For Doug Speight, winning a CODE2040 entrepreneur-in-residency is much more than $40,000 and support from a leading national organization supporting minority entrepreneurs.
It's a chance to come back home and contribute to the city where his family's businesses have flourished for nearly eight decades.
Speight's startup Cathedral Leasing
—a B2B online marketplace for equipment leasing—will be the latest in a string of Speight family companies to operate in Durham since the 1930s. Starting April 1, it'll be housed at American Underground
, where Speight will also be responsible for increasing minority representation in the startup community and continuing the legacy of Talib Graves-Manns
, the first EIR to hold the position in Durham.
Speight, pictured top left, is part of an expanded CODE2040 EIR program in 2016. The San Francisco nonprofit organization launched the program a year ago in three pilot cities—Durham, Chicago and Austin. It was so successful, that seven cities will host EIRs this year, helping to boost diversity and inclusion efforts around the nation.
The seven men and women were announced during an event at this year's South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, and via an article
last weekend in USA Today.
Speight says he was drawn to the position because of his family's legacy in Durham and the variety of experiences he's accumulated since graduating from North Carolina A&T University in 1995. He's worked in tech transfer at universities, in federal labs for NASA and the Department of Energy and in startups. He also earned an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill, and he's spent recent years mentoring young companies.
He also has big dreams for his young startup, and wants to build it in a region aiming to be the most inclusive tech hub in the world.
Speight will move back to Durham this spring with his wife and two kids, and will quickly get to work. But in the meantime, here's a chance to get to know Speight and Cathedral Leasing:
Explain where you stand today with Cathedral Leasing? What will the $40K from CODE2040 mean for the business?
We are very much in early stages. We have a product live now and we are kicking off two pilot projects with two very large equipment distributors and we are in the middle of a seed raise of $750,000. The $40,000 will help us extend our seed capital and allows us to redeploy some capital from the raise to expand our technical team and our marketing team.
You're a native of North Carolina but started your company in Tennessee. What led you to start this company and why there?
I was working at Oak Ridge National Lab just outside Knoxville. It’s a $1.5 billion Department of Energy research facility and I was there working with the world-renowned 3D printing team. They have a staff of scientists and engineers that focus exclusively on 3d printing research and technology and I was their industrial liaison.
I originally started Cathedral to lease industrial grade 3D printing equipment out of Europe but as I sat down with over 50 customers in that space, they actually pointed us toward a larger opportunity in broader equipment leasing market. The 3D printing industry was about $8 billion total when we first started and the companies we met with pointed us to a much larger industry which is $900 billion industry annually, so a lot more room to play.
Talk about your roots in North Carolina.
I’m originally from Durham, born and raised, graduated from Jordan High School and my family has been in Durham since the 1930s. I’m a third generation entrepreneur. Since 1938, we’ve had at least two companies active at any given time to present. I hope to continue that. Coming back to Durham is as much about legacy as it is about building Cathedral Leasing. Its very important to me that I give back to city that has given a lot to my family.
You applied to several accelerators but ended up in Charlotte at QC FinTech last year. What was that experience like and what did it do for your startup?
Charlotte is the second largest financial center in the U.S. and the creation of QC FinTech was specifically around drawing FinTech companies around the world to Charlotte. There was no better place to do it than in my home state. There are other FinTech accelerators in New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, London and the like, but Charlotte occupies a very unique space in the debt finance and banking industry.
The experience was absolutely fantastic. One thing in particular was the level of coaching and mentoring and relationships we developed with multiple levels of executives within the banks. Those sorts of relationships probably would have taken us years to develop on our own, yet all of those introductions were made for us as a result of QC FinTech. We came out that with a great deal of customer feedback from the debt finance and banking industry and a huge amount of network strength.
How would you compare the startup ecosystem in North Carolina to Tennessee? And Charlotte to the Triangle?
I’ve traveled to 46 states in the U.S.—to incubators, universities, accelerators—during the course of my career and North Carolina, I believe, definitely has one of the top five ecosystems for entrepreneurship and startups in the country.
