WCED Blog


Raleigh Rises as an Entrepreneurial Hub

Raleigh, NC

Raleigh has long been associated with innovation thanks to corporate tech giants like IBM and Cisco in Research Triangle Park and more recently Red Hat and Citrix in downtown Raleigh, but within the last few years, Raleigh has emerged as a hotbed of innovation springing out of the local startup community. Part of this is why we attended SXSW, to learn more about continuing our growth as an entrepreneurial region and how other areas rose to prominence. Mayor Johnson's theme during his time as Chair of the US Conference of Mayors spoke to cities like Raleigh as 3.0 Cities where they are hubs of entrepreneurship, innovation and must create the next economy. Mayor Johnson was a panelist at SXSW and spoke to this theme during his 'Bootstrapping Your City's Innovation Ecosystem' session. 

Currently, Raleigh is home to more than 500 startup companies, totaling 2,500 jobs in a wide range of industry sectors including Software, Life Sciences, Consumer Products, Design-Media, and the Internet of Things. In the last 3 years alone, startups in Raleigh have raised over $300 million in Angel and Venture Capital investment. In addition, over the last 5 years, startup companies in Greater Raleigh have generated economic activity of over $1.1 billion from IPOs and over $9.2 billion in acquisitions.

Raleigh has the benefit of being part of the larger Research Triangle innovation landscape with 16 different cities and towns bringing forth new ideas and concepts and attracting talent from all over the world. North Carolina as a whole saw 191 equity deals in 2015, with 70% of those deals being in the Research Triangle. Thanks to the likes of those equity deals and a growing pool of top talent, the Research Triangle has approximately 100 middle-stage high growth companies, and 49% of those companies call Raleigh home.

The success and continued growth of Raleigh as an innovation hub can be partly attributed to the collaboration that happens in the area. The City of Raleigh helps propel this collaboration thanks to Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s goal of having Raleigh become a top five hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. In the past 2 years, the Raleigh Innovators Program has been a great example of private-public partnerships. The accelerator is a joint initiative between companies like Red Hat, HQ Raleigh, and the City of Raleigh and enables teams of entrepreneurs to access potential clients, industry experts, internal corporate resources, capital connections, as well as the opportunity for teams to apply for city funds, if they locate their ventures in Raleigh. At SXSW, the 'Bootstrapping a City Innovation System' session spoke to the importance of public-private partnerships and also the role mayors play in the innovation ecosystem. They stated Mayors need to lead innovation to get things done.   

In addition, there are organizations like Innovate Raleigh that act as a catalyst, connector and convener by bringing together entrepreneurs, corporations, community leaders, and government at year-round events and theme-driven summits. Innovate Raleigh isn’t the only organization hosting entrepreneurial focused events, across the Triangle hundreds of entrepreneurial-focused events are hosted each year to help connect and educate those in the field.Read about two local entrepreneurs take on the collaborative environment in our area.

The entrepreneurial scene is fueled partly by the abundance of resources available here starting with the three tier-one research universities — North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to generating top talent, each university has their own entrepreneurial programs. From NC State’s The Garage which is an “IP-Free Zone” to Duke’s Bullpen, students are testing and producing cutting-edge technologies and products that are being commercialized and brought to market.

A huge resource for budding startups is the more than 140,000 square feet of collaborative workspace currently in existence (or under construction) within innovation hubs like HQ Raleigh,ThinkHouseThe NestTech Incubator on Centennial Campus,DesignboxAudacity FactoryLoading DockNew South Manufactory and Industrious.

With a community and leadership that emphasizes the importance of entrepreneurship, along with a growing infrastructure to support early stage companies, it’s no surprise that Raleigh has been noted nationally as an up and coming innovation hub.

National coverage of Raleigh’s innovation scene:

The 7 Hottest Startup Hubs (That Aren't Silicon Valley) by Inc.

How Emerging Entrepreneurial Hubs Are Becoming America's New Boomtowns by Forbes

What It Takes to Build a Startup City by Entrepreneur Magazine 

5 startups that are reimagining the world  by CNNMoney

Citrix, Red Hat Boost Startup Culture in Raleigh, N.C. by TheStreet

Is North Carolina the Silicon Valley of the South? by Fox Business News

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