets converts daily deal (think Groupon) customers into return customers with CRM & targeted follow-up deals. Think retail hacking with a loyalty program.

Spring Metrics came away with the most buzz, which is odd when you consider they came to LaunchBox with “an idea on a napkin” but not at all odd when you consider the team, which is fantastic. Their software collects web analytics data and provides intelligence that connects directly to sales and customers.

Yeah, But Who Won?

We did. Was the event successful? I’d say hell yes. There were more people in Bay 7 on an icy, ugly, frozen morning than there probably were in all the schools and most of the hospitals.

And back to the lack of success stories and the why not? This is a great start. The when is obviously  NOW (think big flashing neon letters) and as for the sustainability, well, that remains to be seen. After all, LaunchBox didn’t get that track record overnight.

But they’ll do it all over again with the application process in April.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for sports media startup StatSheet ( He also retains ownership in consulting firm Intrepid Company ( and creative network Intrepid Media ( Maybe his problem is all the coffee. He can be reached via twitter @jproco.

COIN moving HQ from Raleigh to Durham near American Tobacco Campus

Monday, January 10th, 2011

CoinDURHAM, NC – The area around the American Tobacco Campus is Durham is rapidly becoming the trendy place to be for Triangle-based tech focused start-ups and tech focused organizations alike. Now, the NC Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology (COIN) is relocating it headquarters from Raleigh to The Venable Center, a renovated tobacco warehouse about three blocks from the American Tobacco Campus.

It follows the CED (formerly the NC Council for Entrepreneurial Development), which relocated from Research Triangle Park (much of which is also in Durham, but lacks the kinds of amenities available in the downtown Durham area) to the American Underground on the American Tobacco Campus itself. We also recently reported that several new companies located in the American Underground.

There have even been rumors that open source software firm Red Hat was considering a move to the American Tobacco Campus.

Brooks Adams, COIN’s executive director, notes: “Durham is a hub of entrepreneurial activity, and COIN will now be situated adjacent to the CED, Square 1 Bank, and Intersouth Partners at the American Tobacco Campus and also near numerous biotech startups.”

The Venable Center’s location at 303 South Roxboro Street is on a main thoroughfare in downtown Durham.

COIN will be located in Suite 30 in a structure that was built in 1952 as the shipping and receiving warehouse for the Venable Tobacco Company. The office totals 2400 square feet and has space for events that can accommodate 30 seated or 70 standing guests. The office also has an “open innovation bullpen,” sponsored by Kymanox, where COIN’s team of interns, contractors, visiting partners and members can congregate.

HTC opening R&D operation at Durham’s American Tobacco Campus

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

HTCDURHAM, NC – Bellevue, WA-based HTC, which designs smart phones, says it will open a research and development office in the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC. The company plans to employ 45 people and open the office in March.

The company will benefit from $150,000 in incentives from Durham.

The move is the latest in a flurry of activity at the American Tobacco Historic District. Its American Underground site, which just opened earlier this year, is now home to the NC CED and a handful of start-up firms.

The company lists 14 positions open in Durham on its web site.

“HTC has been successful bringing its unique brand of people-centric innovation to consumers, and with the establishment of this new R&D office, we are taking an important step to extend our leadership position in the wireless industry,” Ron Louks, HTC chief strategy officer, said in a statement. “Durham is a perfect place to open our new R&D office because we are able to tap into this deep pool of technical talent that complements HTC’s leading-edge R&D efforts going on around the world.”

Rumor: Red Hat could move HQ to Durham

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Red Hat logoDURHAM, NC – Rumors about the possibility of Raleigh-based Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) moving its headquarters have persisted throughout 2010 and may be resolved next year, if talk on the street is correct.

Talk of moving the Linux software developer to the West Coast has been one rumor that former executives confirmed earlier this year never ceased to be discussed within the company.

Now, while the company has made no secret of needing larger digs than its current space at North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh, rumors suggest the company may be considering a move to Durham.

