Suburban Entrepreneur, You Are Not Alone in the Triangle

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 by John Ramsey

HQ Raleigh

HQ Raleigh

The Triangle entrepreneurship scene is not solely the realm of urban start-ups run by Millennials in downtown Durham or Raleigh. Entrepreneurship is about building new ways to provide value to your customers and finding ways to provide that value at less cost. For those of you who are doing that from suburban areas of the Triangle, you are not alone.

Many still look to Silicon Valley or Boston for how we should shape entrepreneurship locally, but we should remember that the Triangle has always been a place for entrepreneurs. SAS Corporation, one of the best places to work in the world, was founded in 1976 based on a university project. In the 1980s and early nineties the Triangle was the home to start-ups that created some of the first commercial e-mail systems and first real-time 3D design applications. These start-ups did not need to be in Silicon Valley to thrive nor did they need to be downtown.

 Who are they?

With multiple major universities and large corporations located here, we have an enormous pool of talented people. Many are not fully appreciated by their employers or have wider variety of interests that are not fostered by their employer’s business focus. This leads to one type of suburban entrepreneur:  the inventor. The inventor isn’t a mad scientist. At some point they had an idea for a product or service that they have unique skills to build or provide. In Cary and Morrisville, I know several people who are holding full-time jobs while either licensing IP or actually building and shipping specialized equipment all over the world. These home-based entrepreneurs have a goal to make their part-time jobs their full-time jobs.

Chocolate Boutique Ribbon Cutting_May 9,2013 027

The Chocolate Boutique Morrisville

Naturally, in a place with many people, there are entrepreneurs who see opportunities to start new retail shops and restaurants. Occasionally, these retailers may be able to do their accounting in the shop outside regular hours or they may have an office space in the back of the store, but more often they are conducting business from their home or car. Starting a new franchise may not seem world-changing but it is every bit as entrepreneurial as starting the next mobile device application software company.

Challa Immigration Law Office

Challa Law Offices Morrisville

The last group of entrepreneurs provides professional services. They are more likely to have their own office so they can meet with clients, but they still don’t always need to be downtown to be available. Lawyers, accountants, and real estate brokers often start their own businesses near home. It may be difficult to picture a lawyer as an entrepreneur, but to be successful, even lawyers and accountants need to think entrepreneurially so that the services they provide stands above the crowd.   They must define markets and build their service offerings to meet market need.

 Where are they?

Co-working has long been held up as the compromise between a standard office and a home office. Some of the benefits are:

  • Better collaborative spaces and shared office equipment
  • Less expensive and isolated than a corporate office.
  • More social and interactive than working from home
  • Fewer distractions than a coffee shop or library

Co-working actually covers a broad range of practices from “jellies,” casual working sessions arranged like play dates to formal HUB-style facilities. The co-working model that has gotten the most attention is urban renovation projects like HQ Raleigh or American Underground where 20-somethings mix work and play to generate the Next Big Thing. Like others, I am enthusiast about the Triangle’s growth in these types of facilities. They are sexy and attract the attention of VCs, who also like mixing work and play. These facilities will be considered the “early adopters” of a way of working that will become commonplace everywhere.

Thomas Frey, a futurist writer and speaker, has predicted that co-working will evolve into business colonies. A business colony, according to Frey, will, “revolve around some combination of resident people based in a physical facility and a nonresident virtual workforce.” Frey envisions these colonies as managed collections of professionals working together on the increasingly project-based work of the future. Suburban work spaces provide the ideal combination of professional, collaborative work environment proximity to home that is needed for these colonies.

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Morrisville HOTTovation temporary office space 2013

Suburban entrepreneurs will thrive in business colonies where they can provide valuable services to make a living while having access to a wide range of skills for their own start-up. Some colonies will become specialized, with access to shared equipment and facilities like 3D printers, MRIs, working clinics or retail shops. Other spaces will simple with just the basics needed for any business.

Last year, Morrisville Start-up set up its own shared space and the success of that project has led to plans for an ongoing space in Morrisville. Stay tuned for more on that in the next few months.

johnramseyJohn Ramsey is the CTO and Founder of Triangle Innovation Partners.  He has been engaged with start-ups and early stage companies in the Research Triangle Park region for over a decade.   John has a B.S in Physics and an MBA from the North Carolina State University with a concentration in Technology Commercialization.  He also serves on the Executive Team of TiE Carolinas, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to foster and support entrepreneurship in the Carolinas.