Wow, a year goes by so quickly when you are engaged in meaningful, interesting work.
For nearly 12 months I have regularly introduced myself as “the new guy,” “the recently hired” VP of Marketing and Communications. Now that I’ve been at the Research Triangle Foundation for a full year though, I can no longer get away with that statement–I’m officially expected to know stuff! With that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned and some highlights from my first year working in RTP.
RTP is so much more than I imagined.
When I accepted this job, I knew the major RTP corporations–Cisco, IBM, RTI, GSK–and I’d even heard of the plan to redevelop RTP. What I didn’t realize though was the breadth of companies that are here. Looking at the RTP Company Directory it is a little mind-boggling that there are 240 businesses in the Park and that 145 of them (61%) are small businesses employing fewer than 10 people. That is great, as these smaller entrepreneurial start-up companies will fuel the future innovation that will drive the Park.
An example of this type of start-up success is AgBiome. In 2013 they moved into The Lab with just 7 employees. Now, less than 4 years later, they’ve moved into a brand new 30,0000 sq. ft. facility and announced that they have received $52 million raised from a syndicate of premier investors, including Syngenta Labs and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At their ribbon cutting in April, it was inspiring to hear about the work they’re doing to better protect the world’s crops from pests and harsh weather conditions.
The RTP Community is getting stronger.
Gone are the days where RTP employees drove into the Park in the morning, worked on a private campus, and then drove home in the evening. Thanks to The Frontier, which opened in January 2015, employees can now meet up for coffee, Happy Hour, an entrepreneurial pitch event or work session, or an RTP 180 event, all within the RTP.
When I first started, folks were still learning about The Frontier; it’s coworking and meeting spaces would be half-full on a normal weekday. Now, there are days where it is challenging to find a table or desk! So it wasn’t surprising to hear that The Frontier surpassed 100,000 visitors in July, and is expanding. Pretty amazing for a open innovation community hub that didn’t exist two years ago!
RTP has some amazing people with great ideas.
The best thing about my first year though has been the number of smart, talented folks I’ve met in the Park and all of the interesting things they are working on. For instance:
Ben Greene – An inventor, farmer, entrepreneur, and more–Ben opened The Farmery in RTP this year. Dreamed up during a class at NC State, the idea of The Farmery has grown from something sketched out on paper, into a full fledged enterprise. Today, visitors to The Frontier have the opportunity to order breakfast and lunch from an AirStream trailer. The food is grown next door in a shipping container that has been renovated into a greenhouse. Check out this video to get a full sense of The Farmery:
Or Susan Sumner, a scientist and Director at RTI International, who back in February gave an amazing talk at an RTP 180 event on the work her team is doing to use people’s biochemical fingerprints to identify personal health risk factors. (Mind blown!)
I’ve found RTP to be full of people like these two–so much so, that I was not at all surprised to see RTP featured as an example in the book The Smartest Places on Earth published earlier this year.
Now that I’ve been at RTP for a full year I feel like I have a much better grasp of the type of work being done here, the community that’s doing the work, and the challenges that lie ahead. My goals are to continue:
- networking–meeting more smart people doing interesting things and telling those stories
- growing the community–helping convene and connect folks and organizations in order to create more start-ups, spin-offs, and innovations
- pushing forward the redevelopment of RTP–expanding The Frontier campus, getting the Park Center East mixed-use development construction going, and tackling the transit and communication challenges that will come with this growth.