The Story Behind the Explosion of the ‘Startup Capital of the South’

A rapper, a broadcast company, a chamber of commerce, a downtown booster group, a credit union and one of the world’s best known tech companies. This unusual cast of characters is driving Durham, N.C.’s emergence as what CNBC now calls, “the startup capital of the South.”

The fact is, unlikely partners sometimes produce undeniably appealing ideas — whether the ultimate objective is launching a company or re-launching a city.

Durham is a former tobacco and textile boomtown that, like many industrial cities in the 1980s and 90s, fell on hard times. Enter the comeback’s first unlikely player, Capitol Broadcasting Company, which decided to add to its television and radio portfolio a massive and derelict tobacco factory. CBC lovingly turned the old warehouses into office space, which opened the doors to successful companies eager to set up shop near universities such as Duke, NC Central, NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill.

But what about the next generation of innovators? CBC eyeballed a storage basement and somehow found it exactly right for the development of the American Underground, a co-working space for entrepreneurs that might otherwise opt for Silicon Valley or Boston.

The American Underground grew into a 250-company campus and reached well beyond the city’s borders to establish a fruitful association as one of the country’s eight Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hubs.

Another way to grab the attention of startups, the Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham Inc. stepped in with two defining ideas. The Bull City Startup Stampede brought three dozen early stage startups to Durham with the lure of free temporary space and a network of entrepreneurs ready to help. Soon after, The Smofficelaunched, known as the “world’s smallest office,” eventually placing one startup in the front window of a downtown coffee shop.

While Durham’s offbeat approach was now its calling card, the city’s greatest strength was its diversity.

Ranking among North Carolina’s most racially diverse metros, the Bull City boasts a proud history as a southern capital of black finance. The American Underground teamed with community leaders to launch the Black Wall Street networking series, which, among other programs, is designed to fuel good ideas and make sure Durham’s success includes everyone. As has become our custom, the startup community found an unconventional way to celebrate, tapping Professor Toon, the American Underground’s Rapper in Residence, to deliver via video our 2015 annual report.

Many ambitious cities desire a bursting portfolio of startups. But without broad community support, efforts may die on the vine or flame out when the next hot thing arrives.

In Durham, we’ve found that diverse teams with an array of perspectives and skill sets make for both innovative solutions to immediate challenges and sustained success.


Time to Shine

“You’re never fully dressed without a shine,” is the tune of Nick Nichols, who can be found at Classic Bootblack, his shoeshine stand between Saladelia and the American Tobacco Barber Shop in the Crowe Building of the American Tobacco Campus. “Shoe shinning is a necessity, like cleaning your clothes,” Nick tells me as a customer climbs up into his shoeshine chair.

Read more in Durham Magainze.


Leadership Triangle Bids Fond Farewell to Longtime President Winkie La Force

(Research Triangle) – September 20, 2016 – Winkie La Force, who helped build Leadership Triangle into one of the region’s premiere coaching and engagement platforms for emerging and established business and community leaders, will retire from her role as president in January.

Jesica Averhart, currently community engagement director at The American Underground startup hub, will assume executive director duties by first quarter 2017 after a transition and orientation period.

La Force arrived at Leadership Triangle in 2002 and quickly made her mark. She established an alumni network so that graduates could keep in touch and help bring along new classes. She set and met ambitious fundraising goals. She steadily increased corporate and nonprofit involvement. And she launched the annual Leadership Triangle Awards Gala.

“Winkie is one of our region’s greatest assets and a driving force for the progress we’ve experienced over the past several decades, says Michael Goodmon, vice president of real estate, Capitol Broadcasting Company, and, chair, Leadership Triangle.

“Winkie leaves very big shoes to fill and our board was unanimous that Jes Averhart is the perfect successor to lead this institution into the future. Like Winkie, Jes personifies Leadership Triangle’s values. You won’t find anyone more collaborative, community-minded and action-oriented than Jes.”

Averhart joined the staff of The American Tobacco Campus in 2011 and took on a series of high profile roles. She helped to conceive and launch Mission Post, a corner of the award-winning campus designated as a collaborative space for nonprofits. She helped to organize and execute beloved community events such as the annual tower lighting. In 2014, she moved to the nationally recognized American Underground startup hub where she spearheaded corporate partnerships (with the likes of Google for Entrepreneurs, Fidelity, Coastal Federal Credit Union, Wells Fargo and others) as well as happenings such as Durham’s annual Black Wall Street activities.  

