Figuring out a way to scale it.
The ExitEvent Startup Social at HUB Raleigh blew the freaking doors off of its first Raleigh edition, which also happened to be its first non-Durham edition, which also happened to be its 12th edition. Granted, each one has been bigger, louder, and more effective, than the last, but this one will shine for some time, as it's definitely a first in a series that will not only see us back in Raleigh a few times a year, but will see us go out and do this ecosystem-building thing just about anywhere that could use an ecosystem.
As I've said over and over again, usually in response to someone throwing the term "party-planner" at me, this isn't about the party. The Social is the pulse point, let's call it the hub on the virtual startup ecosystem-building timeline. The spokes are all the things I do in between that, when taken in total, make up this neat little website and network you're looking at now.
ExitEvent Raleigh did not go off without a lot of forethought or a lot of hard work, and that work wasn't done just by me. In fact, very little was done by me. Off the top of my head, I've interfaced with HUB Raleigh (of course), Innovate Raleigh, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, the Raleigh Chamber, Wake County Economic Development, and about a dozen "anchor" startups that I already knew in Raleigh.
Long before the first beer was poured, I listened, I asked questions, I built features, I timed responses, I wrote articles. Not because I have a huge vested interest in a successful Raleigh Social, but because I have a vested interest in being able to help Raleigh fortify its startup community.
So call last night a beta test of the product in front of a very big potential customer.
That beta test kicked off at 5:55 p.m. yesterday, with close to 200 entrepreneurs and investors, not only from Raleigh, but several who drove over from Durham, plus as far east as Wilmington and as far west as Greensboro.
That's 209 miles worth of I-40. Covered.
I can't effectively put into words how many people remarked on the HUB Raleigh space, the design, the setup, the location, etc. Jason Widen and Liz Tracy from HUB Raleigh could not have been more helpful, and of course, we had a fine performance by Mystery Brewing.
But the whole thing capped a vast expansion in breadth and depth of the ExitEvent startup network and the information and resource sharing possibilities that will keep adding value for the foreseeable future.
And what I learned will not only help me build ExitEvent into a great value-prop for Raleigh, its startups, and its economic growth, but will also help me build that (digital) spoke between Raleigh and Durham.
And Raleigh and Wilmington. And Durham and Greensboro. Then the Triangle and Charlotte. And North Carolina and DC. And so on.
But what was really cool was as people were filing out, they weren't remarking on the party. I didn't hear a lot of "Man, the beer was awesome," (although, yeah, we always hear that). What I heard was, and I quote:
"I made two connections tonight that more than made it worth coming out."
"It was great to meet Raleigh investors and ask a couple questions."
"I've got a ton of follow up I want to do."
So now you can. As a thank you for your awesome participation in this startup "party,", allow me to offer the very first seeds of this Raleigh/Durham hub and spoke harvest: The ExitEvent Startup Directory.
Members can see profiles for every startup, investor, support organization, service provider, and media outlet who have joined the network, and now there are views for both Raleigh Metro and Durham Metro (with more coming).
Of course, you can always keep your nationwide view, which includes startups from Charlotte, Wilmington, DC, Atlanta, and as far away as New York and San Jose.
Before the next Social (TBD), that next pulse in the timeline, we'll have built this out into a resource-rich, constantly updated index of the players and the activity (as relayed to you by our ever-growing content side).
We'll also continue to work with organizations to help provide mentoring, education, human resources, physical space, and all those other things that make startup life a little easier.
That's scaling a startup community, and it's bigger than any party I could ever throw.