What comes to your mind when you think of Charlotte? The name makes me think of one famous rock band (Good Charlotte) and the “Charlotte’s Web” novel.
Yet, that’s the name of the most populous city of North Carolina that I got assigned to as a part of the YTILI fellowship program. 70 promising entrepreneurs from across the European continent got selected for the program to experience the business environment in the US, meet prospective partners and set footing or expand their presence in the US market.
Applications for the 2019 edition of the YTILI fellowship are now open. Deadline: January 4, 2019.
To achieve this, 70 entrepreneurs were assigned to 9 different cities — Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, New Orleans, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington D.C.
While the US startup scene is known for such entrepreneurial cities as New York and San Francisco with its infamous Silicon Valley, open culture to innovation and relatively easy access to funding, there a lot of emerging start-up ecosystems in the US that have a lot to offer for budding entrepreneurs.
While preparing for my trip to Charlotte, I expected it to be more finance-centered due to the presence of Bank of America and Wells Fargo, yet the reality exceeded my expectations. It was exciting to discover this hidden gem and to explore what it has to offer to new ventures.
5 facts about Charlotte that are going to surprise you
By spending one full week in Charlotte, here 5 facts that made me the most impressed. I hope you will enjoy the discovery, too.
1. It’s more than just FinTech
With the presence of headquarters of such giants as The Bank of America and Wells Fargo, Charlotte has become an attractive spot to build a FinTech company. In fact, this city is the second largest banking city after New York and it has become the fastest growing FinTech hub of the US.
But finance is not the only well-represented sector in the city. Because it is a home of seven Fortune 500 companies – Bank of America, Lowe’s, Duke Energy, Nucor, Honeywell, Sonic Automotive, and Sealed Air – other large sectors are Health care, IT, Advanced manufacturing, Logistics & distribution and International business.
It also has a lot of large universities in the area – UNC Charlotte, Queens University, Pfeiffer University, just to mention a few – suggesting that there is an opportunity to start and expand EdTech start-ups as well.
2. Easy access to tech talent
Because the city has a lot of universities, there are a lot of qualified people, namely tech talent, graduating from universities every single year. In 2017 alone, UNC Charlotte had 5,668 students studying IT and engineering. For a city with a population of 859,035, that’s huge.
While the supply of qualified IT and engineering talent is easily accessible – which is great news for a prospective tech company – keeping the talent at might pose a challenge.
“Qualified IT professionals oftentimes get lured by large corporations, which makes it hard for younger ventures to find and grow their IT teams”, says Emma Hatfield, Community Development Coordinator at Tech Talent South, which nurtures tech talents in North Carolina.
It is not that just the local businesses in North Carolina compete for tech professionals, enterprises based on the West Coast offer even more attractive packages, with Silicon Valley being the top destination.
How would you make them stay under these circumstances? Emma has an answer for this: “We encourage tech professionals to consider the living costs before moving to another state and how much they are going to have after paying monthly bills.”
Speaking of living costs.
3. Costs of doing business are among the lowest in the US
Forbes mentioned Charlotte in its Top 5 places to do business and pursue a career in the US.
On a personal note, just to illustrate the difference in prices, I would like to mention the gas prices: when I stayed in San Diego, CA earlier this year, I paid about $4 per gallon (or 83 eurocents per liter), while during my stay in Charlotte, NC during the program, I paid $2.6 per gallon (or 55 eurocents per liter).
By the way, at the moment of writing this article, Shell charges €1.61 a liter (or $7.4 per gallon) in Amsterdam.
4. Local start-up ecosystem is expanding rapidly
Thanks to favorable economic conditions and taxation regime, access to tech talent, high living standards and ease of doing business, the environment for starting a business in Charlotte seems to be better than ever.
On top of this, the venture capital funding in North Carolina-based is up 154% to $2.57 billion compared to $1.01 billion in the entire year of 2017, according to Crunchbase data, and the recent announcement of IBM to acquire Charlotte-based venture Red Hat for $34 billion promises to become the biggest software company acquisition in history.
To give the economic development a strategic direction and grow a strong start-up ecosystem, initiatives such as Ventureprise at UNCC and Tech Talent South are instrumental.
“We want to inspire more young people – students and graduates – to consider the path of entrepreneurship.” Says Devin Collins, Managing Director at Ventureprise. “We offer mentoring, organize networking sessions and we are building a knowledge-sharing platform to make the experience and knowledge sharing among established and starting founders seamless”.
The activities are not only limited to students and young professionals. “We have plans to grow outside the university and involve founders from”, Devin concluded.
At the same time, Tech Talent South wants to tap into younger audiences – high school students – to get them acquainted with the world of technology and IT. “We are creating a community of prospective young professionals to help them acquire new skills, such as coding and user design”, says Betsy Idilbi, CEO & Co-Founder at Tech Talent South. And the concept seems to be working: corporations are interested in hiring junior professionals and train their staff.
Betsy sets an ambitious goal for the next 12 months: to double the current pool of students to 1200 pupils. Given the pace at which the eco-system is developing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the target is going to be exceeded.
5. Tight industry communities offer more opportunities
What would you do next once you registered your business? Right, you are going to look for your first customers.
Because the population is smaller compared to cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Washington D.C., it is easier to get meet with the right people within your industry.
For example, during the YTILI fellowship program, I was looking for ways to meet, I was able to connect with deans of 6 business schools in Charlotte within 1 week. This has been the
What do you think? Which facts made you curious about doing business in Charlotte, NC? What facts are we missing? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
BONUS: Compilation of fun facts about Charlotte
While you are thinking about this, here is a brief compilation of fun facts about Charlotte and North Carolina for some extra food for thought: