The Globalizer: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
It has no international port, no airline hub and no world trade center, but that hasn't kept Chapel Hill from becoming one of the United States' most worldly cities. Chapel Hill's entrepreneurial forte is building companies that are globally faceted, with businesses taking advantage of the region's increasing connections to India, China and the Persian Gulf. "I was in Vienna watching the Lipizzaner Stallions, and I asked the Ukrainian woman next to me why she was there," says Ted Zoller, director of the University of North Carolina's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. "She told me she was in town training with Quintiles, a bioinformatics company. I was flabbergasted; that's a Chapel Hill startup. That was one of those real flat-earth moments you get here." But the global ascendancy of North Carolina is no fluke. It was 50 years ago this year that the state dreamed up the Research Triangle Park, the most famous brains-to-boardrooms facilitator in the world. After so many decades, it's providing exponential dividends for Chapel Hill, whose educated work force, established startup culture and resources, and quality of life mean that the whole world is watching to see what it will do next.
Outsourcing is a boon for the international conglomerates that can afford it, but sending tasks like custom software creation overseas is a hassle for small and midsize businesses. That's where Spectra Force comes in, providing simplified outsourcing for the little guys.
The startup began as a business plan for Amit Singh's MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill, in particular as part of two intensive six-week programs called Discovery and Softlaunch. At the end of those classes, Singh had a workable and well-vetted business plan. "All of the plans were looked at, and mine was judged the best," remembers Singh. "That gave me the confidence to quit my job and work on this business full time."
Though he bootstrapped Spectra Force, which now employs 350 people in nearby Raleigh, in Mexico and in India, he still looks to Chapel Hill for guidance. "For me, I wouldn't have thought about starting a business without having the great individuals who've helped me," he says. The area's large pool of highly educated employees and low cost of living did their part too. "If I need advice or help with decision making in my business, I have people I can go back to. There are strong reasons why I'm still part of this community."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.