Oct 31 2012

Successful Example of a Feeder’s Involvement in the Durham Startup Community

I recently received an email from Chris Heivly and Dave Neal who recently  spent an hour talking about the Boulder Thesis and what it means for them in RTP/Triangle/Raleigh-Durham. I’ve gotten to know Chris and Dave through a few trips in the past to Durham along with their work at Triangle StartUp Factory, the accelerator they run in Durham. They offered an example of how a feeder – the Durham Chamber of Commerce – has effectively engaged and supported the Durham startup community. The example follows:

When you talk about the role of governments, institutions, and associations as feeders I felt like I wanted some more examples.  We have a very unique Chamber of Commerce here in Durham and I think they serve as a good example.

When I first started talking to you and David Cohen in the fall of 2009 about an accelerator here in Durham – you planted the entrepreneur-led, organic/network thesis in my head.  I was on a 275 person in a year tour of the area testing the accelerator thesis and one of those meetings was with the head of the Durham Chamber, Casey Steinbacher and a young associate, Adam Klein.  They asked to get involved and I pushed hard on the “you can’t control this – you need to support this” thesis.  We gave them a task – raise awareness. They bought it big time.  They reached out to the entrepreneurial community for thoughts, advice, help and then took off.  If anyone would have told me that I would be working with a Chamber of Commerce I would have told them they were crazy.  They are true partners in our ecosystem today.

To date, they have spearheaded two contributing efforts that have really helped support & grow the region:

  1. The first was the Durham Stampede, an application based program which offered 60 days of free space in a cool downtown location for 10-15 startup (mostly around software tech).  I and others supported their effort by being one of about 8-10 experienced entrepreneurs who came in to share our best practices and get these founders networked.  The goal – simple – raise awareness of the scene in Durham.  They have operated 3 programs in the past 18 months.
  2. Their 2nd offering was called the SMOffice – the world’s smallest office.  An application based offering that provided free office space (80 sq feet) in the corner of the coffee shop that is the equivalent of “Buck’s” in Durham.  The winning team got the space for 6 months as well as a free condo.  3 sisters from Illinois with Durham roots were selected (they are building an Etsy for just NC based artisans).

Total costs run less than $5k per Stampede session and most everything was donated for the SMOffice.  I find these efforts to be totally supportive of the greater good and consistent with their strengths.