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'There’s an energy here': Triangle area recognized as a growing startup hub in U.S.

The Raleigh-Durham area is one of the top 20 hubs for tech startups in the country, according to recent data from the Progressive Policy Institute and TechNet.

Out of the top 35 metro areas for tech startups, Raleigh-Durham was named the 17th best hub—beating the neighboring city of Charlotte, which was named the 29th.

The Institute used the Metro Startup Economy Index—a normalized count of job listings in the area that include the word “startup"—to rank the hubs in two lists. The “tech hubs” list included the top 10 startup focal points like San Francisco and New York, and the “next in tech” list included the cities ranked 11 to 35.

“Many of these metro areas are not typically associated with startup growth but, in reality, have come to embrace startup culture—and they have the jobs to show for it,” the report noted.

For student entrepreneurs like senior Judy Zhu, founder and CEO of the Walla app, the entrepreneurial culture and community at Duke have provided many business opportunities and a major support network.

“I think the startup culture in the Triangle is awesome. It’s really tight-knit,” she said. “We call ourselves ‘the Silicon Valley of the South’ because there are so many talented people here and so many resources to the point where I find similar networks here to what I would find in Silicon Valley.”

Zhu said that what she loves about Duke is not only its entrepreneurial scene—“more than that it has a good everything scene,” she said.

She added that she doubts she would have started Walla if she had not tried five other clubs on campus beforehand.

“The attitude of ‘you can do anything’ is so prevalent here at Duke, and I think that is the biggest gift a university can give to its students,” she said.

Zhu also noted that she has noticed the underground entrepreneurial community growing recently—an observation also made by Megan Greer, the director of communications and outreach for the North Carolina State University Entrepreneurship Initiative.

“I’ve seen the entrepreneurship landscape and community as a whole—N.C. State and Raleigh, Duke and Durham—really flourish in the last few years,” Greer said. “I think that there’s a lot of excitement and interest around entrepreneurship, and I’ve seen [N.C. State] collaborating more with the community in the last couple of years.”

Greer explained that N.C. State offers space for students to pursue ideas in “The Garage”—an area where students can use rooms to meet or check-out equipment to fabricate their ideas.

The Garage also hosts weekly “community office hours,” where area professionals come in to offer advice to students.

The initiative has several community partnerships and sponsors a handful of recent alumni to live in the ThinkHouse in Raleigh to continue fostering their ideas after graduation. Greer said that the initiative’s resources and programming have impacted more than 1,200 students at N.C. State during the last academic year.

“We’re creating a pipeline of fostering entrepreneurship while they are students at N.C. State and then there are places in the community, like American Underground and HQ Raleigh, that are ready to accept these talented entrepreneurs with open arms after graduation,” she said.

At Duke, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative’s Bullpen serves as its downtown hub of entrepreneurial innovation. Marie-Angela Della Pia, the community director for the I&E Bullpen, said that the space has hosted 496 meetings since it opened in September 2015.

Della Pia explained that Duke offers a variety of ways for students to become involved in entrepreneurship—such as the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate, Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs and the Duke Startup Challenge. She noted that entrepreneurship is not limited to technology or startups, but that “it’s really anyone who has an idea and wants to work on it.”

The amount of effort people in the Triangle put into their entrepreneurship pursuits is what makes the innovative culture so special, Della Pia added.

“I don’t know how to articulate it, but there’s an energy here and it’s sincere and it’s true,” she said.


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