Google names American Underground as part of tech hub network

Sep. 25, 2013 @ 05:48 PM

Google Inc. named the American Underground, a hub for entrepreneurs in downtown Durham, as one of seven technology hubs that will be part of a new network of startup communities that the company is launching.

Alongside Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, Nashville, Tenn., and Waterloo, Ontario, the Durham tech hub is expected to get financial support from the company, access to Google products, as well as workshop opportunities.

The tech hub network is part of the California-based technology company’s “Google for Entrepreneurs” initiative. Started about two years ago and publicly announced in September of last year, the entrepreneurship-focused initiative now includes about 70 programs in more than 100 countries, said Mary Grove, director.

“We realized that Google began as a startup in a garage 15 years ago; entrepreneurship is part of our DNA,” Grove said Wednesday. “Our mission is to empower the next generation of startups to be successful by leveraging our own products and technology, and by partnering with organizations – the (partnerships) launching today.”

The company is looking for the network to deepen its community ties, to give its teams and partners physical space for outreach and events, and to serve as platform for other Google teams to roll out products and products with startups, according to information from the company.

Each hub will become an official Google partner, and will receive financial support. Grove said she couldn’t disclose the amount of financial backing that will be provided, but did say that it is “significant enough” to cover an event series and other costs across two years.

“We’re providing some financial sponsorship to help with (the) operating budget, but also helping to fund mentorship events,” she said. “We will definitely help out with things like product trainings and boot campus, we will do events throughout the year for the community,” she added.

The hub will also have a local relationship manager, called a “Googler,” who will serve as the primary contact for the company. Grove said hub leaders will talk quarterly, and will meet once a year in person to share best practices.

Users will have access to Google products, but use of company products is not a requirement.

“We believe in startups and small businesses, who are the backbone of economic development,” she said. “When they succeed, we all win.”

The company chose the American Underground following a visit to the entrepreneurial hub that was made as part of a Google for Entrepreneurs program tour that stopped in Durham. The Google representatives were “immediately impressed” by the American Underground mission and “how well their vision aligned with ours,” she said.

The American Underground first opened in 2010 in the basement of the American Tobacco Campus, the redeveloped former tobacco commercial campus that now houses restaurants and offices.

The underground provided leasable space for entrepreneurs and small startup companies. American Tobacco and the American Underground are both owned by Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting Corp., the owner of WRAL-TV as well as the Durham Bulls baseball team, among other interests.

A second location opened this year in downtown Durham called The Underground@Main Street. In light of the second location, the original location was renamed The Underground@American Tobacco.

There’s also a new location planned to open in Raleigh.

Adam Klein, chief strategist for the American Underground, announced the partnership to a crowd of entrepreneurs at the American Tobacco Campus on Wednesday. Afterward, entrepreneurs were invited to a celebration that included food trucks, balloons and T-shirt giveaways.

“What can be bigger than having Google involved?” Klein said in the announcement.

For entrepreneur Jamey Heit, it was hard to find a negative in the announcement by Google, a major multinational company.

Heit is chief operating for Phronesis Health, a Durham-based startup that’s testing software to analyze patient data order to improve health care quality and cut costs. The company is not based at the American Underground, but he said he often finds himself there linking up with other entrepreneurs for business or social reasons.

Heit said the establishment of the tech hub in Durham could create an “intellectual capital exchange,” with Durham entrepreneurs sharing ideas with Google engineers and developers who are doing “a lot of cool stuff.”

He also said he hopes to see it lead to from Silicon Valley investors in local startups, as they follow Google’s lead and turn their attention on the cities selected.

“This is the first step in that path,” he said.

Casey Steinbacher, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said she expects the partnership with Google, a company with global reach, will create “lots of opportunity” for Durham.

“These are the kind of places we want to be in, and the kind of partners we want to play with us,” she said. “This kind of association continues to show that the world is paying attention to Durham,” she added.