Much of the Research Triangle Park itself is in Durham, but a space there would be isolated from amenities just as the Centennial Campus is. Many RTP firms decry the lack of choice in restaurants or even a place to drop off dry cleaning and have for years. Still, the company could probably find the increased room it needs there and address remains prestigious.

Durham, on the other hand, has a flourishing tech community centered around the American Tobacco Campus that includes the recently opened American Underground, now home to CED and a number of start-ups, as well as some larger tech tenants.

Of course, Red Hat would want a much larger space – as much as 300,000 square feet, some say – but even being near the ATC would add to the collegial atmosphere of a more tightly knit tech community.

That seems to be the new paradigm for many technology centered parks these days, which are as likely to spring up in a downtown area of a city as in some dedicated industrial site.

The Piedmont Triad Research Park in Winston Salem, NC, and the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, NC, both life sciences oriented, were built on that new model of a community, not just an industrial park.

Rick Smith over at WRAL’s Local Tech Wire, has suggested the possibility of a Red Hat move to Durham. Capitol Broadcasting Co., owner of WRAL, is also an owner of The American Tobacco Campus.

Email TJS Editor Allan Maurer: Allan at TechJournalSouth dot com.

Five new startups locate at Durham’s American Underground

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

DURHAM, NC – Two months after opening its doors as a new hub for entrepreneurs and start-ups, the Underground — located at the American Tobacco Campus – welcomes five new companies: Acorn Innovestments,  Adzerk, Jaargon Ltd., Preation and Two Toasters.

The American Underground is providing the type of space many early stage companies always wished existed in the Research Triangle Park. It has restaurants and other amenities within walking distance and an atmosphere that promotes interaction.

“We want to be in what we believe will be the hotbed for a new wave of  entrepreneurs and startups in the Triangle area,” said Rachit Shukla of the eight-person Two Toasters.

Aaron Houghton of Preation echoed the point, “There are 50 software start-ups in walking distance of the American Underground.  We want to be part of the Durham start-up scene.”

After ramping up in what might be record time, the Underground is now stocked with a slate of diverse and dynamic organizations, many with backing  from seasoned entrepreneurs like Houghton (co-founder of iContact).

“Being close to other start-ups and organizations supporting start-ups is incredibly valuable,” said Adzerk’s James Avery. “It gives us a chance to learn from each other and someone to enjoy a late night beer with before going back to work.”

The new team joins the Underground’s original line-up of Launchbox Digital, Joystick Labs and CED (Council for Entrepreneurial Development).

“Being close to Duke University and the airport makes the Underground great  for connections and travel,” said Keval Mehta of Jaargon Ltd, the company behind, among other ventures, GoToAid.  “The setup of the conference rooms and class rooms, and having other entrepreneurs to confer and network with is the best.”

The fast start took even the Underground’s founders by surprise.  “Yes,  Durham is a hive of entrepreneurs, and, yes, those entrepreneurs need a  stimulating, central place to work and make connections,” said Michael Goodmon, vice president of real estate for Capitol Broadcasting Company,which owns American Tobacco.  “We suspected there’d be interest, but it’s been exciting to see it come to life so fast.  And there’s still more ahead.”

But being a small start-up in Durham can have its drawbacks.  At Acorn Innovestments, one of the key players cottons to Duke while the other Walter Devins of Devins Law Firm — lines up with UNC-Chapel Hill.

Acorn’s Mike Noël said , “During certain local collegiate sporting events, the atmosphere within the partnership is at times a bit tense.”

The Underground’s new neighbors are chasing the following missions, in their own words:

Acorn Innovestments, Mike Noël : “Acorn Innovestments focuses it’s investments on start-ups and early stage companies with special attention to advanced materials, manufacturing, and environmental technology, in addition to other investments in which Acorn can contribute strong strategic value-add.  In 2011, we will grow our networks in the Triangle and state-wide start-up community, while being an integral part of its growth and promotion.”

Adzerk, James Avery: “Adzerk is building a next generation ad server, our goal is to make the bannerads and other advertisements you see on the web more effective, faster, and less intrusive.  In 2011, we are going to be launching our product to the public (we are currently in privatebeta). We will also be hiring our first full-time employees.”

