Midtown: Community

A road map for innovation emerges in Raleigh

An online map showing resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. A Kickstarter-style revolving loan program to help promising ideas materialize.

And direct flights to Silicon Valley.

These are among the suggestions for Raleigh to embrace the startup scene and build an innovation-friendly brand.

An all-day summit drew 175 young people, government officials and creative types last month to the Raleigh Convention Center. City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, an organizer of the event, has outlined the findings in a new report.

One idea is already starting: monthly meetups for innovators to network and talk about what they’re doing. The first event attracted 120 people, Baldwin said.

A group plans to attend a Triangle Wiki event Saturday to enter content on a new database of local culture, places and events. A “wiki” is a website maintained by a community of users.

Adding a direct flight to San Francisco “is at the top of our wish list,” said Mindy Hamlin, a spokeswoman for Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

According to RDU’s last air service study, 189 passengers traveled daily each way between RDU and San Francisco, home to many top high-tech companies.

The airport has shared the data with airlines, Hamlin said, but prospects are unclear amid economic turmoil in the industry.

“We do have the passengers that could support a nonstop flight,” Hamlin said.

Raleigh’s need for an innovation identity became a topic last summer when a series of proposals emerged for entrepreneurial centers in downtown. One group called for a fashion incubator. Others suggested a music entrepreneurship center and technology hub.

Sensing the need for a larger conversation, Baldwin hatched plans for the summit, which brought together city government and N.C. State University officials and people from the business community.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy told attendees that the Research Triangle enjoys the country’s second-best brand behind Silicon Valley.

“But you’ve lived off that brand for 20 years,” Murphy said in a keynote address.

Raleigh can no longer pitch itself as the City of Oaks and expect businesses to show up, several participants said.

The city can carve out a niche by fostering homegrown talent, particularly startups that emerge from N.C. State.

“Centennial Campus provides an amazing innovation engine, but we need places for N.C. State startups to grow,” the report said.

An innovation center envisioned for downtown would provide space for networking, recruiting and support services.

It could be a place for legal and accounting aid. “I for one see this as the biggest hurdle to starting a company,” Caleb Wright told summit organizers. “Free or reduced rates ... would be a huge benefit to those getting started.”

Billie Redmond, a Raleigh real estate executive, has been in discussions with Red Hat about placing the center in the software company’s new downtown headquarters, the former Progress Energy tower on Davie Street.

There’s talk of a public awareness campaign with a big online presence and testimonials around the theme “My future in Raleigh.”

Participants also called for a public directory of entrepreneurs and funders, resources and assets. The format would be similar to the popular Craigslist site. The Council for Entrepreneurial Development and N.C. State are working on such a database with help from CityCamp Raleigh, Triangle Wiki and other tech-minded groups.

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