Doug Speight is Executive Director for Durham’s American Underground campus, home to over 250 startups and a diverse entrepreneurial scene dubbed “The Startup Hub of The South” by CNBC. Speight is founder and CEO of Cathedral Leasing, a B2B equipment finance firm, and one of seven 2016 Entrepreneurs in Residence for Google and CODE2040. He has served as Founder or Co-Founder for four tech startups, in addition to leading technology transfer and commercialization divisions for NC A&T State University, NASA and the Department of Energy. He was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the GIGTANK venture accelerator, the nation’s first 3D printing venture accelerator, and holds several patents for 3D printing technology.
Speight is a graduate of NC A&T State University and earned a MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
1. What is in your pockets?
A set of keys, pack of gum — Trident tropical twist — business cards and a pen, my mobile phone and maybe occasionally an affinity card for a local restaurant.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
For one, the Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange: Black Founders was extremely exciting this year with a more robust group of startups than we’ve ever had. Many of the startups have a significant amount of traction so I’m excited about their prospects. We also had some amazing mentors just pour themselves into these companies over the course of the week. So really excited about the connections made, the advice provided that the companies now have to act on. I’d also say there are a record number of companies expanding within our space. So rather than companies that just occupy one office and then move out to a larger one, there are a number of companies expanding within our space. I’m really glad to see that as a sign of evolution as entities are adding to their teams.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
The irony is I don’t actually drink coffee and have never had a cup. I typically go to Beyủ Caffè on Main Street [in Durham], particularly for meetings that are convenient. I love the smell and aroma of the place plus it has great service, so I’m partial to Beyủ.
4. What keeps you up at night?
I worry about three things. I worry about the impediments to our founders being able to launch, grow and scale and how some of those impediments that block their progress are more prevalent here than they are in some other places. I worry about people being able to access the right talent, which is why we launched Big Top underneath the [Capital Broadcasting Corporation] corporate umbrella to focus in on making connections throughout the ecosystem and making connections to talent. I worry about the resources for companies at every stage of growth in terms of venture investment and equity capital. And the last thing I worry about is an equitable economy where we truly have parity in terms of the types of companies and founders that are invested in and grow to succeed in this area. I want to see the ratio to look more like the composition of our city.
At the end of the day, this tech economy should be creating more net contributors to the economy. That’s ultimately what we want — as many economic contributors across the entire spectrum as humanly possible. That is what is going to make this city rich, add fiber.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
Good question. There was a great restaurant that was in the American Tobacco PopUp shop called Boricua Soul. They are Puerto Rican soul food and it was absolutely phenomenal. They have a food truck that is often around town and in the downtown area. That is my spot — I love that.
The rationale behind the PopUp @ American Tobacco is to give inspiring restaurants an opportunity to operate out of bricks and mortar for a month or so just to test their product, test how they manage customers, so that this can serve as one of those steps towards a full-on restaurant.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
What’s next is the next generation of Black Wall Street entrepreneurs within the tech economy. Durham’s rich history in black entrepreneurship and black community engagement is one that can be and should be a model for the country, but we still have to do more to ensure that those entrepreneurs have the same access to resources without some of the societal barriers to doing that. We need more entrepreneurs.
I see Durham becoming the hub, the national hub for black entrepreneurship. This can be a destination for black technology entrepreneurs and I want to see that happen. I also want to see the presence of all the resources, specifically investments in the tech economy from everyone from serial entrepreneurs to exited entrepreneurs, to angels, to VC funds. I want to see the entire theme develop around this national resource that we have.
One of the things that I focus in on is traction and how we — myself as a fellow founder and our team at American Underground — can help companies achieve traction quicker than they would at any other location. So traction is really big for me: rapid customer engagement, customer acquisition and generating revenue early on to give founders more choices.