What the Research Triangle can teach Louisville about the startup ecosystem

October 26, 2015 10:04 am

In keeping with the Advantage Louisville 2020 plan, EnterpriseCorp, the entrepreneurial arm of Greater Louisville Inc., has been exploring the possibility of an entrepreneurial center in Louisville.

I have been traveling across the Midwest and Southeast to examine best practices among other entrepreneurial communities.

Startup and tech sectors are in constant motion, and it is important that our local business leadership grasps the new challenges and menu of proactive policies that promote a thriving economy. Density, mentorship, capital and effective university-supported entrepreneurship seem to be the pillars of dynamic entrepreneurial environments.

Contrary to most strategic planning initiatives, EnterpriseCorp aims to keep the community abreast of what was discovered after each visit as we learn new information. The goal is not to create “the big reveal,” but rather to follow along Brad Feld’s model On Startup Communities by sharing our findings with the community in real-time, because transformational entrepreneurship is constantly at work.

In early October, I visited the Durham/Raleigh, N.C., area on a trip curated by Joan Siefert Rose, president of their Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), a privately funded nonprofit comprised mostly of locally based corporate partners.

CED was launched in 1984, with client work and programs very similar to what EnterpriseCorp offers, but as the community grew, the organization evolved to become a connector for mentors and capital-building relationships with local angel groups, individuals and venture capital firms nationwide based on the region’s highest needs.

Siefert Rose arranged for meetings in Durham with First Flight Ventures, American Underground (AU), Startup Factory, and Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. In Raleigh, we visited HQ Raleigh, NC State’s Garage, and The Frontier.

Durham’s AU and Raleigh’s HQ Raleigh offer co-working spaces that are in high demand and have waitlists. Raleigh, with a population of approximately 600,000, hosts a co-working, small office and general program space with 150 startups. It was started by a group of four entrepreneurs, one with experience in real estate, who were all willing to take the chance on a large facility and longterm growth.

AU was originally founded in part by the Durham Chamber, with their chief strategist eventually joining AU for the same role. AU is part of the American Tobacco Campus, created largely because of passion and generosity of the Goodmon family. The Goodmons view this facility as a break-even or even an operating loss building that can serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth in the area.

The takeaways from North Carolina mirror the lessons from Brad Feld — the community has to rise to the occasion for transformational entrepreneurship. Support groups such as CED or EnterpriseCorp can lead the charge on research and conversation for the community, but it is only through the grassroots efforts of active entrepreneurs and passionate social investment that Louisville can rise to the top.

Amelia Gandara is the director of commercialization and engagement for GLI’s Enterprise Corp, where she and her colleagues seek to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem for small, early and second-stage fast-growth firms. Previously, Gandara was community manager for GE’s FirstBuild and holds a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. You can reach her at agandara@enterprisecorp.com.

Originally published at insiderlouisville.com on October 26, 2015.