Charlotte fails to deliver for Amazon as Southeast competitors make HQ2 cut

The Charlotte region's chance of landing the coveted prize of Amazon's second North American headquarters has ended.

For the last few months, cities across the country have been clamoring for Amazon’s attention and a chance at the $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs the company has promised.

Amazon finally released a list of its 20 finalists, and they’re a who’s who of up-and-coming cities — including most fast-growing Southern ones.

Yes, our sister cities Atlanta and Raleigh both made the list. Peers like Indianapolis, Nashville and Denver, too. Charlotte did not make the cut.

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Interview with Thom Ruhe, President and CEO of NC IDEA

NC IDEA is a private foundation with a mission to maximize the economic potential of the people of North Carolina by supporting the formation and fruition of high-growth entrepreneurial endeavors in the state.


Thom Ruhe


Thom is President and CEO of NC IDEA. He is an entrepreneur, investor, mentor and works with entrepreneurs, governments, universities, and NGOs around the world to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset needed to grow vibrant economies.


In this episode, William asks Thom about his first impression of Charlotte after taking the job and what it takes to move the startup needle further in Charlotte.  Thom talks about the KeyBank giving $24 million to JumpStart – a similar organization to NC IDEA in Cleveland – but there is still a lack of support among the corporations in Charlotte.

They talk about human capital – how the big corporations are allowing employee’s volunteer time to support efforts like QC Fintech – and how that is different from financial capital.  Finally, Thom touches on the intellectual capital as well.

Thom also talks about how banks can be the first customer to many of these Fintech companies and how the ‘first customer’ issue many startups face could be lowered if the banks opened up a little more.  As he talks about it though, he mentions how this process could be messy and ‘chunky’ and not a panacea.  However, it could be just as important for startups to have the banks serve as first customers as it would be to have them be early-stage investors.

Thom and William further discuss how early-stage capital is developing in Charlotte.  We now have the Charlotte Angel Fund, VentureSouth, IDEA Fund, Wolfpack Investment Network (WIN), Duke Angel Network (DAN), and Carolina Angel Network (CAN).  The North Carolina Venture Capital Multiplier Fund run by Hatteras Venture Partners also has a sidecar fund that will co-invest along with WIN, DAN, and CAN.  Ideally, Thom would like to see this network of university led investor networks expand into Charlotte through Davidson and UNCC.

Thom continues to go back to the three different types of capital in Charlotte.  How do we further develop the talent in Charlotte as we don’t have a ton of serial entrepreneurs?

This podcast episode has been kindly provided by William Bissett ( Radio Live Broadcast from Start Charlotte Live

The presents a live report from Start Charlotte Live, November 17.

On Thursday, Nov. 16, Start Charlotte toasted the city’s startup scene and all the success Charlotte’s entrepreneurs have achieved in the past year. More than 120 people turned out to celebrate at Heist Brewery in Noda. Three startup awards were presented:

Charles ThomasCharlotte program director with the Knight Foundation, received the Servant Leader Award.

Meggie Williamsco-founder and CEO of The Waggle Company, was recognized as Startup of the Year.

And the team from Stratifyd was given the AvidXchange Innovation Award.

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The Power of a Connected Ecosystem

It is already common knowledge that connectivity among entrepreneurs, established businesses, mentors, colleges and universities and professional services is a critical component of a vibrant ecosystem. We also know, that according to a recent Charlotte-based study that Charlotte’s ecosystem remains fragmented among many of these participants

 One Million Cups Charlotte is one of the places where entrepreneurs come together to help each other succeed


Thankfully, the times are changing. Numerous local organizations, companies, and individuals are teaming up to increase connectivity between the entrepreneurial community and corporations. CRFE aims to facilitate this efforts in the following way:

  1. Increase the flow of information between established companies and entrepreneurial firms
  2. Invest in digital and physical hubs where ideas can gather and collide
  3. Form and maintain authentic mentoring relationships to support start-ups
  4. Increase the flow of valuable resources

Everybody wins in a connected ecosystem. Charlotte startups and entrepreneurs will reap the benefits of other’s experience and knowledge. Additionally, they will feel supported, which can boost morale and purpose.

