“Genius does not discriminate by zip code, but opportunity does.”
You can read that line with the lens of your own history. If you are a minority, you may live in an area that discriminates, closes the doors of opportunity for minority entrepreneurs, forcing you to overcome the lack of resources that are open to others or move your startup to an area that is more inclusive.
With my lens, even as a white male, I first related to this statement yesterday because not only did I live outside of the massive stack of startup resources of the Durham/Raleigh zip codes, but I had to start entrepreneur startup organizations to bring startup resources to places like Charlotte, Asheville and Wilmington in North Carolina.
Meaning even if you were a white male, certain zip codes didn’t even have the infrastructure or resources to support multiple entrepreneurs even in a booming city like Charlotte.
CED is now over 30 years old and with that kind of experience and reputation, they have the gravitas with the entrepreneurial community to move upward while evolving to also be more inclusive. Of course with strong women in charge like Monica Doss and now Joan Siefert Rose and strong female board members, CED has always been inclusive of women without having to make a statement about that.
CED and American Underground, the title sponsor, have evolved and are on a mission for inclusion and diversity in the startup scene. And this was a statement event. The first three people on stage were women, including Jessica Averhart, an African-American executive from American Underground.
If you are not from North Carolina, American Underground in Durham is the model for redevelopment from an abandoned 250,000 sq ft. tobacco warehouse to an economic driver that is a magnet for brain gain and job creation. For the first time, I heard the word “CAMPUS” to describe American Underground. American Underground has achieved the true “live, work and play” status that modern entrepreneurs and young employees are looking for. Within a few blocks, entrepreneurs and their employees can live, walk to the office and have their social network meet them at a restaurant or go to the famous Durham Bulls AAA baseball stadium with modern amenities and the only craft beer brewery inside a stadium.
Moving up the Scale
CED is evolving up the ladder in North Carolina and more specifically the Durham / Raleigh-based entrepreneurial ecosystem. As new co-working spaces, accelerators and other event-based organizations have taken on the idea-stage startups, only CED has the experience, credibility and resources to move up to help scaling startups. This is also helped by the fact that the Triangle is now on their third generation of startups. As entrepreneurs like Scot Wingo, chairman of publicly traded ChannelAdvisor, are on their third or fourth startups, they are now giving back by investing in angel funds, venture capital funds and taking on mentor roles through organizations and at local and regional universities.
The female founder behind Savvi Cares, Michelle Harper was a great example of the power of the full experience of the resources for startups in the Triangle area. She listed being helped by CED, HQ Raleigh, SOAR and the Venture Mentoring Service and mentioned this was not her first time on stage at one of these CED conferences.
Back to the Original Appeal of the Conference
As the conference has evolved to include more mature, scaling startups, the entrepreneurs have had less of that first-time adrenaline energy that made the event special for me. Except for one of my favorite startup pitches today, Thomas Doochin the CEO of Communigift.
Doochin had that energy that made me fall in love with entrepreneur development. The big wide eyes that show that they appreciate the opportunity to present in front of the high number of investors in the crowd. The appreciation that with the right handshake and exchange of business cards, they might have the fuel to help their startup takeoff towards success. In just the last year while being an entrepreneur with a fast-growing startup, Doochin had also just graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and moved to the Washington, D.C. area.
To put a humorous bow on this summary of this event, the final speaker of the day had one of the best job titles I have ever seen, Dan Ariely of Duke University who is the founder of the Center of Advanced Hindsight.
Looking forward to experiencing more greatness at this event today with Joe DeSimone of Carbon 3D, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor who has churned out a few of the best startups in North Carolina.