Spotlight On Durham’s American Underground Tech Hub: It Had A Record year

Written by Dana Sanchez

The Southeast is poorly represented among North America’s fastest-growing tech companies, but the region is gaining national attention for something else — an increasing number of minority-led tech companies.
Almost half of the 269 startups and small companies are led by women or people of color at American Underground, a co-working community in Durham, North Carolina — 48 percent to be exact.
American Underground companies raised $39.4 million in 2017 —  a record for the startup community and a 47.6 percent increase over 2016, Herald Sun reported.
“American Underground said that 30 percent of the companies based there are now led by a woman. Nationally, only 5 percent of tech startups are owned by women, according to advocacy group Women Who Tech.”
American Underground is one of nine North American tech hubs that partners with Google for Entrepreneurs. It has three coworking and community spaces, and holds events, training, and accelerator classes for rising startups. Google for Entrepreneurs provides tech content, business tools and infrastructure upgrades.
American Underground sent two area startups — Windsor Circle and Automated Insights — to the inaugural Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day in Silicon Valley. Windsor Circle brought home the top prize and both startups received $100,000 investments from AOL Founder Steve Case following demo day.

Fastest growing vs. diverse leadership

Just 25 Southeastern companies made it onto Deloitte’s recently released annual Technology Fast 500 list. The list ranks the 500 fastest-growing public and private tech, media, telecom, life sciences, and energy tech companies in North America, based on revenue growth over three years.
Out of the 25 Southeastern companies that made Deloitte’s Fast 500, 19 are from the Atlanta metro region, according to Hypepotamus. Five of the 25 companies are from North Carolina and one is from South Carolina. You can see all 25 here.
Software dominates the Southeast companies recognized by Deloitte, with 17 out of the 25 identifying as software companies — higher than the overall industry results. The second-highest industry category is digital content/media/entertainment, with three Southeastern companies.

Growing visibility of Southeast tech startups

Durham is growing as a destination for national investors, said Doug Speight, who leads an American Underground co-working space. “Our companies are obtaining a lot more visibility with investors around the country, and we are seeing a lot more (fund)raises from larger markets,” he said in a Herald Sun report. “It’s a great sign for the region in terms of capital availability.”
American Underground partners with Google to host an annual summit for black-led companies that brings black-led startups and large venture capital firms from across the country to Durham for a week.
“There is an appetite for investing in women and people of color (right now), and there is an eye toward diverse investment,” Speight said.

SpokeHub — a social media and chat room-like communication app— hit Apple and Google Play stores this month. Its five African American founders are Durhamites with a long history in the region, according to Wral Tech Wire.

The Spokehub team was one of 12 teams that participated in the first Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange: Black Founders program in 2016 hosted by American Underground.

The founders include Richard Berryman III, Robert Hartsfield, John York, John McAdory, and Terry Johnson. Durham startup teams and their leadership are increasingly diverse, Wral Tech reported.

York got the idea for SpokeHub while attending a local high school basketball game. When the referees made a call the fans didn’t agree with, he wanted to chat with others int the gym about the play and subsequent call. His social media network didn’t align with those in the room. Posting on Facebook or Twitter would have confused his friends and not provided the conversation he wanted.

SpokeHub is a room or channel where people with shared interests or who are at the same events can engage meaningfully with each other.

American Underground
Firms at Durham, NC-based American Underground tech hub raised record funding in 2017, almost $40 million. Photo: Herald-Sun

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About Dana Sanchez
Dana Sanchez is the editor of and She has worked in digital and print news media as a business writer and news editor. She has a master's degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. Prior to working in news, Dana worked in advertising.

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