Jaargon Ltd, Keval Mehta: “Jaargon Ltd is becoming a leader in delivering health care information  conveniently and on demand through mobile devices.  Our first project,  GotoAID, is the premiere first aid resource on the internet and on  mobile devices.  Our focus is on ‘Mobilizing Healthcare’ by taking the medical “jargon” out of health care and bringing it to a level a non-health care professional can understand.  We believe that by providing these tools we can empower people to take responsibility for their own health.”

Preation, Aaron Houghton:
“Preation helps small businesses acquire new customers from the search engines and social networks.  In 2011, we are launching version 2.0 of our Eden Platform product and will be hiring more software developers and user interface designers.”

Two Toasters, Rachit Shukla: “Two Toasters is a mobile agency; we focus on strategy, design and development of iPhone and Android applications. We are the mobile team behind a lot of successful venture-backed startups.  In 2011, we will hire exceptional individuals who understand that mobile is the future of computing, achieve national recognition as mobile experts and have fun  growing the business we started from scratch.”

TechStars Brad Feld and David Cohen Do More Faster in Durham

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

I’d like to take a moment to publicly dispel the myth that I keep a small apartment in the back of Bay 7 at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. For the last time; a futon, a blacklight, and a hot plate do not constitute a residence.

But could you blame me if I did?

American Tobacco is quickly, and I mean quickly, becoming the entrepreneurial hub of the RTP. I remember working for a company there some years ago, at the very inception of the campus, and it was evident even then how much energy was coming out of the joint.

Fast forward to Monday night, when Bay 7 was the venue for an evening with Brad Feld and David Cohen from TechStars in Boulder, promoting (lightly) their new book, Do More Faster, who themselves remarked at the coolness of the place and the enthusiasm of the crowd.

It was like an intimate theatre rock show for nerds.

Listen More Harder

Last Friday, I dropped by the American Underground, the hub-within-a-hub of the campus. And when I say “dropped by,” I mean I was there to scarf leftover box lunches and play the sweet “Kung Fu Master” coin-op game they have hidden away down there.

I bumped into Chris Heivly from LaunchBox and Adam Smith from Square 1, who were sponsoring the evening, as they were putting the finishing touches on the setup for Brad and David’s talk.

It was pretty obvious by that point how big an event this was going to be, but it was also obvious how perfect the timing was. American Tobacco has pretty much come of age, and Monday’s entrepreneur night should no doubt be the first of many similar events there.

But I still find that I have to qualify statements like that with other statements along the lines of “just because it’s a hub, doesn’t mean it’s an island.” A hub has spokes, and those spokes extend not only through Durham, but into Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Morrisville, Cary, etc. I’m an outsider. I like being on the outside. That’s the reason I don’t have said apartment in ATC. Well, that and the credit check.

Ego Books and Consulting Books

And speaking of outsiders, Feld and Cohen have that aura of outsiderness. I first heard Brad Feld at a panel at an investor conference earlier this year. He stuck out exactly like what he was – the only guy on the stage not in a suit.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That conference happened to be the only other time I wore a suit this year (a necktie is like the man slowly strangling me, blah blah blah…)

You also couldn’t find nicer guys.

The first few moments of the evening were spent talking about the book and how it came to be. Brad mentioned that there are two kinds of books in the startup genre: Ego books, those written by entrepreneurs with one or more successful exits and that read more like a memoir, and Consultant books, written by non-entrepreneurs who spend a lot of time consulting for entrepreneurs.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with either of these. My ego book is going to make my consultant book look not shameful at all.

Straight Outta Colorado

Do More Faster is neither. It’s written with insight from Brad and David mixed with advice from many of the companies that have been through TechStars. However, I’m not going to review the book. There are more better places for that and besides it’s not my thing.

But here are the points form the evening, which was mostly Q&A, that I wholeheartedly agreed with (there’s my thing).

Should I work for a startup first or just start a company?

