Friday, December 2, 2011

Start to Finish - Entrepreneurialism in Durham, NC

Imagine a community welcoming to people with ideas, passion and the desire to start a business; a place where when people hear the ideas of others they respond with “How can I help?” instead of “Good luck;” a place where even failure is ok as long as the road there is lined with integrity.
That place is Durham, NC.
Durham, a city with deep entrepreneurial roots, has been garnering national attention for its progressive and innovative nature for hundreds of years. Durham is home to Research Triangle Park (RTP), the largest high-tech research and science park in North America.  In addition, Downtown Durham is home to over 60 startup companies employing more than 500 people.
The startup culture is hardly new. Durham has always been a hotbed of entrepreneurialism - the Great American Indian Trading Path ran through here; a route that was an early manifestation of entrepreneurial activity.  In the 1860s, Washington Duke started what grew into the mega-giant American Tobacco Company from pocket change.  Businesses like Durham-based Cree and Quintiles grew from a handful of employees 25 years ago to their current status as multinational companies with thousands of employees.   
More recently, in 2011, Durham was the first stop on the US Small Business Administration’s national tour of roundtable discussions called Startup America: Reducing Barriers. In other words, entrepreneurism is an essential part of Durham’s DNA. 
With the startup landscape flourishing in Durham, the future looks brighter every day.  An influx of small business incubators and accelerators has drawn entrepreneurs to Durham from around the world, all of whom have a dream and the drive to succeed.  Organizations like JoyStick Labs, LaunchBox Digital and Bull City Forward, to name a few. 
Much of the success of these small businesses can be traced to organizations and programs that help entrepreneurs thrive.  The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham Inc. have hosted The Bull City Start-up Stampede, a competitive initiative matching start-up companies with free office space and technical assistance.  CED, the regional council for entrepreneurial development located in Downtown Durham also provides entrepreneurs with the necessary resources and tools to start and grow their businesses.  
Duke University recently launched a major campus-wide initiative in innovation and entrepreneurship led by Kimberly Jenkins.  A Duke alumna, Jenkins’ resume includes working with Microsoft’s Bill Gates back when it was a start-up company, leading the marketing department for Steve Jobs at NeXT, as well as stints advising companies such as Sun, Oracle and Cisco.  This effort will help keep bright graduates close by and further expand the societal impact of Duke innovations. 
Turns out, Durham is also a great place to be to work on stepping away from a business that has grown to great success, too.  Two of Durham’s entrepreneurs, Jess Eberdt and Doug Townsend, did exactly this and maneuvered away from the daily operations of their hugely successful business Parata Systems.  They started Tempus Durham, a firm that helps successful entrepreneurs do exactly as they have done, devise an exit strategy from a successful business to have freedom to pursue other things. 
Durham has myriad stories of dreams that became ideas that became realities that grew into great successes.  It’s really a city to be reckoned with when it comes to starting a business, routinely being named in the same breath as Silicon Valley.
Considering that more than 80% of relocating executives visit a location first before deciding to move their companies, the success of Durham as a visitor destination can only further encourage the natural evolution and current momentum that made Durham such a highly sought-after business climates in the U.S. 

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