I’ve seen Innovate Raleigh
evolve since I started working at HQ Raleigh in late 2012 and, as my role with the organization has grown from participant to Task Force chair, I’ve had a lot of questions.
What problems are we trying to solve and where are we headed? Is Innovate Raleigh building a movement or has it already accomplished what it first set out to do a few years ago? Do people know what we’re doing? Do people still care?
These are the questions that keep me up at night. Maybe I need a hobby.
But my hope is that, yes, people still care. Nearly 250 people attended the Summit
and upwards of 350 toured 10 venues during the Startup Crawl this past September. These people—corporate VPs, new and seasoned startup founders, university faculty, artists, and students—are on our Task Force and Advisory Board, ready to push Raleigh forward.
So what have we accomplished? And what problems are we still trying to solve? Where are we headed in 2015?
To help me dissect these questions, I turned to the strategic wiz-kids at New Kind
. They worked with our task force to map out the elements Raleigh needs to build a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. These elements—education, capital, resources, corporate engagement and an open community culture—have helped us reflect on what we’ve done so far and will guide our work in 2015.
How, though, can a non-profit (we got our official 501-c3 status in 2014) build this kind of ecosystem?
My honest answer: we can’t.
Let me clarify. We can’t build it on our own.
That’s why Innovate Raleigh identifies as a “connector, communicator, and convener.” We exist to create a community of people who, collectively, can pool resources, share ideas, inspire change and bring national media and investment attention to the region.
Take education, for example. Our partners at Wake Tech, WCPSS, and NC State are each working on their own entrepreneurship initiatives, but we consistently hear a need to connect those dots.
Then there’s capital and corporate engagement. Our partner, Wells Fargo, helped start the Wake Tech Entrepreneurship Center
and signed on as a hosting sponsor of the Innovation Summit in September.
That same month, our partners at the City of Raleigh announced they're allocating $100K in grant funding to keep emerging companies in Raleigh through the Citrix-Red Hat Startup Accelerator
. That program, which launched last fall, will return to our city for a second year this summer along with programs in Silicon Valley and Bangalore, India.
Open community culture is a big piece of the puzzle, too. We hosted our third Innovation Summit and first-ever Startup Crawl in the fall, and the crowd left feeling inspired and energized for what was next.
So how can we maintain that energy after September? How can we continue to create something inclusive and community-driven?
In 2015, we’re launching “Innovate Raleigh 365”—with plans to host public meet-ups throughout the year. We’ll also have volunteer committees focused on developing the elements of our ecosystem and continuing the conversations around health, civic engagement, and risk that happened at the 2014 Summit.
We are also in the process of hiring our first official employee. Our new part-time director will focus on strategy, community building and volunteer management, and creating connections that will help us better weave together this ecosystem.
As we continue to grow and evolve in 2015, we can’t lose sight of the work that’s already being accomplished within our community. Innovate Raleigh will join forces with Little Raleigh Radio
to host a weekly online radio show highlighting the entrepreneurial ecosystem we’re all building together. The schedule will be released soon, and we’re currently looking for great guests to help tell Raleigh’s story.
If you’d like to learn more about the work we’ve done so far, check out our 2014 Summit Report from New Kind
If you’d like to help us build Raleigh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, head to our first meet-up of the year. The event is this Thursday from 6-8pm at HQ Raleigh and you can sign up here