Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this post, we reported that Derrick Minor helped produce the Raleigh Innovation Summit. Instead, he helped promote the event.
There’s a quiet movement happening within the Triangle to make this region one of the nation’s top five hot spots for entrepreneurship and innovation.
So far, it’s evidenced by the fast lease-up of the HUB Raleigh co-working space on Hillsborough Street, and the commitments of fast-growing tech companies such as Red Hat and Citrix’s ShareFile division to redevelop buildings in the heart of downtown Raleigh.
In Durham, there’s the coming expansion of American Underground, a haven for startup companies.
The region’s three highly ranked universities are working to spin companies out of cutting-edge research, and Research Triangle Park is reinventing itself for a new generation of high-growth businesses. Population is still growing faster here than in most cities and there’s new living, restaurant and night life options downtown, an attractive asset for young talent. North Carolina also continues to rank highly among states for its business climate.
But lacking has been the glue that holds it all together, a role that national experts in entrepreneurship say is necessary for high-growth startups to get the resources to flourish and create jobs, and for cities to become known as hubs of entrepreneurial activity.
As cities across the nation compete to be as good a place to start a business as California’s Silicon Valley, Raleigh is betting on its first-ever innovation and entrepreneurship manager to be the region’s glue.
Name: Derrick Minor
Title: Innovation and Entrepreneurship Manager
Role: Retaining and helping new companies in Raleigh and helping them grow.
Derrick Minor, former director of downtown development for the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, accepted the $67,000 a year economic development position in October. Different from his role at the Alliance attracting retail businesses, Minor now is focused on retaining companies in Raleigh, and helping them grow.
With no budget (yet), his main responsibility, so far, is networking.
He’s connected Cii Technologies, a 30-year-old North Raleigh company, with a growing mobile app development division, to the entrepreneurs and software developers working at the HUB Raleigh.
Another connection: Riley Life Logistics, a product fulfillment and logistics company, is now working with several young Raleigh fashion designers. Riley can help those creative people run more effective and efficient e-commerce operations.
“Raleigh has some great companies, big companies. How can we leverage those guys? How can we connect the big fish with the small fish?” Minor said.
Minor is mostly focused on companies innovating in information, bio, mobile and clean technology, healthcare, e-commerce and consumer products. They’re companies that want to sell a product nationally or internationally, rather than a small business focused locally.
“I’m asking, ‘How can we help you grow, if that’s your next step? Are there channel partners or mentors to meet, industries you want to target?’” he said.
He can refer tax incentive or workforce development requests to the Chamber of Commerce’s Raleigh Economic Development Director, James Sauls.
Minor is also working with area universities, Wake Tech and Wake County schools to help create a pipeline of talent for startups.
A Startup Job
Minor’s role will only become more clear as time goes on, said City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, a chief proponent of the new position.
“We want to prevent brain drain and provide the support systems and ways for students to come out of the universities and get assistance, and people in their 20s to 50s, too,” Baldwin said. “Derrick is that guy.”
A position like Minor’s isn’t common within city governments. In fact, Brad Feld, a venture capitalist and author of “Startup Communities,” writes that entrepreneurs should lead the startup community, not governments.
But Raleigh could be on to something if the position aligns with existing efforts of universities, startups, large corporations and nonprofits, said Daniel Isenberg, head of the Babson College Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project. The group advises leaders around the world on policies and programs to spur entrepreneurship.
“By itself, nothing is sufficient,” Isenberg said. “It really requires the vision of the entire environment to be able to make an impact.”
Two examples of successful citywide efforts in this nation, Isenberg said, are in Boston and Cleveland.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino worked with entrepreneurs based in the Boston Innovation District to create a community group called Innovation District Entrepreneurs After Work, which promoted the concept of “live, work and play.” He convinced real estate developers to set aside office space for entrepreneurial companies, helping to attract MassChallenge, a top business accelerator program and international startup competition.
In Cleveland, large corporations in the private sector engaged with startups and universities and a mix of funding sources, including the state’s Third Frontier innovation funding program.
Through his role at the Alliance, Minor has already proven to have a wide network. He’s also a steering committee member for Innovate Raleigh, a citywide initiative started last January to support the region’s “Top Five” campaign. He also helped promote the Raleigh Innovation Summit, held in January 2012, and the Startup Summit, part of the annual Internet Summit, in November.
All that is why he and this job are the next step for Raleigh, Baldwin said.
“Derrick wrote a book of how he was going to approach this job and what he’d do,” Baldwin said. “It was extremely impressive and demonstrated his passion for the topic. It’s going to take that to put us on the map.”