(Photo by Flickr user James Willamor, used under a Creative Commons license)
One of the fastest growing places in the country, Greater Raleigh is growing by 64 people per day. Currently at just over a million residents, our population is projected to double by 2040. Out of the 43 people who are moving here, 75 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, making our region’s talent pool one of the most well educated in the U.S.
A well-known hub for life sciences, we’re also experiencing rapid growth in our technology sector. Raleigh saw a 38.5 percent increase in technology jobs between 2010-2015, second only to San Francisco and ahead of Austin, Boston and other innovation hubs.
While this recent growth is a testament to new investments being made in Raleigh’s success, the surrounding Research Triangle region has a longstanding history of innovation. The Research Triangle Park, a first-of-its-kind research campus established more than 50 years ago, and the three tier-one research universities that make up the three points of the Triangle — NC State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University — laid a solid foundation to ensure innovation and economic prosperity would extend into the future.
Raleigh was recently named the fourth best city in the country for fostering entrepreneurial growth. The city is home to more than 500 startups, and offers a strong cultural foundation and a deep talent pool with the nearby universities that positions it well to thrive in a global, digital economy. It’s no surprise then that Raleigh is one of the top cities in the U.S. for generating the best VC returns, as well as one of the best places for business and careers.
Here are four lessons Raleigh has learned while building a top hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.
1. Put talent front and center
- Citrix moved into Raleigh’s Warehouse District in 2014 and has been a catalyst for the area’s revitalization. In late 2016, the company announced it will expand by another 400 jobs. Open source giant Red Hat expanded its global headquarters from NC State University to downtown Raleigh in 2013, and grew from 1,100 associates in 2006 to 7,000 in 2014, now with more than 9,300 associates across 85+ offices in 35 countries. Both companies cite access to highly-skilled talent as a strategic differentiator in their decision to locate in Raleigh.
2. Think big with long-term investments
- Shortly after the end of World War II, key leadership in North Carolina recognized the need to make major investments to catalyze the state’s fading economy and retain college graduates flowing out of nearby universities. The Research Triangle Park was born out of this, creating a research and development center that would leverage the science and engineering knowledge incubating at surrounding higher education institutions. Evolving to present-day, the Park’s new vision, Park Center, is 100-acres of live-work-play space that will create new opportunities for the region’s core.
3. Promote collaboration between major employers and startups
- Citrix and Red Hat are both active participants and advocates for Raleigh’s rapidly increasing entrepreneurial growth. The Raleigh Innovators Program is a partnership between Raleigh coworking space HQ Raleigh, Citrix, Red Hat and the City of Raleigh. It’s a 12-week program that enables internal teams within Citrix and Red Hat, or “intrapreneurs,” and external startups across the Triangle to rapidly launch and scale new ideas. At the beginning of the program, all teams receive $10,000 in equity-free funding. The most successful startups receive an additional $50,000 at the end of the twelve weeks plus participation in an additional three-month program to help them prepare for growth and raise their first round of funding.
4. Stay competitive with a well-connected ecosystem
- Raleigh and the surrounding region provide an entrepreneurial pipeline with connected steps along the way. For example, NC State offers tailored programs like the Entrepreneurship Initiative and Tech Incubator on NC State’s Centennial Campus, and post-college initiatives like ThinkHouse are a natural transition into HQ Raleigh, Industrious, American Underground and other nearby incubators. The density of networks for startups and entrepreneurs is critical so they can make as many connections as possible and are able to stand out. Compared to places like San Francisco and New York City, innovators here have access to the resources and connections they need to get started and scale.