This is the piece I always dreaded to write—The piece that admits how difficult it is to operate a niche local media company at a profit, let alone at break even.
When I took this job, I felt confident our dedication to telling the stories of startups and focusing on community building would yield a sustainable business. However, after three-and-a-half years of different approaches to generating revenue, we weren’t able to do so.
Last week, we announced that ExitEvent would cease operations at the end of this month. Our stories and coverage will merge into a new and improved (and paywall free) WRAL TechWire launching soon, our jobs platform into Big Top and our events into some combination of TechWire and American Underground.
As I reflect on my time as editor, I feel proud of the hustle of my small team. We published nearly 1,600 stories and 360 videos on ExitEvent and our social channels. We supported 46 local restaurants, bars and venues through our monthly Startup Social events.
We formed a unique partnership with RevBoss to create a needed education opportunity called SalesJam. More than 300 entrepreneurs and sales people in the Triangle and Wilmington participated in those events, and we featured nearly 50 local executives and salespeople as speakers.
We had begun to tell stories of entrepreneurial activity across the state, an effort important for building awareness of the culture of innovation in the Southeast. We inserted ourselves into the political conversation, helping connect entrepreneurs with candidates and our now Governor in an increasingly political business world.
Featuring diverse founders in our community has been a regular focus for both storytelling and events. There was certainly more work to be done, but I’m proud it was a central conversation at most planning meetings and that we contributed to American Underground’s larger mission of becoming the most diverse tech hub in the world.
And finally, I’m proud that we helped people find meaningful work and companies land talented workers through our monthly jobs roundup and the jobs page we launched earlier this year.
I have a lot of thank yous to extend, but I will save those for later. For now, I wanted to offer a few reflections on the startup ecosystem from my perspective as an editor so embedded within it.
ExitEvent founder Joe Procopio had a lot of foresight in creating this community for entrepreneurs and investors. The Startup Social was one of few events in the ecosystem when Joe got started in 2011. Now, it’s not uncommon for our community calendar to list between five and 10 activities any day of the week. That’s not to mention the many spaces to work, bootcamps/accelerators, mentorship opportunities and competitions that now exist, and the work of our local universities to support entrepreneurship.
Never has there been a better time for entrepreneurs to find resources or networking opportunities in the Triangle, let alone across the state. I know that ExitEvent played an important role in that.
It’s increasingly common to hear of people moving to the Triangle for quality of life AND the vibrancy of the startup ecosystem and job market here. Jobs are now plentiful in the startup ecosystem, with both local companies hiring and startups moving here from larger regions to access our talent pool. I’m excited for the work the team at American Underground will do to make Big Top an important platform for revealing the culture of local companies, and helping people find their right match.
But I do hope the ecosystem can continue to introduce entrepreneurship and startups as a viable career choice to a wider population around the state. Education, funding and a culture of inclusion will be critical to that.
I’ve also been impressed by the organization of groups around the industries this state is strong in. NC RIoT has rallied a compelling mix of startups, corporations, small businesses and academics to position our region as a think tank for the Internet of Things. Besides the various developer meetups, there are now groups for civic tech enthusiasts, digital health entrepreneurs, consumer product innovators, social ventures, virtual reality experts, food startups, veteran entrepreneurs, Bitcoin enthusiasts and more. It looks a lot like the activity happening in larger cities around the U.S. and world.
Important community building is happening in various regions around the state too, putting funding and support behind ventures in both urban and more rural areas. NC IDEA is rightly supporting these efforts, uniting the state in ways that haven’t happened before. I hope even more connections are formed between the startups and economic development organizations working in North Carolina.
I’m more certain than ever that our community is a special one in the national ecosystem. But we still struggle to tell our story beyond our state’s bounds. I hope we can continue to come together as an ecosystem to produce and disseminate quality journalism that features entrepreneurs, industries and innovation here. Our innovation ecosystem needs this work to be done.
Please stick with us for the next month as we wrap up our tenure with more great storytelling, and hopefully some fun recaps of the stories we got to tell along the way.