I wrote this email to then-Governor Bev Purdue back in Oct of 2012 after attending an entrepreneur-focused luncheon at the Governor’s mansion. It didn’t go anywhere at the time, but aspects of this vision are being implemented, so I thought I’d post the vision publicly and contribute to the noisy, rambunctious start up process that I love!
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Matt Williamson
Date: Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 11:22 AM
Subject: NC – The New Entrepreneurial Hub of the South | Re: N.C. Innovators Entrepreneurs Luncheon
To: “Perdue, Bev” , Don.Hobart@nc.gov
Governor Perdue and Don –
Thank you for hosting. It was an honor to attend.
I’d like to share an idea that maps to much of the conversation. I’ve been thinking about it for two years, but haven’t acted on it as I’ve got this little thing (building Windsor Circle as a start up software company in downtown Durham!) that has been keeping me occupied.
I’ll share the vision here:
NC – The Entrepreneurial Hub of the South
The vision is akin to the concept of the Research Triangle Park in that it creates real reasons to attract talent and resources to NC. It’s a bold vision, much larger than springing up a co-working space or a campus. We need more than that. Every state in the union is embarking on similar incubator programs.
What we need to do is create an environment where the best and brightest innovation talent in the country and the world is relocating to North Carolina to start companies because it is advantageous for them to do so. The following 5 point plan would create that environment for attracting talent:
- Leverage Strengths – Strong Universities, Good Business Climate, Great Family Environment for Workers The first part of the vision is to commit everyone to get on message. We have an exceptionally strong academic climate in NC at the collegiate level (we need to work on the school system that feeds it, but that’s a different conversation). The UNC system, plus powerful research universities like Duke and Wake Forest make NC a great place to build ideas and find talent. The business climate is friendly and the costs are low… as said in the luncheon, NC can offer a very cost-efficient climate in which to build businesses. And finally, from a human perspective, this is a great place to raise a family, with beautiful natural resources all around us, and very affordable real-estate. These reasons should be trumpeted to entrepreneurs far and wide as reasons to locate here to build their businesses and their lives.
- Build Incentives – Free Work Space, Free Living Space for 2 Years, plus Lifestyle Incentives – As North Carolina continues to shift from agriculture and manufacturing to technology and healthcare, there is an abundance of buildings and warehouses, located in and near downtown areas, often in close proximity to universities of great importance, at rock bottom prices. A concentrated program to stimulate development of these buildings into work and living space would create more than entrepreneurial incubators… these would be havens… communities… tight concentrations of like-minded individuals who want to take risks and create value. Top entrepreneurs worldwide would be offered 2 years of free work and living space if they relocate here (see below). Clearly, you’d start with Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, but once proven, more can be built around the state. Additionally, programs already exist to make it easy for military personel to get lifestyle incentives (insurance, group buying and discounts, discounted entertainment, etc). We could plug directly into this network. (Note the additional benefit of elevating the brave men and women who are risking it all to start business and create employment to the status of those who brave it all to defend our country… this analogy creates massive emotional incentive to take those risks. “She serves our state by being an entrepreneur!” would have the same ring as “He serves by risking it all in the military to defend our country!”
- Market “NC Entrepreneurial Hub of the South” to Top Talent Worldwide – Here’s where this becomes more than just a bunch of in-state incubators (which every other state is doing right now, too). We take all of the reasons listed above and hit the road. We get the top entrepreneurs in our state (like Goodnight and Szulik) and hit the road. We pitch the program to the best IT and healthcare students in the top 20 universities in the country and the top 10 in each of China, India and Europe. The goal of this roadshow is to recruit the top talent and ideas to NC. Imagine snagging the best talent that is graduating from Stanford, Harvard, MIT…. from the top universities in Bangalore, in Shenzhen, and other international technology hotspots. The best NC talent (both business and academic) would be identified to chase the best opportunities. If you find a promising healthcare start up in India, perhaps Quintiles CEO would be called in to help recruit the company to NC.
- Connect VCs to NC – There are two parts to this. My mentor Ed Paradise at Cisco could help us get telepresence in each entrepreneurial community. All companies would be able to set up powerful virtual board meetings to help shorten the distances that sometimes get in the way of investments here. Secondly, we build and brand direct flights in NC from the major investment hubs as the “VC Jet Set.” We already have direct flights to most of these, but branding and elevating them as a “set” makes it obvious that we’re serious about getting capital here. It’d be a simple exercise to add smaller fractional jet coverage as well. Imagine the power of putting an “entrepreneur only” get with 12 seats together on a monthly basis and putting the most promising companies who are raising money on a NC-funded road show. Consider it a VC highway to NC… worthy of the investment than any other infrastructure would require.
- Build “Entrepreneurial Free Trade Zones” – You already have a model for how to create economic incentives with the FTZs that exist in NC. You’d basically create EFTZs to support this program. You’d add the qualification of size, or growth, or investment, or something to make sure you were truly rewarding entrepreneurial companies that had the possibility of high growth and the creation of jobs and wealth.
“NC Entrepreneurial Hub of the South” is a big vision. Over 20 years, we’ll end up developing 30 buildings into Innovators Communities and EFTZs. We’d be on a worldwide stage, driving hard to recruit the very best talent and ideas to our state. We’d be creatively putting NC talent (both incumbent and recruited to NC) in front of the best VCs in the world.
We’d be taking a gamble not unlike that which a group of committed individuals did when they put together a plan for the Research Triangle Park to great effect many years ago.
We’d be displaying the same courageous, innovative risk-and-reward mentality that Entrepreneurs have to summon on a daily basis.
And… if we’re right… North Carolina will be heralded in the same breath as San Francisco, Boston and NYC. Our first goal would be to land in this top ten list. And then work our way to being one of the top 5.
I’m excited about this vision and happy to discuss in more detail.
With warmest regards,
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