By Erica Jevons Sizemore
Featured Photo by Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com
This is part of an ongoing series: What is Making the Triangle Area so Desirable?
The Triangle, made up of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, is an innovation and technology hub where creativity meets dedication and grit. Coupled with low taxes, startup accelerators, coworking spaces, networking opportunities, and over 2,500 startups, including familiar names like Cree, Red Hat, SAS, and Pendo, entrepreneurs will feel right at home in the Triangle.
Recognized for its strong economy, educated workforce, talent, and technology, Raleigh-Durham ranks #16 in the United States among startup ecosystems and #41 globally, according to StartupBlink. With Durham dubbed the “Startup Capital of the South” by CNBC, the area is a breeding ground for young entrepreneurs and established business owners. You’ll find a welcome community for those looking to launch a new business or startup with supportive organizations, including N.C. Entrepreneurship Clinic, HQ Raleigh Community, e51 Networking, and area chambers of commerce. Venture capitalists, funding rounds, big acquisitions, and the arrival of major tech companies have propelled the area forward and put it on the map.
Raleigh is expanding rapidly and continues to be named among the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and garner numerous area accolades. Here’s a look at just a few…
- Forbes has voted North Carolina #1 for the Best State to do Business for consecutive years
- Inc’s ranked Raleigh the #3 Surge City among the Best US Cities for Starting a Business (2021)
- Durham #5 and Raleigh #10 Best Large Cities to Start a Small Business by WalletHub in 2018
- Raleigh #15 for Best Metro area for STEM Professionals by WalletHub with the highest median annual wages (2023)
- Raleigh #56 for Best Cities for Hispanic Entrepreneurs by WalletHub (2019)
- Raleigh ranked #2 among Best Places for Business and Careers in 2018 by Forbes
To be a successful startup market for entrepreneurs looking to launch their businesses, an area must have three critical things: talent, technology, and capital.
Recognized for having the highest rate per capita of those with PhDs, the legacy of RTP, and the tech giants that reside here give the area a leg up when it comes to talent and intellectual capital. Our world-class universities, notably Duke University, The University of Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, are an asset to the region and provide a considerable technology and research influence. Skilled and competent employees are easy to find. We have a continuous stream of young talent, and our area universities conduct over $1 billion annually in research and development.
The Triangle has always attracted innovators, and students graduating are positioned for success. All three schools have well-regarded entrepreneurship programs and angel funds whereby alums can invest in current student ventures. David Gardner, managing partner of Cary-based Cofounders Capital, which helps budding companies in the software space grow and find capital notes, “We’ve done a great job of building a startup community (here). It’s cool to be an entrepreneur now. As evidence of that, entrepreneurship is the fastest-growing degree at local universities… the best and the brightest want to do their own thing.” Job possibilities are endless for students graduating with engineering, science, technology, and mathematics degrees, and local startup companies are projected to prosper.
Home to one of the largest research parks in the United States, the enterprise infrastructure of the Research Triangle Park (RTP) is widely regarded as the most extensive research center in the country, a hotbed for biotech and high-tech companies. Marked by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill at each of its three triangulated points, RTP has been a base for tech giants since its birth in 1959, with notable names calling the area home, including IBM, Cisco, Nortel, Sony Ericsson, and GlaxoSmithKline among them. Accordingly, we find a strong presence among technology, software, research and development, health and medical, and biopharmaceutical companies across the region. The Triangle area is a powerhouse for aviation, aerospace, cleantech, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and medical technology; but as the area has grown, we have also become recognized for gaming, enterprise software, mobile and virtualization companies, data centers, and a growing group of Web-based startups. A decade ago already, over 30 gaming industry companies called the area home. The region has a booming and brainy scene with startups in almost every field.
The Triangle is ripe with entrepreneurs and a community which support its startups. North Carolina was among the first states to offer a matching program as part of its $250 million fund in venture capital (VC). And while most cities are lucky to have one tech startup accelerator, names like TechStars and Y Combinator, the Raleigh-Durham area has four. Organizations like StartUp at Wake Tech and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) also support our local entrepreneurs.
When asked what makes the region an excellent place for startups, Adam Smith, Vice President of Square 1 Bank and director of its early-stage banking arm, Square Roots, says, “First and foremost, it’s an attitude of collaboration. The community – entrepreneurs, service providers, academia, big industry, non-profits – they really do rally around our startups.” With both large and smaller-scale investment opportunities, the startup scene has grown rapidly over the last decade thanks to venture capital invested here among companies like Epic Games and Pendo, which have billion-dollar valuations and employ hundreds locally.
Although 2021 and 2022 were already record years for economic development, Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), projects more transformative economic development projects are on the horizon for 2023. In a January interview with WRAL, Chung noted we could be on the cusp of another sensational year for business recruitment, with transformative economic development projects on the horizon that could bring more than 100,000 jobs to the state.
JupiterOne, a cybersecurity startup based in Morrisville, is the Triangle’s most recent unicorn (a term used to describe startups valued north of $1 billion), having raised $70 million from investors in June 2022. Founded by Erkang Zheng, a NCSU graduate, JupiterOne’s software helps companies monitor their digital security across cloud platforms, servers, and apps. And although remote work-based, Zheng plans to actively seek office space to keep the company headquarters based here as they grow.
Triangle tech is definitely attracting investors. At Cofounders Capital, Gardner notes that even though they are a traditional venture fund, it’s run like an angel group wanting to be the “first money in the deal,” often investing capital into companies that don’t yet have revenue. It certainly comes as no surprise that the Triangle is highly ranked among the best places to start a business.
The Raleigh-Durham area is a burgeoning environment for startups and entrepreneurs with its diverse population, strong community, outstanding education, and established science, technology, and research industry presence. High quality of life attracts new residents daily, but it’s the commerce and opportunity that keeps them here. With RTP at the nucleus and continued investment across the region, the talent, technologies, and capital available in the Triangle make it a great place for entrepreneurs to thrive and grow their businesses.
By Erica Jevons Sizemore
Broker, Realtor and Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS)
KWSE, Director of Luxury, Keller Williams Raleigh
Erica’s background in finance and marketing is matched with a personal passion for an unparalleled experience, love of home design and inability to sit still – always brainstorming how to better position her gregarious clients real estate investments to support their lifestyle and financial ambitions. After 12 years in wealth management at Morgan Stanley, Erica returned to real estate in residential and luxury home sales at Keller Williams Raleigh. With a love of North Carolina and all things Raleigh, she has been an active volunteer and committee chairperson at many of our local area community standouts, among them the North Carolina Symphony, Carolina Ballet, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, House of Hope NC and the RRAR Raleigh Giving Network.