Over the past week, we took TechCrunch on the road for our Southeast Meetup tour. Of the five cities we visited in seven days, Durham had one of the hungriest entrepreneurial scenes. The majority of the city is relatively run-down, aside from the lovely American Tobacco Center facility you see in the background. But North Carolina’s tech scene is on a mission, and it’s not just about cleaning up the city, it’s about branching out of the usual life science industry to have a varied portfolio of young companies in the Raleigh-Durham area.
I pulled aside Dhruv Patel, who is the program director of CED (a non-profit organization that offers entrepreneurial resources, though no direct funding), and he said that about $7.7 billion has been invested in Raleigh-Durham startups in the past 12 years, most of it from a huge increase in activity out of angel investors (with a hat tip to the Triangle Startup Factory). He also said that in the past year the state has gotten a lot more interest from out-of-state investors who are willing to turn an ear to the south.
A main focus in the area is to build out all the possible strengths of the area. With major schools like Duke and UNC around the corner, Durham has long been a life science and health care hub. But there are also major corporations that could help leverage a research and development capacity, such as Lenovo, IBM and Cisco.
Another strength of Durham’s tech scene is the fact that most startups aren’t that capital intensive. They can get a beta on the ground and running for $500k, likely because cost of living is less expensive but also because this is a group of entrepreneurs who are far more used to hearing no than those in Silicon Valley. With the FDA in flux, staying focused on the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries only becomes a bit more complicated.
That said, Durham has seen a huge boom in the IT sectors, with “investors being generally receptive,” said Patel.