The short answer is yes. If you’re dying to work in the startup community but don’t have the idea or haven’t found the passion required to suffer through getting your company off the ground, go work for a startup. Otherwise, don’t let any notions of lack of experience get in your way.

What are the ingredients for a successful entrepreneurial community?

First and foremost, it’s a shared desire by a whole bunch of people (an allusion to all of us in the room) to see said community happen. But you also need leaders, about a dozen, they said, who are willing to put in a 20-year commitment. Not three, not five, not ten.

Feld asked if there were any leaders in the room. No hands went up and, seriously? That’s not a good sign. But maybe no one wanted to risk the douchery of labeling themselves a leader. Oddly enough, the people who identify themselves as leaders rarely are. I learned this from watching Survivor.

Oh, you also get voted off for that.

Another ingredient is a pay-it-forward mentality – openness, sharing, giving — at all levels of the food chain. I actually think RTP has this in spades, but you have to know where to go to find it.

How do we keep successful companies here?

This was my favorite question. It was also my favorite answer.

Embrace failure.

The companies will stay here if the entrepreneurs know that they can fail and start over. And while I have a whole other column lined up dealing with failure, when they mentioned this concept, it immediately struck me as something we in the RTP don’t do well.


Failure still has a stink to it in the RTP. I think part of it has to do with the fact that the beginning of the entrepreneurial renaissance here coincided with the dot-com bubble. So when the first failures happened here, the same sort of hand puppet stigma was attached to them. And maybe that’s the only way we know how to deal with failure.

So it’s up to today’s entrepreneur to find new, fantastic, mind-blowing, cosmic and utterly unbelievable ways to fail. And it’s up to the entrepreneurial community, the one we want so bad, to let them.

Joe Procopio is a technical, management, and product development consultant who has worked with startups for years and started a few of his own. Several of them were failures, but mostly just emotionally. He can be reached via twitter @jproco.

CED launches “Start Something” Twitter pitch contest

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

CEDDURHAM, NC – The North Carolina CED (formerly the Council for Entrepreneurial Development) has launched a “Start Something” Twitter pitch contest for entrepreneurs. The overall winner will receive an Entrepreneur Gift Pack that includes a 2010 Lenovo ThinkPad Edge notebook computer and more.

CED invites entrepreneurs to share the “something” they are starting with an elevator pitch contest via Twitter. The opportunity gives both new and established business owners a platform to showcase the way their respective organizations are making a difference in the community and changing the game with new ideas, perspectives and innovations.

The Twitter Pitch Contest will run through the month of September. Qualified business pitch entries must be 140 characters or less, or will be disqualified. There are two ways for entrepreneurs to submit their business pitch entry – via Twitter or posting to CED’s blog. If using Twitter, tweet your pitch in 140 characters or less and make sure to include the hashtag #CEDNC. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can submit your pitch via CED’s blog.

Winners will be announced at CED’s housewarming event held October 28, 2010, at its new headquarters, The American Underground at the American Tobacco Campus.

Though there is no cost to enter the Twitter Pitch Contest, the housewarming event is $15 per person which includes two free drinks and light appetizers. The cost will be the same for members and non-members and will include music, guided tours of the American Tobacco Campus, and additional games and raffles to win prizes.

6fusion grabs $3M funding, relocating to Research Triangle

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

6FusionDURHAM, NC – 6fusion, which has developed an algorithm that radically simplifies the metering, consumption and billing of compute resources, has raised $3 million in a financing led by Intersouth Partners in its first institutional round and is moving its headquarters to the Research Triangle.

The funding will be used to add to its senior executive team and expand research and development as the company continues to scale. “6fusion is growing at a fierce pace,” said John Cowan, co-founder and CEO of 6fusion.

6fusion has developed an algorithm that radically simplifies the metering, consumption and billing of compute resources, called the Workload Allocation Cube (WAC).

The WAC is the most granular and universal metric for metering and delivering Infrastructure-as-a-Service.

