Last summer, when Adam Klein and I talked about the simultaneous expansions of ExitEvent (we were getting ready to do Socials in Raleigh and Charlotte) and American Underground (they had just announced Underground @Main, which officially opened last month), he already had plans to expand out to Raleigh.
In fact, it was one of the reasons he took the job as Underground's Chief Strategist. It wasn't just about real estate in the American Tobacco district— had it been, it wouldn't have been the position for him.
But much like he turned his role with the Durham Chamber into that of a full-time startup ecosystem builder, he wanted to do the same with Underground. This time, it's about being an actual player in the regional startup community, not just a home base.
And make no mistake, American Underground has been a regional play from the beginning. With the current structure in place in Durham Historical District for established companies, Underground @American Tobacco for the Series A players, and now Underground @Main for the early stage startups, Raleigh was the next logical step.
Underground @Raleigh will open at 213 Fayetteville Street this fall, in the heart of a booming downtown Raleigh scene, but one that still needs a startup presence.
"It's a great building," says Klein, "A great location. It's no secret that startups want culture— they want to be associated with artists, brewers, and so on. If you've been down in that area on a Friday, it's really vibrant, it's a really cool scene. With startups hanging out in that space it should drive that vitality even further."
Beyond space for 25+ startups, Bandwidth Labs, the incubator play from Bandwidth (think a bunch more Republic Wirelesses), will anchor.
"I think Bandwidth is an exciting opportunity to put into the mix," he says. "When you've got people who are seasoned and have built product and software that's becoming widely adopted, there's a sharpness and a clarity to the work that they're doing that will rub off on startups who are earlier."
The Underground is also adding an interesting twist in the form of regional desks. This means startups housed at any of the locations can use the common spaces in any other location for meetings and co-working.
"I can totally envision you doing this," Klein says to me. "You're here is Raleigh for a meeting, then you want to take a conference call or you need a place to plug in. The next day, you're in Durham, you use that space."
He's right. I would do that.
It's ideas like the regional desk that add an extra angle to what AU is trying to accomplish, turning their spaces from real estate into hub, and implying more services that will provide tangible and useful links between what are now three distinct physical locations.
The goal, of course, is to make the startup environment less focused on the municipalities, and more on the Triangle.
"It was eye-opening when I was in Doha for the Smoffice competition," Klein says, referring to the international competition that he won with the Durham Chamber. "The Triangle was the known brand, and it carries weight on an international scale. If we're going to be serious about moving this ecosystem forward and become a top tier place for startups, it's got to be a Triangle initiative, to give startups a broader and deeper access to the resources in both cities."
Klein says there is already interest in both the Raleigh space and the regional desk offering.
"Everyone is excited about this coming," he says. "The regional aspect is going to be really valuable for everyone involved."