American Underground doubles downtown

Jul. 25, 2014 @ 09:47 PM

If you go into the American Underground on West Main Street, you’ll see a giant hamburger hanging from the ceiling, a bust of Teddy Roosevelt and a slide connecting two floors.

But this isn’t a museum, a fast food shrine or a children’s playground. It’s one of eight Google For Entrepreneurs Tech Hubs in North America and an office and co-working space that has created 122 jobs in Durham in the past six months.

And now, it’s expanding, doubling the space from 26,000 to 52,000 square feet by January.

“We’re really set on creating jobs in downtown Durham,” American Underground Chief Strategist Adam Klein said. “There are a lot of smart, creative people in Durham building great companies.”

Along with other locations in Raleigh and The American Tobacco Campus here, the American Underground network is home to 150 companies, and with the expansion this number will grow to 200.

The location houses companies like CrowdTunes, which is developing technology so consumers can use smartphones to make bids on what songs are played at bars and restaurants, and ArchiveSocial, an automated solution for managing records of social media that recently raised $1 million from a California investor.

But it isn’t just about building businesses within this network, Klein said -- the Underground emphasizes being rooted in Durham.

“Community is important…you don’t see that in San Francisco and other large metro areas,” Klein said. “The city gets behind entrepreneurs and they care about the city.”

In the phone conference rooms, the walls are scenes of the Durham skyline and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Klein said when co-workers make Skype calls, for example, these scenes are a conversation starter and let people in other cities learn about the culture and landscape of Durham.

And some tenants, like Gabriel Eng-Goetz, design products that focus on Durham.

Eng-Goetz is the founder of Runaway clothing, a southern lifestyle brand with an abundance of Durham t-shirts.

The expansion will tack on two more floors with a rooftop patio and event space, and “entrepreneurs living room,” with couches, TV, and a private bar, 12 new reserved co-working desks, and 46 additional office spaces, which will house teams of 8 to 20 people.

Along with the incoming companies, American Underground has a growing waitlist.

And while Klein said they don’t look at business plans to select tenants, they focus on the company’s ability to scale quickly to continue job creation.

Because American Underground is a Google hub, tenants have access to Google technology and the network of the seven other hubs in North America.

“We’re getting unprecedented access to Silicon Valley,” Klein said. “We wouldn’t have that without Google.”