La Force plans to remain active in the Triangle community. Among other adventures, she’ll apply her well-honed leadership skills to exploits involving her roster of four grandchildren.

About Leadership Triangle

Leadership Triangle is a non-profit organization established in 1992 to educate and promote regionalism across the separate communities of the Triangle. It does this through regional and leadership development classes, seminars and awards. We strive to build leadership capacity, cooperation, and networking opportunities across the public, private and civic sector, preserving local uniqueness while acting regionally to deal with issues such as traffic congestion, water quality, housing affordability, open space, school funding, economic and social equity.


2016 Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge

The Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge is one of the region’s most successful and highly visible “fund-and-friend” raisers for non-profits.

Application Deadline

Deadline for the application is Friday, October 14, 2016 5:00 pm EST.  No applications will be accepted if the postmark is dated AFTER Friday, October 14, 2016.

Upon receipt and confirmation of all the components above, we will issue you a confirmation.  Remember, there are only 54 trees available on a first come, first serve basis!

Download the Application HERE

Download the Representation & Warranty HERE

DPAC hits new attendance records, ranks among top 5 U.S. venues

Durham Performing Arts Center entertained more than half a million guests during the 2015-16 season, setting new records for attendance and ranking in the top 10 attended United States venues for the fifth time.

Pollstar Magazine, an entertainment industry publication, ranked DPAC as third in attendance among reporting theater venues in the United States. DPAC’s total attendance hit 511,073, a 14 percent increase over last season. Its eighth season also saw an increase in total events and sellout performances compared to last year, with 249 events and 119 sellout performances. DPAC seats 2,700, and opened in 2008.

Last year, DPAC ranked No. 4 by Pollstar and No. 3 by Billboard and Venues Today.

Top Five Broadway Events for the 2015-16 Season:

  • The Lion King
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Beautiful
  • The Illusionists
  • Sound of Music

Top 15 Concert Events for the 2015-16 Season:

  • Aretha Franklin
  • Duran Duran
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Hall & Oates
  • Frankie Valli
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Jill Scott
  • Jackson Browne
  • Gladys Knight & The O’Jays
  • Patti LaBelle
  • The Moody Blues
  • Ricky Martin
  • Faith Evans & Mase
  • Yanni
  • Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

First and second, respectively, on the magazine’s list were Fox Theatre in Atlanta and The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.


‘Pokemon Go’ helped me meet 100 new friends at a baseball stadium

A baseball stadium outside regular operating hours ranks as only the fifth-weirdest place I’ve visited since Pokemon Go was released a week ago. The Durham Bulls opened up their downtown ballpark to allow trainers to walk around and catch Pokemon. We could have done it at home, or in our own backyards, but this wasn’t about actually catching them — it was about the experience. We were players of the same game, inside a stadium and none of us were athletes.

It’s hard to know what to expect when you approach this kind of promotional event. Minor league affiliates routinely use wacky giveaways or special theme nights to boost attendance, but the Bulls didn’t tie this to a game. The feeling of ennui poured over me during the drive to Durham, N.C. What if it was just me and three middle-aged guys walking around the outfield of an empty stadium catching Pidgeys? As much as I hoped the event would be amazing, my expectations were low.

Then I arrived.

Scores of people teemed around the entrance to the stadium and the surrounding streets. Routinely you’d see a group take off, running down a side alley to catch a rare Pokemon that just popped on their map. Every Pokestop in the downtown area had a lure on it, an item used to attract Pokemon. I overheard an overjoyed little girl who was unable to contain herself, “I’ve never seen so many Pokemon at once, mom! OH MY GOD I JUST GOT A DUGTRIO!”

The box office was busier than it had any right to be for 10:30 am on a Tuesday morning. Three lines were perpetually full of people waiting to plonk down their $5 to enter a stadium and never see any sports.

Every game needs a plan.

When the gates opened just before 11 a.m. I had a plan. Sure, I wanted to experience the event and talk to Pokemon Go fans, but I also had my eye on a Psyduck. Objectively the best Pokemon, I was in dire need of more Psyducks to level my own — and for whatever reason the downtown area was full of them.

Walking into the ballpark was a surreal experience. Every PA system and speaker was tuned into music from the Pokemon soundtrack, advertising boards were showing Pokemon. I took a quick loop around the concourse and watched my Psyduck’s proximity bounce between 2 feet and 1, an in-game metric to tell you just how close you are to a Pokemon.

Rounding the nearest entrance I head to the field thinking perhaps the Psyduck in on the field itself, and despite being well over 90 degrees the field was dotted with Pokemon fans.

