Circling the Research Triangle
Around the world, policy makers search for fortuitous economic development policies and investments. The Research Triangle Park (RTP) is often held up as a successful model—however, while much has been written about the founding of RTP, less is known about the evolution of the larger region and the policies that aided the development towards an entrepreneurial economy. While the three major research universities that form the points of the Triangle have long been an important source of ideas and skilled labor, they actually produced only a few entrepreneurs until the last decade, challenging the assertion that universities alone can drive this type of technology-intensive development. The story is far more complicated than simply building a university-proximate science park for R&D labs or securing venture capital investment and offers replicable as models for other places. This region’s development reflects a synergetic set of policies, reinforcing actions by government and quasi-government agencies and membership organizations coupled with adaptive corporate strategies and investments. Over time, the region developed a robust entrepreneurial economy and eco-system. In sum, the development path adapted in this region may offer a more replicable model compared to that of Silicon Valley. However, the research and analysis to substantiate the region’s rich history as an entrepreneurial venue simply has not yet been done and the story has not been told.
Recognizing there are gains from telling a more complete story, we have created a unique relational database, which currently contains longitudinal data on technology-intensive entrepreneurial ventures in the region. Known as the Bill Little Memorial Database, in honor of its late founder and previous UNC system Vice President, the database is maintained at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and contains information on the location of over 5,000 companies in the Triangle region, events related to the company’s growth and progress, such as annual employment, patenting, university technology licensing, government grants and other events, such as VC investments, mergers and initial public offerings (IPOs), and biographic information on the company’s founders. For each firm, we trace the level and sequence of institutional support from key state and regional entrepreneurial and economic development agencies, including the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, the Biotechnology Center and Department of Commerce, among others. We also have firm-specific project award data from Federal funding sources, including SBIR and NIH, as well as state investments. Additionally, we have information on firm participation in university programs, including “Launching the Venture” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the “Entrepreneurial Leadership Venture” at Duke University. Using new social media sources such as Linked-In, we are able to trace firm founders back to large multinational firms, such as Glaxo, Burroughs Wellcome, Becton Dickinson, and IBM or smaller firms, such as Addrenex, or Icagen, and through the founder’s educational histories to public, private, large and small universities both within and outside the region. (Our tracing of founders from Glaxo ‘spawns’ is described on the page linked here.) These data uniquely capture the universe of regional technology start-ups, including information on companies known to have gone out of business, merged or been acquired, a subset of firms that is frequently unavailable to scholars and provides a more robust dynamic to the development of the regional economy.
Our first objective is the expansion of an updatable data repository for studying and documenting dynamic processes of entrepreneurship, innovation and employment growth in the Research Triangle region. The type of analysis we propose has previously been hindered by the lack of meaningful and accessible data. The data we are collecting permits geocoding at the establishment level, thereby supporting analysis within flexible geographic units and a tracing of the expansion of activity radiating from the RTP. With our innovative data sources, we can also identify networks and social relationships between firms, between firms and support institutions, and firm connections both inside and outside the region. This includes relationships that connect firm founders to other establishments and institutions through previous periods of employment, training or education. Our data collection effort is ongoing.
A second, related objective is the preservation of documents in a publically accessible and digital archive, thereby giving practitioners and researchers additional documentation for data analysis and interpretation. Too many documents and policy reports important to understanding the historical development of the regional economy are in danger of being lost. We are in the process of collecting and digitizing data sets, publications and reports, interviews and oral histories that, taken together, enable a more in-depth and contextual understanding and interpretation of quantitative research results. We intend for this archived data to be regularly updated, thereby providing interdisciplinary research teams with a more meaningful, contextually grounded research experience and encouraging more research on this region. Our project manager and student research assistants will help us with document preservation and archiving.
These data collection activities support our primary objective: to position this database as an accessible data-intensive resource for research and policy development. During the past 12 months, we have made data available to the Orange County Economic Development Commission and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development to support their entrepreneurial development efforts. Our goal is to make our data available to other influential state and regional development organizations, including the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, among others. Equally, we recognize this as a resource for tracing the entrepreneurial impact of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) and other regional universities. Our database not only captures official university spin-offs that received direct support from technology transfer offices, but also loosely affiliated firms that were supported through licensing agreements or were founded by individuals with previous university work or educational experience. Ultimately, the variables included in our database can inform data collection and data management efforts at UNC-CH and other regional universities. By working with an array of regional institutions and organizations, our goal is to enhance understanding of and coordination among multiple interventions that contribute to the region’s entrepreneurial eco-system. More details can be found at Feldman, M.P. and N. Lowe. (2015), “Triangulating regional economies: Realizing the promise of digital data.”Research Policy.
