American Underground Makes a 15-Year Startup Bet - 1

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American Underground Makes a 15-Year Startup Bet - 1
You'd never know Adam Klein was a betting man.

And he's not.

But that's the first thing that might pop into your head when I tell you that American Underground, Durham's startup center located underneath the American Tobacco Campus, will be expanding a block-and-a-half away to 201 West Main Street with 40 private offices and 70 co-working desks.

There's a big press splash today and a big party tomorrow in Bay 7, but this is not going down without a lot of forethought.

Adam and I first starting talking about expansion back in the summer, when he first took the job as head of American Underground and I was looking for ways to replicate ExitEvent in Raleigh.

Physical expansion is a big risk, as well as a big headache. It involves resources, commitments, and if it goes wrong it can take your whole organization down. This is true for any startup. For me, it was a matter of making sure I could provide the same value in Raleigh that I could in Durham and, since a lot of our value is online and not in the physical event itself, that was easy.

What Adam is trying to do is to grow the startup community in Durham without inflating the startup bubble at the same time. You've heard about the bubble -- too many early stagers with not enough good ideas, too many wantrapreneurs going from event to event, too many seed-rounders not making it to Series A or from Series A to Series B.

Or from any of that to cash flow break even.

But when bubbles form you can do one of two things. You can go all Chicken Little and bitch about how everyone thinks they're an entrepreneur and no one is making any money, or you can wade into that sea of potential entrepreneurs and spend your time propping up the ones who are the most deserving.

"I like what you said about customer acquisition in the N&O piece," Adam told me. "We want to build companies that can create a strong customer base. The programming will revolve around customer acquisition, and if the companies build a product that people want to buy, that will attract investment."

So no, he's not worried about a bubble. He's trying to expand the top of the funnel.

The programming he speaks of will come from the Underground anchors and regional partners, and the vision is for the Underground to house funded companies or those who have solid revenue, while Main Street will be home to early stage startups. The classroom space will be shared by both.

There's already some synergy. The initial group at Main Street includes a number of companies who have already been through the Startup Stampede, Triangle Startup Factory, Groundwork, or won an NC IDEA grant.

Scroll down a bit to the "Companies We Mentioned" below to see them and click to get more information. As a plug, note how many were already ExitEvent members.

Adam and the Underground are essentially doubling down on the original investment. Two years ago, the Underground was a grand experiment, and now it's real. Adam believes they're making a 15-year bet:

"We need to set a goal, something like 200 startups in downtown Durham by 2015. We've got 80 downtown today, but a number like 200 gets the conversation going at a national level."

That it does.