I had originally planned to write this piece over the holidays, but that didn’t happen. It did however inspire one of my wishes for 2016—to better manage my time and my to-do list.
I call this a wish rather than a resolution for a few reasons. Wishes feel somewhat achievable and yet somewhat of a dream. They’re fun to think about and strategize, and not too overwhelming or scary for a whole year’s commitment.
They also account for the unforeseen, the unexpected things that tend to happen on a regular basis and change up the plans I’d set for myself. Resolutions are so firm and rigid—they don’t factor the serendipity of life.
Finally, I believe that any new thing I’m trying out or hoping for should be exciting, even if challenging or hard. Wishes are just that.
I’ll keep my other wishes for me to myself. This column is about my wishes for ExitEvent and the startup community in 2016. While I’d like you all to hold me accountable for the things I’m thinking about and hoping for (and that I might have some control over), the rest of these are more of the dream kind-of wishes. I hope they happen, but I know they might not too.
To help source this column, I asked each of our ExitEvent writers to share with me some things they’re proud of from 2015. Stories they wrote or experiences they had in the startup community that made a difference or were formational in some way. I’m factoring their thoughts in my wishes too.
Here’s what I hope for us as a community:
Reposition and Rally
I hope that we find a way to talk about the inventions and innovation happening here in so many hot button industries. Sequoia Capital's Jim Goetz helped us out
last September at the CED Tech Venture Conference when he called the region the second most important area behind Silicon Valley. I hope we can find more cheerleaders among the national venture capital and startup communities, as well as national media.
Here's where we seem to be leading:
- Bootstrapping and cash conservation. Companies here know how to get by, and then grow and scale, with a little.
- Exits. Like seven of them on the American Tobacco Campus in the last two years. And the follow-up to exits—new startups being formed and investments being made. Jud Bowman, who made news this week for spinning a new startup called Sift out of his last one, Appia, is a great example. So are Scot Wingo and Robbie Allen, the ChannelAdvisor and Automated Insights founders who have invested in several local Triangle startups since exit.
- Internet of Things. There is a clear interest and excitement around this emerging field, with 1200 people now members of the NC RIoT group, up from 80 in early 2014. New Internet of Things startups are forming as a result of the support those entrepreneurs are getting from leaders at companies like Valencell, Phononic, Reveal Mobile and the Wireless Research Center.
- Data. Besides that SAS continues to grow its data science program at NC State University and Duke, its Information Initiative (iiD), there are also an increasing number of startups collecting, organizing and making sense of data in this region. We seem to be figuring out what to actually do with data to make a real difference in various industries.
- Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. The state is getting recognized for its favorable policies around Bitcoin and blockchain technology, and we have one of few cryptocurrency industry conferences on the East Coast and a first-of-its-kind blockchain innovation class happening at Duke University.
- Drones. We also have an industry leading drone technology company in Precision Hawk and research in the field through NC State’s NextGen Air and Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab. They're putting North Carolina in the national spotlight for unmanned aerial vehicle innovation.
- VR and AR. A new virtual reality meetup is gaining in influence, and Cary startup Wearality will soon bring its affordable VR glasses to market after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
- Digital printing technology, with Spoonflower leading the way globally in digital printing on textiles and Carbon3D (though now based in Silicon Valley) for its new chemical process for 3D printing.
- Diversity, mostly because we're doing real things to increase it. More on this below.
I’ve heard many people say it, and I’m echoing that we need to find a different way of talking about the startup community in the Triangle and North Carolina. "Triangle" is certainly not a recognized term outside of our state. And while it might make sense to instead promote the state as a hub of startup activity, the reality is that the momentum is mostly happening in our region. Check out our end of year story about funding as evidence of this.
My hope is for more region-wide discussion around branding and storytelling, and a clear PR strategy put into place. And in the meantime, more doing what we're doing. American Underground (ExitEvent's parent) and its companies wracked up more than 20 national media mentions last year, helped by a second Durham win at Google Demo Day last April and the Rise of the Rest Tour in town in May.
Wake County Economic Development has been successful in landing stories in all sorts of influential publications. A new Innovate Raleigh film series
could also be a real win.
Include Diverse Peoples
While 2015 seemed to be the year diversity became a real focus, I hope 2016 is the year we begin to educate diverse populations in order to be more inclusive. What I mean is that we're making it clear that we want to be a diverse startup community and those who are exposed to entrepreneurship, startups or the community seem to feel more welcome. But to be truly inclusive, we need to increase the awareness of the opportunities in startups within those diverse populations.
This is not to say we haven't made significant progress. Nearly every conference or event in 2015 included a panelist or speaker on the topic, and many organizations in town made it a point of emphasis to seek out diverse peoples in their cohorts, workforce or membership. For example, American Underground increased its minority-led startup membership by 11 percent, and 14 of 49 companies that received outside funding last year were led by women or minorities.