We believe that this increased connectivity also leads to a better understanding of processes used by companies to fuel and sustain growth. In a well-connected ecosystem, an entrepreneur can glean valuable information about creating processes for everything from bookkeeping to marketing plans to talent recruitment.

The more established Charlotte institutions will be able to rekindle the startup spirit that launched them in the first place. This spark may ignite dormant ideas or generate new ones.

Intentionally connecting companies of all shapes and sizes in Charlotte will make for a more hospitable environment for entrepreneurial growth. That means more start-ups. Which means more jobs.  Which means an increased need for goods and services, spurring growth in all sectors of Charlotte.

Like ecosystems in the natural world, entrepreneurial environments function best when they coalesce with other communities. Therefore, if our community wants a greater flow of new ideas, more new jobs and faster growth, then we really only have one choice: we have to get connected.

Why Charlotte Needs More Mentoring Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Thoreau had Emerson. Zuckerberg had Jobs. Winfrey had Angelou. Skywalker had Kenobi.

History (and movies) prove that the right connection between master and student can, in many cases, be the difference between success and failure.

But first - you have to find the right mentor.

David Jones from Peak 10 and Kevin Geriunas meet for the first time at Advent Coworking

Historically, Charlotte has suffered from a noticeable deficit in programs and organizations that cater to the mentoring needs of entrepreneurs. Although there are opportunities inside existing programs such as Queen City Forward, City Startup Labs or QC FinTech to get access to mentors, as of right now, it appears that the vast majority of Charlotte startups do not have an easy and affordable way to work with mentors. Most certainly this situation needs to change. Therefore building an effective mentorship program is one of the priorities of the CRFE.

“We are seeking to identify mentors with the right skill set, attitude, incentives to support entrepreneurs”-Walter Frye

Mentoring – and being mentored for that matter – is not easy. It takes time. Time to meet. Time to develop a rapport. Time to reflect. But once established, a strong bond between mentor and mentee can lead to a variety of positive outcomes such as:

  • Recruitment and retention of talent
  • Ecosystem Connectivity among Charlotte Corporations and Entrepreneurs
  • Promotion of Entrepreneurial Mindset

Here at CRFE we believe that intentional mentoring programs will be instrumental to business growth in Charlotte.

A great mentor can identify blind spots in a new business. Develop effective processes. Facilitate connections within their network. And, perhaps, most importantly provide authentic support to Charlotte’s next crop of thinkers, doers, and entrepreneurs.

Accessing Capital Funding

Good ideas can be found in many places. Unfortunately, the process of making a good idea into a successful company requires capital, which has historically been limited for the majority of people both in Charlotte and across the nation.


"The community is ready to invest in Charlotte." Walter Frye

A recent report by Babson College found that only 2.7% of VC funded companies were led by a female CEO. Other research shows that a very small fraction of VC funded companies were founded by African Americans. There is a also a lack of diversity among angel investors. In 2014  only 26% of angels were women, while minority angels accounted for less than 10% of the angel population.

Moreover, Charlotte has its own unique challenges. In the 2015 Report on the Impact of Innovation sponsored by the CRFE, the following issues were identified regarding the Queen City:

  1. Charlotte's innovation capacity substantially lags behind benchmark metros: at $17 per capita, it is about one-tenth of the lowest benchmark, Kansas City. If Charlotte matched Kansas City per capita results, Charlotte would have an additional $280 million of R&D spending.
  2. Charlotte's angel investing is happening at smaller scale than is seen in several nearby metros.
  3. If Charlotte companies obtained venture capital at a rate similar to Atlanta, Charlotte metro companies would receive an additional annual investment of $158 million.

One hypothesis regarding the roots of the issue is that Charlotte's history as a corporate and banking town makes it less open to innovation and to early stage investing.  Often described as risk averse,  this culture may create misalignment and misunderstanding of the motivations and incentives among key players to include business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs. This unfortunately, lends itself to a clear disconnect between the risk-driven culture of entrepreneurs and the risk-averse environment of some established companies.

This gap between corporate and entrepreneurial ecosystems makes it difficult for small businesses and investors to cross-pollinate and share ideas and resources. There undoubtedly needs to be more intentionality and opportunity in connecting these ecosystems.

We strongly believe that the community is ready to invest in Charlotte. Our job is to make sure that this readiness will transform into action.