With great networking, great food and some 180 startups representing all corners of the Southeast presenting, CED’s Venture Connect summit is back and better than ever in 2023.
Kelly Rowell, CED’s President and CEO, called Venture Connect the “premiere event in the Southeast” when it comes to startups and innovation. This year’s event will be held at GSK’s campus in Research Triangle Park next Wednesday and Thursday (March 29-30).
While staying true to its Triangle roots, Venture Connect’s focus is increasingly on North Carolina’s contribution to a rapidly growing startup ecosystem across the Southeast, Rowell said.
From tech to manufacturing to agriculture to biotech and beyond, this year’s Venture Connect presenters are a little bit of everything from a little bit of everywhere in the region—a perfect representation of the diverse startup scene of the Southeast and the Triangle ecosystem’s central role within it.
“When you think about how ecosystems are built and their size and power, I would say that North Carolina’s ecosystem is an attractor to founders from micro-ecosystems in Florida and other states,” Rowell said. “They want to take advantage of the maturity of our ecosystem, and leverage its ability to attract investors and other resources.”
Investors from across the country come to Venture Connect to learn about the Southeast’s startup ecosystem. Their interest in the summit isn’t an anomaly, Rowell said, it is indicative of a growing interest in the region’s value—as outlined in CED’s recent Venture Report for 2022, its annual report tracking VC investments in NC startups.
The numbers don’t lie—previous Venture Connect presenters have raised over $6 billion combined.
“Interest in our region by investors continues to grow, and many of them are starting to have a presence here year-round because they realize that this is a very rich ecosystem to build a company,” Rowell said. “We have all the right resources that founders need to be successful—to start here, to come here and to stay here.”
Though they make up an important demographic, investors aren’t the only people who should be interested in Venture Connect, Rowell said. The event acts as a connector between skilled workers who are looking to join the startup ecosystem and companies that need their talent, especially for Venture Connect’s startup presenters.
“If you want to work for a startup, it’s a great way to learn about 180 companies that are probably hiring locally,” Rowell said.
Yes, you read that right—a record 180 startups will be presenting at this year’s Venture Connect. Most of these companies are early stage and come from the Triangle and beyond, but that is where their similarities end.
Tackling issues that include mental healthcare, sustainability, the future of work and cybersecurity, these companies show how startups have evolved to address challenges that became increasingly visible as a result of Covid-19.
Venture Connect itself has changed as a result of the pandemic’s challenges. Last year, the Summit returned in-person for the first time since 2019 at a new location: Cisco’s headquarters in Research Triangle Park. This year, the summit is returning to RTP with the help of its host, GSK (42 Moore Dr in RTP). The collision of startups, Triangle tech giants and investors is an intentional change, Rowell said, that CED hopes will act as a connector for the ecosystem.
“Those larger corporate partners have a lot of resources that potentially can help startups and by bringing this event into their backyard it creates visibility into the activity that’s happening in that very early stage of a company,” Rowell said. “It is an orchestrated collision between Big Tech and startups.”
With tickets ranging from $399 for startups (if purchased through March 28; they’ll be $499 if acquired at the event) and $799-$899 for others to attend, Rowell realizes that for many, attending Venture Connect will be an investment.
While investing in Venture Connect reaps returns in the form of networking opportunities and ecosystem knowledge, Rowell is aware that this kind of cost is not for everyone, especially for early-stage founders. If Venture Connect is cost-prohibitive at this stage of your company or career, consider solely attending the post-Summit celebration, which is just $99 for startups ($249-$299 for others) and includes drinks, food and four hours worth of networking.
“We want to make this experience accessible to everyone,” Rowell said.
Last year, this “tailgate party” boasted local BBQ and libations and hosted over 900 attendees. Rowell hopes this year’s post-Summit celebration—and Venture Connect overall—will be an even bigger and better way to build community and celebrate a growing Triangle startup ecosystem.
“This is an event for everybody,” Rowell said. “It is truly a celebration for innovation in our region, and that is something we should all be proud of.”