A bus ride from HQ Raleigh to Wilmington’s tekMountain was the start of the first ExitEvent social of its kind in SENC
It was 96 degrees in the shade in Wilmington July 29th. But it was cool as all getout in the ground-floor rec room of tekMountain at CastleBranch as some 300 entrepreneurs, startup founders, investors, tech innovators and tM@CB employees gathered for the first ExitEvent Startup Social held in the Port City, hosted by tekMountain. Many of them came by bus from HQ Raleigh.
Wilmington folk-rock band Striking Copper provided the tunes while attendees rocked the smoky Southeastern barbecue — cooked right on site by caterer Jesse Davis Events — slaw, hush puppies, ribs, the works, all the while meeting peers and future friends.
The rec room is a gym-sized space adjoining the tekMtn brewery and strewn with outsized, M&Ms-colored bean bags large enough to sleep two. Folks can indulge in table tennis and air hockey. Standing nearby, surfboards and bikes await anyone at CastleBranch and tekMountain — employees and clients alike — to use during their day. Oh, and spanning the other half of the ground floor is the real gym, where you can take Pilates classes before work. Awesome space for a social.
The kind of atmosphere in which complete strangers just walked up to you and introduced themselves, traded business cards, talked business without the hard sell … all amid the creature comforts of craft beer and pulled pork.
When you meet Chris Doerfler, co-founder of 3DFS, the passion he has for his work practically crackles off the walls. He was among the people who got on the bus in Raleigh. He’ll tell you that his company has essentially invented an entirely new energy sector, software-defined power electronics. For him, the Startup Social was an opportunity to make some new business connections and “see the local environment.” He came ready to talk about a new 3DFS product that goes for $200 retail, designed for home & business, which performs electrical signature analysis — and he said, “We want to create jobs in North Carolina — this is where we’re from.”
Matt Ledford, communication specialist with local marketing firm Pioneer Strategies, came to get more familiar with the local entrepreneurship scene. “We’re the locals in a tourist town,” he said, “so I like to show my face and build relationships.”
And the event didn’t disappoint: “I met some cool, talented people. This was my first time at CastleBranch. There was a great diversity of people with some great startup ideas. I’ve worked for a big company and a small. Small is exciting.”
Becca Ederer, communications coordinator at Cucalorus Film Festival attended the social for its networking opportunity. tekMountain is one of her organizations’ partners and sponsors. “I knew it would be a great place to not only spread the word about Cucalorus Film Festival and the Cucalorus Connect conference” she said, but also to “discover new, talented, like-minded individuals looking to make a positive impact on our community.”
Ederer said the biggest take-away for her was the reminder of the vibrancy, diversity and rapid growth of the Wilmington business community. “As someone coming from a primarily arts-focused organization,” she said, “it was refreshing to be able to find commonalities with professionals in the tech, health, and communications sectors, and build those networks in an open, accepting space.”
The executive director at Cucalorus, Dan Brawley, was in attendance, as was Rob Kaiser, publisher of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, and Peter La Fond, founder and CEO of the website and internet-marketing firm MyInternetScout.com.
And some young startup-upstarts too: Nivan Morgan, a 2015 NC State alum, is a web developer and consultant for Raleigh’s Web at HQ Raleigh. Carson Roach-Howell, a recent graduate of UNC Wilmington, cofounded the film partnership Goodbye Productions in 2015 with two other students (still in school) Joseph Bye and Kenneth Freyer.
Sean Ahlum, director of business development at tekMountain, hosted the event and was thrilled by the event’s success. “To see the relationships being forged across such a wide range of entrepreneurs from across the region — and the fun they had doing it — was absolutely rewarding and a really important part of this event,” he said. “These partnerships represent an unparalleled opportunity for economic development in southeastern North Carolina.”