The best thing about Pokemon Go isn’t the nostalgia, or hunting for Pokemon or the exploration — it’s the shared social experience. Anyone with a phone out suddenly becomes a potential acquaintance, and the confines of the stadium became a safe space to approach anyone and share notes. It’s not dissimilar to attending any sporting event in a stadium. Fast friends are made in an instant by just sharing their opinions on the team, or in this case commiserating about the app crashing for the 15th time in as many minutes.

“I heard there was a Kabuto in the dugout a little while ago,” a fan told me “but I haven’t been able to catch him. Best thing so far is a Nidorino — so that’s pretty sweet.”

I asked him if he’d seen the Psyduck, but to no avail.



Research Triangle: incubator for business

The redevelopment of the American Tobacco campus in Durham, N.C., has helped to change the city’s trajectory and provide a home for entrepreneurs.

Durham, N.C. — It’s hard to imagine now, but the bustling entertainment district in downtown Durham not so many years ago was a decrepit cigarette factory filled with bat dung and pigeon droppings whose last best use was as a practice field for the local SWAT team.

The American Tobacco works were a civic embarrassment by the late 1990s. American Brands had pulled out in 1987, and the home of Lucky Strike and Bull Durham was crumbling. Its demise nearly killed downtown Durham as other businesses fled. It was an eyesore, visible to travelers along the Durham Freeway that passes nearby.

But with the help of a visionary business leader, Durham re-imagined American Tobacco. Since reopening in 2004, the development has been filled to the brim with bars and restaurants, apartments and chic new offices. The handsome home of the city’s beloved minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, stands right across the street flanked by attractive red brick office buildings along the outfield walls. The glassy Durham Performing Arts Center opened nearby in 2008. An adjoining Aloft hotel came along last year.

And inside American Tobacco, you can get a glimpse of what’s coming next in the Research Triangle.

American Underground, one of the top entrepreneurial hubs in the country, is here. It’s where young companies take flight. There’s Mati, founded by Tatiana Birgisson, who began brewing her carbonated energy drinks as a Duke University student. Now, she’s selling them in Whole Foods. And there’s Nugget, a maker of foldable couches hatched by a couple of students at UNC-Chapel Hill. And Smashing Boxes, a digital product agency.

The Research Triangle area of North Carolina — with Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill at its vertices — has long turned good ideas into business enterprises. World class universities attract an enviable supply of talent. and a range of companies — from startups to Cisco, BASF and GlaxoSmithKline — keep that talent anchored. The Triangle has one of the highest levels of educational attainment in the nation.

Read the entire article HERE.


Let it Bee: A Durham Start-up Works to Save Honey Bees…and Our Food System

I don’t understand most of what Albert Einstein said, but this particular quote seems pretty clear: “Mankind will not survive the honey bees’ disappearance for more than five years.”

Yikes. That’s quite the literal and metaphorical buzz kill.

It wasn’t so long ago that it seemed you’d see a small cluster of honey bees – specifically, European honey bees, or if you’re the scientific type, Apis Mellifera – frantically examining every flower you came across. But if you want to get an idea of what’s happened to honey bees in recent years, just go out and try to take a picture of one. They’re not so easy to find any more.

Experts at the Center for Research on Globalization reported in 2015 that over the previous five years, nearly one-third of the United States’ bee population vanished. And that’s not good for any of us.

“We need the bees,” says Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, founder of Durham-based Bee Downtown. “They’re dying around the world at alarming rates. Every third bite of food you eat is the result of honey bees’ work. Without them, the world would be in a really bad place.”


A really bad place, indeed. And not just because we wouldn’t have honey to make all those breakfast cereals or sweet candies. Bees are one of our planet’s primary pollinators, transferring pollen and seeds from flower to flower, fertilizing plants so they can produce fruits and vegetables. In the US alone, honey bees pollinate about $15 billion worth of crops each year, including all kinds of fruits, vegetables, melons and nuts. Every spring, California’s almond growers truck in half of America’s honey bee population to fertilize more than 80% of the world’s almond supply.

Honey bees even have an impact on meats and dairy products, pollinating crops like alfalfa that feed our nation’s cattle.

Concerns about the future of our food system spurred Bonner to start Bee Downtown, a company that creates and sells rooftop and clear storefront observatory hives in urban locations. Despite what you might assume, bees thrive in cities, with downtown hives serving as feeder populations to rural areas, as newborn queens fly off to start colonies elsewhere.

Continue Reading the Blog HERE