Organizations like Black Girls Code, Code the Dream, TechGirlz and CODE2040 also held workshops and events.
While ExitEvent hasn’t tracked race to date, Google Analytics tells us that the percentage of women readers grew 4 percent to nearly 37 percent in the second half of the year. and several Startup Socials last year topped 25 percent attendance by women. Our final event of the year, in partnership with e51 and Soar, grew that tally to 38 percent. We hope to find ways to keep up that momentum.
And I wish for us all find new ways of engaging too.
The pastor at the church I attended last Sunday suggested we change our thinking about resolutions too. And his No. 1 suggestion hit me big time. He encouraged us to think bigger than improving our own fitness or financial situation. He suggested we resolve to give more of ourselves to others. Help a colleague get a promotion. Support friends in need. Buy from a local startup.
I hope more people have this as a resolution. Time and again I hear from founders of so-and-so entrepreneur who made the introduction that led to a key customer or investor, or the university professor who went above and beyond to help launch a young startup or the mentor who spent hours of time coaching, advising and consoling when things got hard.
More of that is happening in the Triangle as some of our entrepreneurs have become more seasoned. And corporations seem increasingly interested in getting behind local startups. But If even more people gave more, we’d all be better off.
Here’s what I wish for ExitEvent:
More people, more ownership.
Some cool things happened in 2015 at ExitEvent.
ChannelAdvisor founder Scot Wingo
chose our site to publish his Guide to the Triangle Startup Ecosystem
, and his new term “tweener”
is now well recognized in the community. In fact, it’s so well regarded now, that we’ll be publishing a new list next week with 50 additional tweeners.
The Startup Factory’s Lizzy Hazeltine wrote a monthly piece about her adventures as a first-time venture capitalist and a rare woman in the field, and marketer Frank Pollock started a fun Q&A series with the chief marketers at successful local startups. We have regular contributors in Matthew Davis of Reveal Mobile and NC RIoT, writing about his industry and the growing group, and Dan Spuller of Cryptolina providing regular updates on bitcoin legislation and industry.
Adam Shay and Devon Scott have stepped up to write monthly stories about entrepreneurs in Wilmington and Matt Popowski of Venture Asheville is now representing the western part of the state. We’ve also got campus correspondents at NC State University, UNC Chapel Hill and Duke, as well as a team of local writers covering news. I’m excited these relationships will continue in 2016.
Next week, look out for a new column from serial veteran entrepreneur and author Randy Nelson. Talks are underway to bring on more contributors. We also hope to develop connections with other Triangle and North Carolina universities and to find writers in Charlotte and the Triad area.
My point in all of this, is that ExitEvent gets better the more voices we have. My wish is that more people feel compelled to write (or film or podcast!) in 2016, and that they choose to let us help spread their words.
We have a pretty ambitious goal for traffic in 2016—to at least double. I hope this can happen through a variety of strategies—through new daily and monthly newsletters for new audiences, emphasis on SEO and other social media tactics thanks to leadership from our new communications/marketing director (a shared role with American Underground). We’re improving search on our website and testing out some new story formats to make the site stickier. We’ll also introduce writer pages to make it easier to read stories by particular authors. Finally, we hope to introduce a region-wide directory either this year or next.
Mostly, this will happen if people read/watch/engage more. I wish for that, and for our readers to regularly tell us what sorts of stories they want us to tell.
Try new things.
It took a couple years to get ExitEvent into a steady state after it was acquired by American Underground. We’ve now got a solid team of writers, a strong technology platform that we’re improving regularly as well as digital marketing/social media help and a sales associate who is successfully landing Startup Social sponsors and site advertisers.
I hope this year I can free more of my time to experiment. Some new initiatives are already underway. Look for some efforts around startups and politics this year as we prepare for important national and state elections. We’ll host our second Twitter chat later this month, and our third HelpFest at American Underground. We'll sponsor a cool media training event in March, with reporters in town who cover entrepreneurship in cities around the world. I also hope to experiment with podcasts and to feature the work of other media entrepreneurs in the Triangle on our site.
We’re also serving as a founding member of the North Carolina Open Newsroom Cooperative
, a new co-working space and organization for media entrepreneurs and freelancers beginning this spring at The Frontier. It’s believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. I’m excited to be involved in the organizing committee and to see how ExitEvent
can both support the effort and take advantage of its shared resources.
Perhaps most importantly, I hope to hear your ideas for how we might be more innovative in the way we tell your company's and the startup community's news. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
to share your thoughts.
Here's to making wishes come true in 2016.