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.


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.


Go to Durham — the foodie capital of the South

Durham, North Carolina, has one of the most exciting and varied dining scenes of any Southern town, with everything from regional favorites like biscuits and barbecue to tastebud challengers such as beef tendon crackers and black garlic ice cream. Here’s how to keep your belly happy all day — and night — in Bull City.


Start your day at Scratch, which — as the name implies — makes all its baked goods in-house. Bypass those tempting pies and fuel up with a real breakfast, like shirred eggs with a wedge of thick buttery toast ($5), or, the antidote for any hangover: a fried duck egg sandwich with cheddar cheese, pickled onions, bacon jam and roasted garlic mayo tucked inside a soft bun ($9).


Hanging out on the back patio of Parker & Otis is a Durham ritual — and one of the most peaceful times to visit this gourmet eatery/gift shop is on a weekday morning. Breakfast is basic but tasty — two eggs with bacon and a house-made cheddar cheese biscuit will run you $6.99. The java is freshly brewed from noted local roaster Counter Culture Coffee.


You don’t want to miss the perfectly charred wood-fired pie at Pizzeria Toro, but the evening wait can be a long one. Drop by for lunch instead, when you can easily secure a spot at one of the blond wood tables. Go old-school — red sauce, anchovies, garlic and basil ($14) — or try a seasonal specialty, like white pizza with fiddlehead ferns, nettles and grated artisan grana ($17). Even tired kale salad gets a kick here with a dash of spicy chilies, tossed with toasted pine nuts and shaved parm ($10).

The grill masters at 250-seat barbecue shrine The Pit don’t mess around — smoking whole hogs on a hot summer day isn’t for the faint of heart. Slathered in East Carolina-style hot sauce and vinegar, the pork is served chopped, pulled or sliced; complementing your meat-fest are staple Southern sides like collard greens, fried okra and black-eyed peas. The Pit also offers a massive selection of bourbons, with many hard-to-find local ones like Slow & Low, crafted from rock candy.

You don’t have to buy a ticket to the Rafael Viñoly-designed Nasher Museum of Art to enjoy the organic fare at the Nasher Cafe — and contemporary art lovers should peruse its outstanding collection. The cafe (which also does a weekend brunch) has gorgeous salads with produce and meats sourced from local farms; if it’s a nice day, the patio, with its bucolic wooded setting, is the perfect place to enjoy your meal.


Chef Matt Kelly is busy building an empire in Durham. He started his career at the French-inspired spot Vin Rouge, opened the Spanish-themed Mateo Bar de Tapas in 2012 and will reveal two more downtown spots this summer (Lucky’s Deli and Mother & Sons). Mateo, which earned Kelly a James Beard nomination, is Spanish but with Southern influences, too — like North Carolina-sourced hams and cheeses among the traditional jambon and queso offerings. It also boasts one of the largest sherry selections in the country.

Set on the ground floor of the year-old 21c Museum Hotel, Counting House has one of the city’s most dramatic interiors — a towering 23-foot ceiling, double-height windows and sleek white walls dotted with artful animal sculptures. But the menu soars, too, with local seafood and regional specialties — Carolina rice salad, shrimp and grits — expertly prepared in the open kitchen. Cap it off with an after-dinner cocktail inside the historic downstairs bank vault.

Two stories of Asian bliss, Dashi offers hearty bowls of ramen noodles on the first level, while upstairs — look for the patterned manga wallpaper — is the izakaya, where you’ll find some of the most interesting cooking going on in Durham. From the grill is a smorgasbord of meaty goodies, from spicy miso chicken to wasabi beef tongue to yuzu kosho (spicy chili) marinated pork heart ($4-$7). The takoyaki hushpuppies ($8), based on the ball-shaped Japanese snack, is made with octopus and served with a citrusy yuzu mayo. Careful: the black sesame nori popcorn ($4) is quite addictive.


