A Backyard Acquisition: Why Local Startups Need Local Corporations - 1

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A Backyard Acquisition: Why Local Startups Need Local Corporations - 1
Conner Burt is head of partnerships and sales for Lesson.ly, an Indianapolis-based startup that digitizes and simplifies employee training, client onboarding and corporate education. He moved to the Triangle in September 2013 to open a local Lesson.ly sales office at HQ Raleigh. He also coaches men's soccer at North Carolina State University.

SAS, Red Hat, iContact, Channel Advisor...they've grown up to be success stories for the Triangle, great places to work and formidable employers of the region.

But as a Triangle transplant of 5 months, I'm asking one question:

Where is the corporate involvement in Raleigh's fresh entrepreneurial scene?

I come from Indianapolis, which has grown an entrepreneurial scene much like Raleigh's. There are good success stories and a few darlings (ExactTarget, Angie's List, Tinderbox, to name a few); booming startup resources, ExitEvent = Verge Indy and HQ Raleigh and American Underground = The Speak Easy; cool people with passion...I could go on. But what seems to be missing is corporate involvement in the entrepreneurial community. And I believe it's a big miss on both sides of the coin.

Here's why:

Before my current venture in Raleigh with Lesson.ly, I worked at a "darling" in the local Indianapolis community, iGoDigital.

Down the road was the (now) big, orange, gritty and entrepreneurial ExactTarget. They too, were a startup at one point�founders Scott Dorsey, Peter McCormick and Chris Baggott began humbly with an email service for dry cleaners. I point that out, because that same humility kept them connected with the entrepreneurial community that helped them "mature". The ExactTarget Foundation invested heavily in entrepreneurial initiatives. Faces of ExactTarget employees—top to bottom—could be found at local startup events. Executives graciously volunteered time to mentor/coach entrepreneurs and participate in programs like the Orr Entrepreneurial Fellowship (which matched college students with high-growth host companies).

Philanthropic, maybe. But more importantly and often overlooked were the ways in which their efforts paid off. In 2012, ExactTarget acquired the darling up the street, iGoDigital. Of course, we celebrated and high-fived as the ExactTarget executive team broke the news.

More importantly though, proximity made the local acquisition quite smooth. Because the ExactTarget team was so well connected to the founders and employees, it felt natural. Collaboration was easier and synergies were more quickly identified. The acquisition made sense because of synergies in our products—we provided personalization services for online retailers and ExactTarget had the leading cross channel digital marketing platform. iGoDigital added a predictive and algorithmic personalization layer across ExactTarget's robust digital marketing platform. The end result was smarter, more targeted messages to consumers.

Could ExactTarget have found an iGoDigital in San Francisco, New York or Boston? Sure. But the proximity, trust and existing foundational friendships made it worth investing locally. And all of that started by getting the big and the small in the same room to learn from each other.

Perhaps I haven't been around long enough in Raleigh to see corporate influence in the entrepreneurial scene. But from a transplant's vantage point, the big and small could use a bit more collaboration.