THE BULL CITY MEANS BUSINESS

By James Forrest

A couple of weeks back, I was very happy to see this article, which outlines the success of the recent third installment of the Bull City Startup Stampede, on the Durham Chamber blog. There are many reasons that I am proud to call Durham the home for my business, as well as the place where my wife and I are raising our children — and the Startup Stampede represents one of the more important reasons that I enjoy living and working in Durham.  We look out for each other.

Many cities, towns, and states promote themselves as “business-friendly.” Some people define this in terms of low taxation or incentive packages. Others define this in terms of the available labor force or the political climate, or even by proximity to major education and research institutions. While we have all of these qualities—Durham is at the center of a major research and education hub, with an outstanding workforce, and in a state with a competitive view toward taxation—I think what really separates us is our willingness to work together, particularly as a business community.

The Stampede is a great example of this collaborative spirit, and it shows that working together gets results.  As the Chamber blog piece points out, this summer’s stampede has launched seven new companies. This, after the first two stampedes in 2011 resulted in 28 new companies launched in the area.  What’s really amazing about these results is that we are bringing together all kinds of resources—area venture capital, in-kind services from existing Durham-area companies to provide critical support to entrepreneurs in pre-launch stage, and pro-bono support from a host of advisors.  To date, the three stampedes have brought together dozens of companies to donate and trade well over $100,000 in services.

What’s even better are the new startups themselves—the recipients of all of this collaborative work—who are now primed to be woven into the fabric of our business community. They represent an impressive array of innovative thinkers applying great concepts to a diverse set of industries—all very desirable to our community—including technology, social media, financial services, gifts and apparel, and even a non-profit tasked with improving Durham’s cultural experience in the form of bringing a jazz festival to the Bull City.

I am very happy to see the Startup Stampede continue to thrive for the Chamber, Downtown Durham, Inc., and all of the participating companies. As part of my firm’s participation, I recently joined two other area business attorneys to participate in a panel addressing issues and questions that startups commonly face. We spoke with the executives about issues around incorporation, specifically, around suitable business entities, and some of the issues they will face sooner than later with regard to growth, such as structuring for employees and contractors.

Each of the attorneys also outlined the importance of having proper contracts in place for vendors, partners, and employees, so that they could drive business development properly with an eye to managing risk and protecting their intellectual property.  Establishing a set of best practices in safely vetting and implementing these relationships, along with strategic partnerships and alliances, will go a long way to making these companies profitable and sustainable.

Finally, the attorney panel talked with the new executives about fundraising. This is the hottest topic among most startup executives. While some embrace measured, organic growth, others want to explore a faster, strings-attached approach to growing their enterprises.  We had the privilege of sharing legal insights on relationships with angel investors, venture capital firms, and traditional financing from banks and other institutions.

To our colleagues who joined us in underwriting the third Bull City Startup Stampede, we thank you. To the participants, we are honored to have you and your companies make our Durham business community even better.