Set a 1937 former bank in downtown Durham, the 125-room 21c Museum Hotel (from $200) — the fourth in the 21c chain — features Deborah Berke-designed interiors that pay homage to the building’s Art Deco past while incorporating modern furnishings and amenities. The rotating collection in the multi-level galleries — which are free and open to the public 24/7 — feature new and notable contemporary artists; many works are chosen to engage with the local community. To that end, restroom signage, designed by artist Peregrine Honig and titled “We Don’t Care,” was recently installed — in response to North Carolina’s controversial transgender Bathroom Law.

Across the street is the new 53-room mid-century modern Durham Hotel (from $279) which features an indoor/outdoor rooftop lounge and a restaurant from James Beard Award-winner Andrea Reusing.


We’re Here, We’re Beer, Get Used to It

Part of Fullsteam Brewery owner Sean Lilly Wilson’s brewing ethos? “Not letting beer be the total be-all, end-all.”

Since opening in 2010, Fullsteam has built a strong reputation based on quirky beer names (Coffee Is for Closers), a family-friendly attitude (check out the wall of board games) and quintessentially North Carolina beers. “Beer has a role within community, with food, and a role in life in general,” he says. He’s more into incorporating it into life in general, which is why Durham is the perfect fit for his beer.That might sound strange coming from a self-declared beer lover, let alone one who owns one of Durham, North Carolina’s most beloved breweries. But it’s exactly that mind-set that’s catapulting Bull City into the limelight as America’s latest, greatest craft beer destination.

The exterior of Fullsteam’s brewery and tavern | Photo: Courtesy of Fullsteam Brewery

A variety of factors contributes to Durham’s growing beer scene—the first of which is ironically thanks to Prohibition. The Pop the Cap movement began in 2003 to lift the state’s mandated 6 percent alcohol content limit, a law that had been around since 1935. “It was a stupid law that needed to go,” Wilson says. The law was the Berlin Wall between Durham and the craft it would become known for, and once the law changed in 2005, it threw the doors open to more innovative and exciting brewing—leading us to where we are in 2016.

Bullish on Bull City

Durham originally gained traction from the tobacco industry, which means there’s simply the space to support new breweries, thanks to an abundance of large, empty warehouses. “Before Fullsteam started, there was nothing in this area,” Matt Pennisi, owner of newcomer Durty Bull Brewing Company, recalls. Now there’s a nonprofit urban garden, a giant coffee roastery and a handful of breweries nearby. “We start making people want to come to the area, and then restaurants pop up.”

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And then there’s the midsize-city mentality: “Everyone wants to be local, and buy local, and eat local, drink local,” Pennisi says. “Farm-to-table restaurants,beer dinners that are with farm-to-table.” He likens Durham to Portland and Denver, in that they’re all “a little bit gritty” but full of farmers’ markets and local love. And it doesn’t hurt that the beers happen to be unique and overwhelmingly excellent: Think bold sour beers from Durty Bull, a variety made from local foraged persimmons at Fullsteam and distinctly German options from Bull Durham Beer Co.

Chris Davis, Durty Bull’s head brewer | Photo: Alex Maness

Play Ball

We have German-born Sebastian Wolfrum to thank for those German styles: He’s the treasurer of the NC Craft Brewers Guild and the executive brewmaster of Bull Durham. It was the first craft brewery to open in a minor league baseball stadium, and it’s all just quirky enough and created with respect to the stadium that it works. It uses a fast bottom draft filler, which minimizes foam waste, and fans can tour the brewing area during the game. Brewing happens around the clock during the season, but when the last strike is called in September, the brewers start their own game, using the off-season to play around and make new brews.