Tennessee is really just getting started with coordinating their accelerators and ecosystem.
One thing I would say in support of Tennessee is they have developed by decree of the governor a statewide organization called LaunchTN
that coordinates accelerators at six or seven locations throughout the state. The best companies through those accelerators go to the statewide level and get to do a road show to New York and Silicon Valley and Austin and SXSW and DC and participate in a number of different pitch events with venture investors. So I would say NC could take a note from TN in that regard. It’s a great aspect of their program.
Charlotte is very much a conservative banking town. They have a great deal of momentum through Packard Place, the primary hub for entrepreneurial activity there, but they are still not as well-developed as Durham or the Triangle area. Durham has a huge advantage because the majority of venture capital firms in the state are headquartered in and around Durham and there's a wealth of resources like The Startup Factory, AU and the like. They are second to none in terms of impact in the community.
You've had an EIR gig before, at Chattanooga's GigTank accelerator. Explain the role and what lessons you learned during your time there that you'll bring to Durham.
In 2014, I was invited to serve as EIR at GigTank because they were creating the very first 3D printing accelerator in the country at the time. They knew I had a background in industrial technology, manufacturing and engineering and was certified in 3D printing by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. I could meet with all 10 3D printing companies and walk them through product development and the manufacturing process and help them tailor 3D technologies and equipment to the types of products they were producing.
I very much enjoyed engaging with startup companies and founders directly and understanding the markets they serve, the products they are creating and how they plan on manufacturing those products. I would say that I’m most valuable to the Durham community in engaging and digging in and understanding what people are building, why, for whom, to solve what problem and helping them walk through what they might need to launch those products.
Any initial goals and plans that you included in your application?
A number of initiatives we are coordinating with the AU, with Google for Entrepreneurs and the CODE2040 program. Among them is helping to shape the conversation around venture investing into companies with diverse founders. That is very important for me and it’s also a hot topic with leading accelerators and venture firms in the country, led by 500 Startups, Y Combinator and Kapor Capital. I hope to extend that conversation to NC. I think we have a great opportunity to be one of the key locations in the country that excels at investing and supporting diverse startups and I look forward to making sure that happens.
How will you build on the momentum created by Talib while making your own mark?
Talib did an absolutely phenomenal job in developing architecture around the CODE2040 initiative. His ability to reach out to various communities and get them engaged in programming was second to none. I will be expanding on what built, adding a few new programs and systems and looking beyond my next year of the EIR program and thinking about how we can make it sustainable long term.
Any advice for anyone trying to create an inclusive organization?
There is a great article by Freada and Mitch Kapor of Kapor Capital where they outline all the things from a venture capitalist perspective that venture investors need to keep in mind in order to create a diverse organization. That article really points to a number of things, including No. 1 empathy, but also changing the lenses by which we see diversity and also changing our notion of what investing in diverse candidates looks like. I would highly recommend that.
What are your goals for Cathedral over the next year? Why do you think Durham will be a good place to continue to build the business?
It's all about talent pool, talent pool, talent pool. Durham has such a unique talent pool with which to build a company like ours that's very platform technology intensive, data intensive and requires a great deal of novel digital marketing approaches. There is a ready and prepared talent pool in the space we need them to be in.
Over the next year, we want to get through our seed capital raise. We want to extend our technological platform to add additional functionality and tweak it for certain submarkets within equipment leasing. We want to develop strategic partnerships with more equipment distributors and banks and leasing companies. We also want to at least start thinking about what it takes to reach out well beyond U.S. borders.
And finally, what's something fun the Durham community should know about you?
I would say that my favorite restaurant of all time is the Italian pizzeria on Holloway Street. I have probably spent $10,000 in that place or more. They should have a sandwich named after me by now. That place has a special place in my heart and always will.
Pictured above from left to right: Doug Speight of Cathedral Leasing, Laura Weidman-Powers of CODE2040 and Jes Averhart of American Underground.