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VCs in the Hot Seat 2022 audience shot
Duke I&E director Jamie Jones welcomes students, alumni, and community members

“I’ve been fortune enough to have many conversations with VCs,” said Danny Auerbach MBA ’23, co-president of Fuqua’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club. “However, it was extra special to hear so many firms from the Triangle share their backgrounds with us all at once.”

Auerbach was an attendee at VCs in the Hot Seat, an event hosted by Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (Duke I&E) showcasing nine early-stage investors in the Triangle. Part of Global Entrepreneurship Week—an annual celebration of entrepreneurship with a focus on broadening entrepreneurship access to traditionally underrepresented communities—the event drew students, alumni, and community members to hear “pitches” by representatives from Bull City Venture PartnersCo-founders CapitalDuke Capital PartnersFront Porch Venture PartnersHatteras Venture PartnersIDEA Fund PartnersResilient VenturesVenture South, and xElle Ventures. A reception following the program let attendees network with the investors and discuss their own entrepreneurial ventures.

“It was inspiring to see how collaborative and supportive the Triangle’s investment community is, and how committed to the mission of maximizing the number of startups in the region,” said Jamie Jones, director of Duke I&E. “Plus, I think we definitely dispelled the myth of there being any lack of early-stage capital available in the region. The Triangle has so many resources to support emerging entrepreneurs, funding included. You won’t find a more supportive or encouraging entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.”

The investors who presented spoke to their firms’ portfolios and areas of focus, whether health (Hatteras Venture Partners), B2B software (Cofounders Capital), the future of homes and work (IDEA Fund Partners), or a specific founder demographic (Resilient Ventures invests specifically in African American Founders, whereas xElle Ventures invests in female-founded and female-led companies). While many of the presenting firms invest nationally or globally, most have a regional focus in the Southeast.

VCs in the Hot Seat 2022 Shawna Lemon, co-founder of xElle Ventures, speaks with attendees during the networking reception
Shawna Lemon, co-founder of xElle Ventures, speaks with attendees during the networking reception

“Every necessary component can be found here in the region,” said Michael Lee, Senior Associate at Bull City Venture Partners. “High-quality talent, a supportive community, and access to funding and customers.”

Shawna Lemon, co-founder of xElle Ventures, remarked, “The investment community in the Triangle is cooperative and not competitive. Angels and VCs often work together to support entrepreneurs through the various stages of an entrepreneur’s journey.”

Several presenters described the opportunities associated with entrepreneurship in the Triangle, with lower costs of scaling a startup, a friendlier tax and business environment, and a high quality of life resulting in startup growth and an influx of talent to the area, particularly following the Covid pandemic.

Many investors also emphasized their firms’ commitment to funding diverse and historically underrepresented founders—a commitment that in the words of Joe Mancini, General Partner at Front Porch Venture Partners, “in addition to being good for society, is good for returns.” Presenting for IDEA Fund Partners, Managing Partner Lister Delgado cited Kauffman Fellows Research Center findings showing that ethnically diverse and gender-diverse teams are associated with both higher valuations and above-average profitability.

Lizzy Isgar MBA ’23 said, “I was fascinated to learn about the amount of capital being deployed in Durham across a variety of industries, especially to early-stage companies and underrepresented founders.”