City Council approves funding for local start-ups

cmyers@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2014 

— City employee Derrick Minor doesn’t get a lot done in his office.

Instead, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Manager for the City of Raleigh spends a significant portion of his time on his laptop in trendy co-working spaces such as HQ Raleigh and American Underground, where much of the start-up magic happens. He networks, introducing entrepreneurs resources to those his department can help.

“We spend most of our time trying to figure out where they are, where they want to be, and trying to bridge that gap,” Minor says. Minor is part of a movement, quickly gathering momentum, to partner the government and the private sector in efforts to boost the city’s growth. As part of the budget approved by the City Council on June 9, $100,000 will be allocated to a new entrepreneurial start-up program.

Conversations with the small business and start-up community generated consistent feedback from the entrepreneurs, according to at large City Councilmember Mary-Ann Baldwin.

“The big issue, loud and clear, was there’s no capital here,” Baldwin says.

At HQ Raleigh, a local entrepreneur echoes Baldwin’s sentiments. Sean Newman Maroni, founder and CEO of Raleigh-based start-up BetaVersity, is familiar with the difficulties of finding the resources to get a business off the ground. BetaVersity, an initiative with a goal to help students “learn by doing,” was originally funded by a $5,000 grant from the privately owned National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. The idea for the start-up was born from Science Foundation-funded program the Stanford Epicenter.

“In general, I just think that there can be extremely healthy collaborations...between entrepreneurs and government,” Maroni says. He says that the future of Raleigh lies in utilizing its own resources – its three major universities, for example – rather than trying to mimic the vast infrastructure of a place like Silicon Valley.

The new program is intended to solve the problem of the lack of capital, which is more readily available in areas such as Silicon Valley, according to Maroni. While the $100,000 made available by the repayment of a loan made in 2007 can hardly be expected to provide assistance on a large scale, the amount is “almost like a challenge grant,” Baldwin says. She explains that the council hopes it will gain additional support from the private sector.

“If business is able to upfront the capital to support these...companies, I think this area can crop out a niche,” Maroni says.

How exactly these entrepreneurs will find the support they need to grow is still being determined. Economic Development Director James Sauls is developing recommendations on the practical details of the program. As of now, the specific process – how start-ups will apply for assistance, the methods the city will use to provide that assistance – has yet to be determined. Sauls says he is “actively working with the community” to draft the recommendations.

“It is very much in its infancy,” Baldwin says. “Right now it’s just a concept.”

She says she expects the specifics of the program will not be fully developed for another six months. Baldwin, like Minor and Maroni, expressed enthusiasm for a bright future for the city made possible by entrepreneurial start-ups.

“At the end of the day, we just want companies to be successful here,” Minor says.

Myers 919-829-4696

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