RTP PROJECT STUDENT TEAM
Allison Forbes, Doctoral Student, City and Regional Planning, Project Manager
Grayson Berger, Undergraduate, Public Policy and Business Administration
Rui Chen, Masters Student, City and Regional Planning
Jongmin Choi, Doctoral Student, Public Policy
Paige Clayton, Doctoral Student, Public Policy
Mary Donegan, Doctoral Student, City and Regional Planning
Katherine Manweiler, Undergraduate, Business and Economics
Alyse Polly, Research Scientist
Keagan Sacripanti, Research Analyst
Cara Wittkind, Research Scientist
Elizabeth Yamall, Masters Student, City and Regional Planning
Laney Smith, Undergraduate, Public Policy and Geography (2013)
Zachary Smith, Undergraduate, Economics and Public Policy (2013)
Dana Royal, Undergraduate Mathematical Decision Sciences (2013)
Jonathan Stupak, Undergraduate, Public Policy and Political Science (2014)
Teddie Hadjimichael, Master’s Student, City and Regional Planning (2014)
Wil Heflin, Master’s Student, City and Regional Planning (2014)
Chester Wells, Master’s Student, Information and Library Science (2014)
Khadijah Diaz, Undergraduate, Public Policy (2014)
Jasmine Kreig, Undergraduate, Mathematics (2014)
Carolyn Fryberger, Master’s Student, City and Regional Planning (2014)
Lauren Lanahan, PhD Student, Public Policy (2015)
Zekun Yu, Master’s Student, Information Science (2015)
Keagan Sacripanti, Undergraduate, Public Policy (2015)
Daniel Fleck, Undergraduate, Public Policy (2015)
Patrick French, Undergraduate, Public Policy (2015)
Cara Wittkind, Master’s Student, City and Regional Planning (2015)
Enrique Lambrano, Undergraduate, Public Policy (2016)
Feldman, M.P. and N. Lowe. (2015). Triangulating Regional Economies: Realizing the Promise of Digital Data. Research Policy, 44 (9): 1785-1793
Lowe, N. and M.P. Feldman. (2014). Breaking the Waves: Innovation at the Intersections of Economic Development Policy. Working paper. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.
Feldman, M.P. and T. D. Zoller (2012). Dealmakers in Place: Social Capital Connections in Regional Entrepreneurial Economies. Regional Studies. 46(1): 23-37.
Feldman, M.P. and N. Lowe. (2011). Restructuring for Resilience. Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, 6 (1): 129-146.
- Unit of Analysis: Establishment
- Coverage: Universe of entrepreneurial starts-up and establishments in technology-intensive industries (e.g., life sciences, information and communication technology, gaming, cleantech and business services) in the 13-county North Carolina Research Triangle Park region from 1962 to the present
- Size: More than 3,900 establishments
- Form: Database
- Geographic Details: 13-county Research Triangle region as designated by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership e
- Key Data Elements:
- Year of incorporation for startups
- Year ofrelocation for established firms formed outside the region
- Sector, subsector & technology
- Complete address
- Corporate affiliations, if applicable
- Annual Employment
- Annual Sales
- Annual Patent filings
- Participation in business development programs and initiatives
- Key financial milestones, such as: Venture capital infusion; Federal small business assistance financing; State grants & awards
- Liquidity events, such as: IPO; Acquisitions; Mergers; Bankruptcy
- Educational attainment and career history of founders (for startups)
- Timeframe: Annual from 1962 to the present
- Frequency: Collected continuously & still under development
- Data Collection Method: Original data collection & synthesis
- Access: Currently available upon request
- Uses for Regional Analysis: The database allows for an in-depth understanding of the complexity of the process of regional economic change and the role of constituent organizations over time. The underlying data collection methodology and database structure may be replicated in other places.