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Overwhelmed and humbled. 

That’s how Anil Chawla, founder and CEO of ArchiveSocial, described his feelings after winning $100,000 from AOL co-founder Steve Case at the pitch competition the celebrity venture capitalist hosted at Durham’s Carolina Theater on his Rise of the Rest stop Tuesday.

Chawla also told me that his pitch and subsequent win brought back memories of the first time he pitched his social media archiving company in 2012 when he had no customers, no employees and no funding—the Triangle community got behind him and his idea anyways. He said, “to get this far and come out with a win reinforces that building a company here (in Durham) is exactly what we should be doing.”

Towards the end of his pitch, Chawla took an unexpected turn—he stopped talking about his company and began talking about how he and his team were proud to be “Made in Durham.” 

He joked that ArchiveSocial had “milked every opportunity” the Triangle offered to propel his business further. He went on to demonstrate how his team turned that local support into local impact—every Triangle municipality and county is now an ArchiveSocial customer.

Thus, ArchiveSocial’s win—and the Triangle's selection as a stop on Case’s third Rise of the Rest tour—isn’t just validation for Chawla and ArchiveSocial, but for the Triangle community and the ecosystem it’s built to support startups like ArchiveSocial.

Throughout his day in the Triangle, Case reinforced and highlighted the Triangle’s successes, even joking that he didn’t know what he was doing here, that the region doesn’t need his help highlighting the entrepreneurial ecosystem given recent successes like MATI Energy’s recent Google Demo Day win and the major exits of companies like Automated Insights and Bronto over the past two years. 

As Adam Klein, the lead organizer for the day-long tour says, “We have a lot to be proud of. Steve has now invested four times in the Triangle in the past 18 months via Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day and now the Rise of the Rest Tour. It's clear this ecosystem is producing results and generating not only regional but national interest.”

And when I asked Case what the Triangle could learn from other regions he’s visited, he pointed to a couple areas we could improve (like broadcasting our story), but not before saying that other regions could and should learn from the Triangle's commitment to collaboration and diversity.

Steve Case and Governor Pat McCrory address a crowd during Rise of the Rest
Steve Case and Governor Pat McCrory address a crowd during Rise of the Rest in May 2015. Photo Credit: Rise of the Rest

Excelling in Collaboration and Diversity
Case’s visit was a whirlwind of a trip, starting at the Governor’s mansion in Raleigh and ending at the Durham Bulls game, where he threw the first pitch. He stopped at three of the region’s startup hubs (HQ RaleighRTP’s Frontier and American Underground), held a fireside chat and judged a pitch competition featuring eight Triangle startups. Sandwiched between was a collaborative rap performance featuring Durham rapper The Real Laww.

In addition to the countless Triangle entrepreneurs, business leaders and policymakers he met throughout the day, Case also lunched with the three Durham-based startups he’s already invested in through Google Demo Day—Automated Insights, Windsor Circle and MATI Energy
Steve Case throws first pitch at Durham Bulls Game
Steve Case Throws the First Pitch at Durham Bulls Game; Photo Credit: Rise of the Rest
At the rooftop celebration hosted by American Underground after the pitch competition, Case couldn’t say it had been the best day of the tour since he still had stops planned for Atlanta, Charleston and New Orleans. But he admitted it'd been a really great day and that he was very impressed with the region’s startups, entrepreneurial spirit and uniqueness.

Specifically, he noted two things—a commitment to collaboration and diversity—that set the region apart and position it to be a leader among peer cities in creating a dynamic, thriving startup ecosystem.  

Case quoted this favorite African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” He said the partnerships he witnessed in the Triangle embody the proverb and show the region’s commitment to working towards creating a sustainable, stable ecosystem that produces and supports entrepreneurs for years to come. 

As evidence of the region’s collaborative spirit, he was impressed that the pitching companies helped fellow competitor (Tom & Jenny’s) prep by placing pieces of the company's healthy candy under each chair in the Carolina Theater. 

The planning and execution of Case’s trip throughout the Triangle was another prime example of the region’s commitment to advancing and showcasing the region as one entity rather than any individual city or county. While thanking partners like Blackstone Entrepreneurs NetworkGroundwork Labs and CED before the fireside chat, Klein said, “I think it says something when I have to write down all the partners who helped make this day possible.” 