The company also has developed a platform called UC6 which provides a single pane-of-glass user interface for customers to dynamically provision cloud workloads internal or external to their organization.

Katrin Burt and Mitch Mumma of Intersouth will join the company’s board.

The company will be temporarily housed at Intersouth’s offices at the Amercan Tobacco Campus, Durham, until it finalizes its new headquarters location. It was previously located in Wilmington, DE.

6fusion considered every major market before deciding to relocate the company to Research Triangle Park. “The Research Triangle has a rich history of strong infrastructure development and a cadre of growing companies, which makes it an exciting place to locate our company,” said Cowan.

“As cloud computing continues to redefine IT delivery, we look forward to playing an important role in establishing the Research Triangle as a key location for the industry.”

New American Tobacco Campus space sparks Underground energy

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

By Joe Procopio

You know why I’m pumped these days?

I’m a true-believer in the notion that you don’t scrimp, save, and fret yourself out of the tail end of an economic downturn. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m actually the first one to start sweating, cutting coupons, and sending clients large “thank you for not unfunding us” gift baskets when things turn sour, but you do this on the way down, not on the way up.

I’m not suggesting we spend ourselves out of the recession, I’m just suggesting we might want to party our way out of it. Especially here, especially now, together we can lift the RTP out of the vanilla, “quality of life” quagmire we’ve been in since the 1980s.

And no, not parties like those famous for popping down the dot-com bubble, although part of me misses the salad days, but parties like the one they threw for American Underground.

American What Now?

So American Underground is this space in the American Tobacco Complex designed to house up to 70 small entrepreneurial high tech companies with shared conference space and amenities. It opens in the fall. Oh, it also has three incubator/accelerator anchors – CED, Launchbox Digital, and Joystick Labs.

The announcement of American Underground took place in a coming-out party on July 20th, if you can still call an 11:00 a.m. gathering of people in khakis with no alcohol or DJ a party, and believe me, we should and we will.

In fact, I’m starting to enjoy these kinds of parties even more, mostly because there’s less chance for me to make an ass of myself. Not no chance. Just less chance.

Top Secret!

Once the fanfare was over it was pretty clear that American Underground was one of the best kept secrets in the Triangle.

I first heard about American Underground months ago, and that was probably several months, if not years, late, so I’m not patting myself on the back for having cool friends or being in super-secret inner circles. I have a Discover card.

However, having spent enough time with people from CED, Launchbox, and Joystick over the last few months, these things inevitably come up. I wasn’t sworn to secrecy, no NDAs were signed. I just didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to steal anyone’s thunder.

Why? Because, like I said, this crazy army of like-minded ilk we call the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the RTP needs a little more thunder. A little zazz. A little energy.

And that’s exactly what American Underground is designed to do.

Underground Energy

Launchbox has already selected two companies on the way to filling out their full incubator lineup by August 31. These companies are being imported from California and Colorado. Imports. That’s a good sign.

Chris Heivly, who is running the thing, says he’s most excited about the energy that will flow through American Underground. With the addition of the Underground, he says, the American Tobacco Complex and Durham are the new center hub for technology and innovation in our area.

And look at Durham go. Who knew?

Energy = Synergy

Juan Benito, who runs Joystick, talks along the same lines but also adds the very good point about the additional energy thrown off as Durham evolves into a center for arts and music as well as technology.

He also points out that another very good reason to be excited is the cross-collaboration between the accelerators and the startups and even between the startups themselves.

Hub the World

While American Underground is a very good hub, remember, a hub works best when it’s spoked.

Let’s use this as a model, Triangle Tech and Startup People, to not only spoke those in the Park to American Tobacco and downtown Durham, but to create other hubs in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, and so on, until we’re not only a world class place to graduate, stay, live, and work, but a world class destination, competing with That Other Place for talent from all over the world

Joe Procopio is the founder of Intrepid Company, a technical and management consulting firm ( that has spun out publishing company/creative network Intrepid Media and digital incubator ExitEvent. He’s asked us to add that it’s a Discover Platinum card. He can be reached at or twitter @jproco.