Charlotte Angel Connection Episode 034: Thom Ruhe President and CEO of NC IDEA Part II

Today on the Charlotte Angel Connection, we welcome back Thom Ruhe – the CEO and President of NC IDEA for the second part of our interview. Thom has been at NC IDEA since February 2016 and has already made great strides into continuing to develop and enhance entrepreneurship in North Carolina.

Again this is a longer discussion but a worthwhile one for us to exceed our typical time limit.

Today we start off the interview talking about Thom’s first impression of Charlotte after taking the job and what it takes to move the startup needle further in Charlotte.  Thom talks about the KeyBank giving $24 million to JumpStart – a similar organization to NC IDEA in Cleveland – but there is still a lack of support among the corporations in Charlotte.

We talk about human capital – how the big corporations are allowing employee’s volunteer time to support efforts like QC Fintech – and how that is different from financial capital.  Finally, Thom touches on the intellectual capital as well.

Thom also talks about how banks can be the first customer to many of these Fintech companies and how the ‘first customer’ issue many startups face could be lowered if the banks opened up a little more.  As he talks about it though, he mentions how this process could be messy and ‘chunky’ and not a panacea.  However, it could be just as important for startups to have the banks serve as first customers as it would be to have them be early stage investors.

Thom and I further discuss how early stage capital is developing in Charlotte.  We now have the Charlotte Angel Fund, VentureSouth, IDEA Fund, Wolfpack Investment Network (WIN), Duke Angel Network (DAN), and Carolina Angel Network (CAN).  The North Carolina Venture Capital Multiplier Fund run by Hatteras Venture Partners also has a sidecar fund that will co-invest along with WIN, DAN, and CAN.  Ideally, Thom would like to see this network of university led investor networks expand into Charlotte through Davidson and UNCC.

Thom continues to go back to the three different types of capital in Charlotte.  How do we further develop the talent in Charlotte as we don’t have a ton of serial entrepreneurs?

I asked Thom about the perception that NC IDEA doesn’t support the Charlotte startup scene.  His response is eye opening and should continue to light a fire under Charlotte entrepreneurs.

We talk about how Charlotte still has a ‘cool club’ feel to the startup ecosystem and Thom tosses out some thoughts on that as well.

We wrap up with Thom’s thoughts on HQ2 and the bidding process that has taken place.

Stay tuned for next week when we release our first of two podcasts with Alan Fitzpatrick Co-Founder of Open Broadband.  Alan’s long-term involvement in the Charlotte startup scene makes him a very well respected person but his startup is the main topic of our conversation.  Join us to learn more about how they are doing!