Thank you, Mia Hamm.
That was the rallying cry heard throughout Mac Lackey’s Charlotte office in July, when the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team triumphed at the World Cup championships and instantly made the Internetsoccer.com businessplan a winner. Just over 90 days old, Lackey’s sports-related startup boasts an extensive Web site that he and his partners are grooming to become “the world’s largest retailer of soccer equipment and apparel.”
They are attacking that mission with strategic alliances and acquisitions. Connections within the Southern business community are proving nearly as valuable as a world-renowned soccer squad. In the following interview, Lackey — the 28-year-old pioneer behind three previous Internet ventures — discusses the importance of a robust local community, cooperation across industries, and a high quality of life.
An Unclean Slate
Entrepreneurs in the South are fighting history. They are fighting the fact that money has come from less-than-flattering industries like manufacturing and agricultural. Those industries will not be driving us into the new millennium. Thankfully, we’ve seen enough radical change here in the last five years to almost overcome that historical precedent.
For example, the old boys’ network absolutely still exists in the South, but today it is opening its arms to entrepreneurs and players in the Internet space. They need new blood in that sector so that they can take advantage of the shift in the economy and invest in startup companies. The old boys’ network is responsible for running big business, but it’s not quite as exclusive as it once was.
Legacy is Indispensable
I’ve come to expect a natural level of skepticism directed toward companies that are not based in Silicon Valley. It is that “not invented here” mentality. That mentality has not harmed Internetsoccer.com, primarily because this is not the first go-around for my partners and me. The other companies we have built and participated in all have been based in the South, so our successful track record in the Charlotte area buttressed our reputation.
Winds of Change
The New South is the coordination of business leaders, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs who are helping drive the changing economy in the South. Those cooperative efforts are really changing and shifting the direction of incoming money. The future growth of the South is not tied up in textiles and tobacco, but in financial institutions and Internet companies.
Government intervention on a local or state level will only accelerate the South’s progress. If the North Carolina or the Georgia government puts initiatives in place to attract larger technology companies, we will only flourish faster and with more direction. Bert Ellis, the Chairman of iXL, has made it a personal initiative to foster the digital South. We have aspirations to do that here as well, but it will take individuals who are willing to make a commitment to the inner city and to well-known technology centers.
One of my personal aspirations is to organize a community of business leaders, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area. This region is known as a financial center, but that generally means banking rather than venture capital. A lot of the money that flows through the South is old, traditional banking money. So, business leaders need to take an active role in coercing these business leaders to look at Internet companies and e-commerce groups for a change.
I’ve seen exponential investment growth in the last five years. Within the last 90 days, I have witnessed an increased interest in Internet companies by more traditional business leaders, angel investors, and private investors. We are enjoying a much more pleasant climate right now.
iXL acquired my last company [In Touch Interactive] and has taken an equity stake in Internetsoccer.com. We linked up with iXL partially because it has a very friendly network of venture capitalists, and strategic alliances with partners who are interested in companies like ours. We don’t feel any direct competition with other startups in Charlotte. More importantly, we aren’t even being compared to other Internet startups. I am excited to meet other Internet entrepreneurs in Charlotte and speak with them.
As the Internet grows and its infrastructure allows people to work anywhere, more employees will choose to live in the South. It has a very appealing quality of life and climate. If you can convince potential employees that you have a strong e-commerce or Internet group, asking them to move to a beautiful city like Charlotte, North Carolina, is only a bonus.
The talent pool is definitely growing in Charlotte. It is not Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley with a programmer in every coffee shop, but a lot of young people are moving to Charlotte knowing thy can start their own company or get a job with a well-established Internet company. Now that the momentum has started, this area is just going to explode with talent.
Put Your Money On…
I think the South will experience a lot of growth in local pharmaceutical companies located in the Durham’s Research Triangle Park. Also, Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the country, so a lot of banks and financial institutions are shedding their conservative ways to become innovators. In addition, the South has a great infrastructure of fiberoptic networks and physical highways. Federal Express’s biggest facility is in Memphis, and US Airways is headquartered in Charlotte, and Delta is in Atlanta. As a result, the South lays claim to great e-commerce distribution force.
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