Brewing beer at Bull Durham Beer Co. | Photo: Ben Roaman

The Spirit of Co-opetition

Just as Bull Durham reflects its niche habitat, Durham’s breweries reflect the city’s growing landscape. In the case of Durty Bull, literally: The bar is made of reclaimed wood from demolished houses down the road, as Durham clears the way for more housing developments. The state is a hotbed of recent political spotlight, and more than 30 breweries banded together to create a “Golden Rule Saison” as a response to the controversy. The teamwork involved with the one-off beer isn’t uncharacteristic, which Wolfrum refers to as “co-opetition.” Despite the high amount in a concentrated region, and nearly 140 total in the state—compared to 28 at the turn of the century—they’re sticking to safety in numbers.

When Durty Bull had to store a giant cooler during the chaos of construction, nearby Ponysaurus gladly spared the space, and when it needed a forklift to unload material, Fullsteam stepped in. “We only stand to gain if we have a big-tent mentality,” Wilson says as he looks down at picnic table. He points out a faded Bull City Burger logo, showing that these were sent over after thedowntown brewery didn’t need the tables anymore.

“We did something for them,” he says. “I forget what it was. You don’t tally it up.”

Our favorite Durham brews:
• Coffee Is for Closers, Fullsteam Brewery
• Fig Saison Ale, Ponysaurus Brewing
• Durhamer Ale, Bull City Burger and Brewery
• Carver, Fullsteam Brewery
• Lollygagger Kolsch, Bull Durham Beer Co.


Durham lands among top emerging tech cities to live

$58.8 billion was invested in the US through venture capital in 2015, making it the biggest benefactor of this investment type in the world. That money was invested in everything from financial services to biomedical research. A substantial portion of the money was also invested in America’s world leading technology sector.

While Silicon Valley still dominates the technology landscape when it comes to American investment statistics, emerging cities all over the country are also getting in on the action and creating opportunities for millions of Americans. The New Tech City Index ranks these emerging cities based on a number of metrics including industry wages, employment levels, and average house price (see below for full calculation).

So, where is the best American city to live for tech professionals?

The top 10 cities ranked were:

  1. Denver, CO
  2. Framingham, MA
  3. Oakland, CA
  4. Atlanta, GA
  5. Boston, MA
  6. Austin, TX
  7. Santa Ana, CA
  8. Baltimore, MD
  9. Durham, NC
  10. Boulder, CO

Charlotte ranked No. 17; Raleigh No. 18

View the entire list here

Durham lands among top emerging tech cities to liveMORE INFO

Raleigh-Durham ranked among the top in Glassdoor’s ‘Best Cities for Jobs’ list

Online jobs and recruiting company Glassdoor has released its list of the top 25 cities/areas in the country that are good for jobs.

Not surprisingly, the Raleigh-Durham area ranked well. But not as well as it did last year when it took the top spot in the nation.

In fact, the Triangle ranked No. 8 in the nation this year, behind four cities near the West Coast, and behind some perennial chart toppers such as Boston; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C.

But a closer look at the numbers and the methodology shows a market in Raleigh-Durham that is very stable with a gradual rise in number of job openings, median home value and the diversity of job classification.

According to Glassdoor, the Triangle has about 34,660 job openings with a median salary of $62,000. The three hottest jobs in the area right now are registered nurse, research associate and software engineer.

Last year, the Triangle got the top rating with 24,000-plus job openings and a median salary of $50,000 – both substantially lower than this year’s number.


Moogfest Schedule, Weather Updates, Parking Options and More…

Moogfest is “Rain or Shine” for the May 21 Performances at American Tobacco.

For the Moogfest schedule, click here

For the latest weather and performance updates at American Tobacco, follow Moogfest on FacebookTwitter or the Moogfest website.

Follow American Tobacco on Facebook & Twitter.

