The 2014 Triangle Startup Watch List - 1

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The 2014 Triangle Startup Watch List - 1
Yesterday, I took time to think about what happened last year in the Triangle startup community. Honestly, though, it was a short-lived look back, because as an entrepreneur invested in our region, I do this type of reflection a lot. Then I dump out my thoughts on the ExitEvent website. And then, for everyone's sake, I edit them.

So after about ten minutes, my 2013 reflection became a replay of thoughts I've already had and was replaced by the question, "What's next?"

What happened last year largely matters because of how it will influence what happens this year. And, conversely, what this year will bring is largely based on what last year brought. So I wound up thinking about last year and then this year and then last year and then this year—I could have gone on for days.

But then I ran out of Diet Mountain Dew.

So here are the developments I'm expecting and questions I'll be asking as 2014 rolls out in the Triangle.

Will We Take Advantage of New Fundraising Strategies?

This is the first full year in which we have a host of online fundraising platforms -- AngelList syndicates, and the SEC's allowance of general solicitation (here's a great article on this from Bill Bing).

All of these developments allow for new fundraising strategies; most notably, all of them break down geographical fundraising barriers. With the Triangle having less capital than the major startup hubs, diffusion of early stage dollars will be a net positive for our startups.

Spreedly's 10-day $300K raise via AngelList is an example of what the Internet can do for startup fundraising.

I expect to see a more diverse spread of fundraising tactics by local startups— especially those in sectors that top national interest lists or that are typically not funded by local investors.

Will the Triangle Create National Draw?

By national draw, I mean a few things. In 2014, I think we'll see more out-of-area investors looking at Triangle startups (related to the point above), we'll see more technical and entrepreneurial talent attracted to our region, and we'll have stronger appeal as a startup relocation destination.

I'm not saying we don't have any national draw now. But I also know that our national audience is more limited than I think, especially whenl I'm in a conversation with a New York entrepreneur or a Silicon Valley VC who knows little to nothing about our region.

But as the Triangle's startup density and track record grows, this will continue to change.

In addition, while the nation's very top talent and investors are influenced by the draw of a region, they often just want to participate in startups with the most potential, regardless of where they're located. And in 2014, I think at least a couple of startups on true rocket ship trajectories will give our region boosts of national interest.

Will the Triangle Become the Triangle?

The Triangle's legs connect the dots of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. But currently, they're not legs that I'd try to run on. Even with three of them.

Many recognize the value of strengthening the Triangle's legs and in 2014, we'll be beefing them up.

Early indications include the expansion of American Underground across city lines, the spread of the ExitEvent Social to venues in all three cities, and talks between players who have, until recently, been largely siloed in their respective cities.

Will There Be a More Cohesive Startup Community in Raleigh?

I always feel like Raleigh is home to more startups that I can actually put my finger on. This is at least partially because Raleigh is lacking in the startup space and cohesion departments.

In 2012, HQ Raleigh started to bring dispersed entrepreneurial dots together and in 2014 cohesion and density will grow with the expansion of HQ Raleigh and the opening of the American Underground at Raleigh campus.

What Does the Google Tech Hub at American Underground Actually Mean?

Last year, Google chose American Underground as one of seven Tech Hubs. (You should have seen it coming.) There was a wave of excitement over the relationship's potential and then, after we finished fist-pumping, a lot us asked, "Now what?"

How Google's commitment will actually play out, and what it will do for the development of Triangle startups is among my top questions to answer in 2014.

Will Chapel Hill Develop a Robust Startup Community?

The opening of Launch Chapel Hill and 1789 Venture Lab last year made a statement: The university, town, county, and individuals positioned to make an impact are interested in building a startup community in Chapel Hill. So far, I just don't think we can tell if the community will develop. For that to happen, we'll need successful growth stage companies and, eventually, successful exits.

These things take time.

We probably won't be able to answer this question at the end of 2014, but there should be more hints than there are now.

Will the Health Tech Sector Boom?

I settled on health tech as a sector to watch for a few reasons.

Health tech is a hot national market and there's copious space for new companies in hardware, software, and combinations of the two. Since the Triangle is already home to leading national healthcare providers, it's also a natural sector of focus for tech startups in our region.

Also, the Triangle already has a cohort of health tech startups that are off to running starts: Validic, Valencell, Sqord, and Medlio come to mind. This year, I'll be watching the growth of existing startups in this sector as well as expecting new entrants.