Diversity was another key point for Case. During the question and answer portion of his fireside chat, Case said, “I think there are too many people that just focus on tech and too many people that just focus on Silicon Valley and too many people who just focus on white men." A major challenge facing the country today is creating a more inclusive and diverse economy that lifts up all populations. Speaking to the audience filled with the Triangle’s business and policy heavyweights, he said, “I think everyone in this room is up to that challenge.” 

Blatantly apparent to Case, even during his short visit, is the Triangle's commitment to leveling the field and lowering the barriers of entry into entrepreneurship for the underrepresented populations—namely women and minorities. The region hasn’t completely solved the diversity problem, but Case is very pleased that it's an issue the Triangle is committed to tackling and sees potential for the region to become a national model for creating an inclusive, diverse startup ecosystem.
 
Steve Case talks to crowd on American Underground Rooftop
Steve Case talks to crowd on American Underground Rooftop; Photo Credit: Rise of the Rest

Celebrating and Validating the Work
In a blog post announcing the third Rise of the Rest tour, Case said that the tour isn’t intended to celebrate the rich history of each Southern city it visits, but rather focus on each city’s future and the the entities creating it through entrepreneurship.

The tour accomplished that mission through the pitch competition—showcasing eight recently established Triangle-based companies—and the countless stops throughout the day. Aside from a mention of Durham’s Black Wall Street and how it perhaps laid the groundwork and provided learnings for the city’s entrepreneurial DNA, not much was said about the Triangle’s past. 

But perhaps in an unintended way, the day also celebrated and validated the hard work and the strides the Triangle has made in recent years. Five years ago, most of the organizations and programs that organized and participated in the day were either in their early formation stages, just an idea, or unformed all together.

Chawla is a prime example of that progress—he emerged in the Triangle’s startup scene with a different idea more than three years ago, when many of the programs and support organizations he would go on to “milk” were in their beginning stages. Once he founded Archive Social, he participated in Bull City Startup Stampede, then pitched at Launch Days, which eventually led to his acceptance and graduation from The Startup Factory’s inaugural class, after which he won an NC IDEA grant, located his business at the newly established American Underground, where he continued to network and benefit from relationships with organizations like CED.  

The common denominator among all of the pitching startups is they all received help from the region’s experts to get onto the Carolina Theater’s stage. 

Four of the eight companies graduated from The Startup Factory—ArchiveSocial, ELXR HealthRocketBolt, and Antenna. Tom & Jenny’s is currently in Launch Chapel Hill’s accelerator program. Stealz is based out of HQ Raleigh. Personalized Learning Games recently finished a year of mentorship from the female-focused Soar mentorship program. And Reveal Mobile spun out of Capitol Broadcasting Corp.’s New Media Company (Capitol is ExitEvent’s parent company).

Guest judge, Sarah Yarborough, the co-owner and founder of Raleigh Denim, said she and the other judgesCase, the American Underground's Entrepreneur in Residence Talib Graves-Mann of RainbowMeFrank Stasio of NPR's the State of Things, and J.D. Harrison of the Washington Postthought Archive Social stood out. Its pitch was comprehensive—the company is poised to scale, has a strong team, and is committed to the area. 

Triangle Rising
After riding the Rise of the Rest bus and attending each event with Case throughout the day, Klein says “that it was clear the Triangle is on the rise just from the fact that every venue we went to was packed, the energy was great, and entrepreneurship here is wide and deep.”
Adam Klein and Chris Gergen join Steve Case on Rise of the Rest Bus
Adam Klein and Chris Gergen join Steve Case on Rise of the Rest Bus; Photo Credit: Rise of the Rest

Allyson Burns, the senior vice president of communications at Case's firm Revolution LLC., compared the Triangle to a city like Austin—its community is impressive and unique.

Case’s visit was important because, according to Klein, it adds, “outside fuel to continue building the scene," and offers some valuable national media exposure. As for the future, Case says the region should continue to strive to be inclusive and increase diversity throughout the startup ecosystem.  The Triangle can also do a better job of telling its story to the rest of the country. The responsibility to do that lies with each individual, he says.

Tuesday was a celebration of the work that’s already been done to position the Triangle to rise and the companies, organizations and people that have the potential to build the region’s future. But if the events, milestones and people celebrated Tuesday are any indication of what is to come, the Triangle won't be considered a region on the rise much longer, but as a region that has already risen.