You can find more information to include Moogfest Schedules and Events, Parking Information and Weather Updates at

Parking at American Tobacco for Moogfest

Bike Parking

Thursday, May 19- Sunday, May 22

  • Location: Diamond View Park
  • Fee: Free
  • Other: Bring your own lock

Car Parking

Thursday, May 19

  • Daytime Parking (8 am – 5 pm) – Not Available
  • Special Event Parking for Durham Bulls, DPAC and Moogfest start at 5:00 pm
  • Fee: $5.00 per car

Friday, May 20

  • Daytime Parking (8 am – 5 pm) – Not Available
  • Special Event Parking for Durham Bulls, DPAC and Moogfest start at 5:00 pm
  • Fee: $5.00 per car

Saturday, May 21

  • Daytime Parking starting at Noon – North Deck (limited), Elkins Lot (limited)    
  • Special Event Parking for Durham Bulls and Moogfest start at 4:00 pm
  • Fee: $5.00 per car

Sunday, May 22

  • Daytime Parking – All decks will be open
  • Special Event Parking for Durham Bulls, DPAC and Moogfest start at 3:00 pm
  • Fee: $5.00 per car

Alternate Downtown Parking Locations for Moogfest

Church Street Parking Garage

  • Thursday and Friday: special event – $3 – 5pm – 10pm
  • Saturday: special event – $3 – 9am – 10pm
  • Sunday: special event – $3 – 9am – 5:30pm

Corcoran Street Parking Garage

  • Thursday and Friday: special event – $3 – 5pm – 10pm
  • Saturday: special event  – $3 – 9am – 10pm
  • Sunday – special event – $3 – 9am – 5:30pm

Durham Centre Parking Garage

  • Thursday – Saturday: special event – $3 – 9am – 10pm
  • Sunday: special event – $3 – 9am – 4:30pm

Chapel Hill Street Parking Garage

  • Thursday and Friday: $1/per hour from 8am-7pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: free parking – first-come, first-serve

Surface Lot #8 – Thursday and Friday:  $1/per hour from 8am-7pm

  • Saturday: special event – $3, 9am – 10pm
  • Sunday: special event – $3, 9am – 4:30pm

Surface Lot #14 – Thursday and Friday: $1/hour from 8am-7pm

  • Saturday: special event – $3, 9am – 10pm
  • Sunday: special event – $3, 9am – 4:30pm


Out of 25 U.S. Cities, Report Names Raleigh-Durham Fourth Most Thriving Startup Ecosystem

The Triangle got a national nod this week for its penchant for digital innovation and thriving local startup ecosystem. Ranked fourth in a national evaluation of America’s best cities to lead the digital economy, Raleigh-Durham stood out for its concentration of dynamic startups leading the charge in health and tech innovation. It fell just behind Boston, San Francisco and Denver. San Diego ranked fifth.  Led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, The and Washington D.C. startup hub 1776, the second annual Innovation That Matters 2016 report includes analysis of 25 US cities. Researchers indexed data sets across a series of city-specific attributes, including: talent, capital, industry specialization, density, institutional connectivity along with cultural statistics. They conducted a comprehensive survey of more than 330 startup leaders.  Researchers also met with public and private industry leaders in each city to evaluate the various environmental conditions contributing to ecosystem leadership. A roster of local startup founders along with leaders from key academic, corporate and civic institutions participated in organized roundtable focus groups to help researchers identify both successes and opportunities for improvement.  In Durham in late January, local participants included: Mason Ailstock, Research Triangle Park; Laura BavermanExitEventAnil Chawla, Archive Social; Kevin Davis andDennis Newman of Duke University’s Office of information and Technology; Chris Heivly, The Startup Factory; Derrick Minor, City of Raleigh; Brett Wolfe, Microsoft; andAdam Klein, American Underground.  That roundtable led researchers to identify the following key levers attracting entrepreneurs to the area: strong openness to new ideas, a high quality of life and a favorable regulatory environment.  “The Triangle ecosystem works because of the low friction between universities, startups and civic entities. There is a long history of collaboration between these different spheres, especially with the creation of RTP, that makes it easy to build and sustain conversations within the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Klein, chief strategist of American Underground (ExitEvent’s parent company). “I’d contend that and the density of startups activity in downtown nodes will be crucial to our future success.”  Continue Reading by Clicking HERE