Raleigh-Durham Startup Week is almost here – a Triangle Tech Star tells us what to expect

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 Hundreds of wanna-be startup founders are expected gather at various locations around the Bull City over the next few days to learn from the experts as part of Techstar’s inaugural Raleigh-Durham Startup Week.

The four-day event kicks off on Tuesday, April 19, and will include a star-studded lineup of “who’s who” on the Triangle startup scene, including Scot Wingo of Spiffy and the Triangle Tweener Fund, Cindy Eckert of Sprout Pharmaceuticals and The Pink Ceiling, as well as David Hall of Revolution Partners.

It will also offer an entire morning allocated to investor “office hours” and a myriad of sessions centered around four themes: startup 101, legal and finance, design and development, and emerging technologies.

Techstars is an American seed accelerator founded in 2006 in Boulder, Colorado. As of 2019, the company had accepted over 1,600 companies into its programs with a combined market capitalization of $18.2 billion, according to its website.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam had the chance to catch up with Chris Heivly, the co-chairman of Raleigh-Durham Startup Week.  He served as Techstar’s entrepreneur in residence for Raleigh from 2017-2019, and later as its senior vice president of ecosystem development until 2020. Here’s what he had to say:

  • First, let’s get some background. What’s the history behind the conference, and when did it come to Raleigh-Durham?

Heivly: The Techstars Startup Week-formatted conference has been around for at least 15 years – Techstars bought the non-profit that supports this weekly format and the Startup Weekend format in like 2015, I think. Both formats are locally run and supported by Techstars.  Two of the longest running Startup Week’s are in Detroit and Denver.  They get over 10,000 attendees each year. The last count I had was around 50 Startup Weeks around the globe.  I don’t know if other city startup weeks ran virtually during the pandemic. In 2020, I thought our region needed a new type of conference and started evangelizing to a number of people with the intent of standing this up in April of 2020. Then COVID hit, and it was pushed back.  This is the first one in our region, and we wanted it be in person.

  • What’s your motivation behind hosting this conference? And how are you able to offer it all — for free? 

Heivly: My personal motivation was an event that lasted more then one night, an event that really celebrates entrepreneurs and an event that over time and linked to the largest entrepreneur program in the world, Techstars, that would provide new awareness for our region. We have a small budget supported by a handful of local corporations combined with lots of in-kind donations of space, among other things.

  • How’s this conference different to others that are currently being held on the Triangle circuit? 

Heivly: Great question. I can best answer that after next week, being our first go around. But, I will say that it is free, which supports current and future founders, it is managed by founders (not an entity), and it has fairly broad-topic sessions which appeal to a large cross-section of founders and their employees.

  • The conference offers a star-studded lineup of a well-known entities in the Triangle startup scene. How did you pick your panelists? And what are you most excited about?

Heivly: I love all “my children,” speakers, equally. This is an event from great founders with great founders for current and future great founders.  There is a dedicated team that give their time and have great networks to leverage. I think the speaker lineup is really awesome.  Each track has two captains to drive their speaker list, then we did a little coordinating. I am most excited to see new people show up and that are not super engaged with our ecosystem yet and then show them how supportive we are.

  • You’ve been on the scene since 2005 when you arrived in the Triangle from Chicago. You started running a virtual software company and then later joined software firm Ultimus as the COO. You went on to launch the Startup Factory in 2009 and serve in varying capacities at other organizations like Big Top and Techstars. How has the startup community changed over the years, for better or worse? 

Heivly:  I was reading about Y Combinator and Techstars,  which had both just started and said to myself, if diving into one company is fun, then 10 at a time would be a complete gas.  I then went on a tour (2009-2010) and met about 250 people in five to six months.  So the arc I have witnessed from 2009 to 2022 has been amazing. Post tour, I would characterize the region as “slightly less than the sum of our parts.”  It was disconnected. Today, it is the core reason for our success, as nuanced as that might sound. I have spent the last five years — with Techstars and solo — visiting and consulting with other cites to help them grow their startup community. However, this region still maintains a core characteristic that still blows away other regions: we are welcoming to newcomers, we are proactively diverse, we are super-supportive of others and their activities. This team is a version of that. With all of that support comes more/better founders and more/better companies.  This just creates a flywheel effect that every new company today can leverage.

  • What do you think the region needs to continue to evolve and grow? 

Heivly: Maintain our supportive nature, especially for and with newcomers.  We need to keep the #givefirst mentality that connected and supported founders. We need to better leverage the IP (intellectual property) in our research areas of our universities to two to three times  the number of new startups. To do this effectively, we need a tighter connection from the university researchers and the business talent in the region. Many of those ideas are big swings and not incremental ideas and if only a few are successful, would significantly add another layer to the region. With those successes, will come additional capital. Capital lags the progress and cannot be overly influenced or recruited.

  • Is the region doing enough to promote equity and diversity?  

Heivly: Probably not but I am not sure you ever sit back and go “checked off the to-do list.” We are way ahead as compared to some places and still have lots to do in many areas. It gets back to the connectivity that we do well in. But one, as an individual, has to work harder to expand our personal networks in order to add a diversity of individuals. When we were selecting and recruiting speakers we tried to work outside our close network. I think we are just good enough. But hopefully we can do better next year.

  • What’s next for you?

Heivly: I’m done building businesses and organizations. I prefer to work solo on smaller scope projects. I currently have a new book about startup community building almost ready to go out, I have a podcast with Brad Feld (noted author and investor and founder of Techstars), and am a consultant helping Columbia, SC get their startup community going.  I am helping my son join the entrepreneurial ranks with a retail skateboard and clothing store in Carrboro called Pals Skateshop. And I still work one on one with founders when they need some advice or mentorship. That is more than enough, right!

Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire