Recent articles in Entrepreneur Magazine dig deeper into “what it takes to build a startup city” and “can cities be a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs?” revealing that Raleigh not only understands but fully embraces the importance of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneursat down with Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and uncovered that the city’s work with local partners to develop a thriving startup community has been successful largely due to collaborative initiatives and a “boots on the ground” approach.
Two local entrepreneurs, Jay Dawkins, founder of Cityzen, and David Shaner, founder of Offline, provided their thoughts on the points Mayor McFarlane made in the articles, and why Raleigh has become a burgeoning community of innovation. Both Jay and David are also NC State University alumni and graduates of the Raleigh-based ThinkHouse, a co-living space designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs to help recent graduates build scalable companies.
Jay Dawkins and David Shaner: Why Raleigh’s startup community has flourished
“I don’t know of many cities who can point to their mayor as a case study for how to start and successfully grow a company,” says Jay of Mayor McFarlane. He continues by highlighting the success of public-private partnerships in the region, “The Red Hat-Citrix Accelerator is a great example of embracing public-private partnerships to support entrepreneurs with the resources they need.” The Accelerator is a joint initiative between the City of Raleigh, HQ Raleigh, Citrix and Red Hat and will enable teams of entrepreneurs to access capital connections and civic resources, and also offer an opportunity for teams to apply for city funds, if they locate their ventures in Raleigh.
Jay also references the availability of talent as a major factor for startups, “You can’t walk ten feet in this town without bumping into an engineer or programmer. There are so many talented and creative professionals flowing out of the six local colleges and universities, including three tier-one universities.”
David cites the hiring of the city’s first Entrepreneurship Manager, Derrick Minor, as being integral in moving initiatives forward and connecting entrepreneurs with the resources they need to be successful. He adds, “There is a robust entrepreneurial pipeline in the area which offers connected steps along the way to guide young entrepreneurs.” Some organizations he references includeStartup High, a summer experience where teens engage local entrepreneurs, local universities that nurture innovation through tailored curriculums, and post-college programs like ThinkHousewhich is a natural transition into HQ Raleigh and other nearby incubators. He builds on this by noting the density of networks for startups and entrepreneurs starting out in the area, “For young entrepreneurs, it’s critical to make as many connections as possible and to be able to stand out. Compared to places like San Francisco and New York City, innovators have access to the resources and connections they need to get on their feet.”
David reflected on his experience as a student at NC State who reaped the benefits of a university that values innovation, “I was influenced to start my own business when I enrolled in Senior Design through the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program as a result of hearing a guest lecturer during one of my chemical engineering courses.” David then became involved with the Entrepreneurship Initiative, becoming a member of the Garage and attending the annual Spring Break trip to Silicon Valley.
With a community and leadership that emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship, it’s no surprise that Raleigh was recently ranked the number twelve best city for young entrepreneurs in the U.S. by Forbes. The rankings were measured based on access to funding, opportunities for networking and mentorship, the local economy, and cost of living.
About Cityzen and Jay Dawkins
Cityzen is a web application that helps Government and Planning clients better engage their citizen audiences through embedded feedback tools in social media. Working with the Raleigh Planning Department, they’ve reached over 80,000 residents to gather input on public projects. Jay Dawkins ’10 is a former NC State University Student Body President and civil engineering graduate.
About Offline and David Shaner
Offline is a website and app that encourages people to fall in love with their city. They curate the best date ideas, restaurants, events and entertainment and make personalized recommendations based on a user’s interests. Users post pictures of their adventures, making Offline a bit like Instagram meets a curated Yelp. David Shaner ’12 is an NC State University valedictorian, graduating from the chemical engineering program.
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