Startup Summit Brings Its Own “Shark Tank” to the Triangle

Bolun Li of Zogo Finance presents to the four judges — aka "sharks" — at the Shark Tank event that closed Tuesday's Startup Summit held at N.C. State's Hunt Library.

Three Triangle-area entrepreneurs took a dive into the “Shark Tank” Tuesday as they competed for investments during the closing event of the Startup Summit at N.C. State’s James B. Hunt Library.

The four investors weighing the pitches included VC David Gardner of Cofounders Capital; Mark Friedman of angel group RTP Capital; Stephen Clossick from Triangle Angel Partners; and Jason Williamson, the VP of Startup Ecosystem at Oracle.

The young entrepreneurs — Bolun Li, Khushbu Madhiwala and Pierce Gaynor — all stepped into the summit hoping to secure funding for their companies, but in the end only Li walked away with a commitment from two investors.

Li’s company, Zogo Finance, is an app that allows parents to set a price for chores while at the same time helping teens budget their allowance.

As students at Duke University, Li and his co-founders have struggled with managing their finances, which led them to want to solve this problem for kids and teens.

“We really hope that we can bring financial wellness to more families in North Carolina and the United States,” he said.

Li initially asked the sharks for an $100K investment at a valuation of $1.5M, but later accepted $300K at a $1M valuation from Gardner of Cofounders after a spirited round of negotiations.

Fellow shark Mark Friedman, the President of RTP Capital, also said he would present Li to members of his angel network.

Friedman said he believes Li and Zogo Finance are in the right market.

“They had a very interesting model, something that’s very interesting right now — financial wellness,” Friedman said. “Very few people are focusing on kids. I’ve done a lot of work in financial wellness over the last few years so I know what the interest level is. I think it’s something that our members would be interested in hearing more about.”

Sudsy’s Khusbhu Madhiwala takes her turn in the “Tank” at Tuesday’s Startup Summit.

After Li got a chomp from the sharks, Khusbhu Madhiwala presented her company, Sudsy, and got some nibbles as well.

Sudsy produces dehydrated, mint-sized balls of soap meant to save space in carry-on bags while eliminating the risk of travel-sized bottles of shampoo and other toiletries from exploding in luggage.

While she didn’t get the $250K in convertible debt she originally asked for, several of the sharks wanted her to present to their angel groups to pitch a potential equity (as opposed to debt) investment. Khushbhu and Sudsy want the funds to pay for patents, production and marketing.

Although this was her first time asking for an investment, Khushbhu said she enjoyed the experience.

“It felt really good just getting my face out there and hearing what investors have to say,” she said.

Gaynor was last into the tank with Fixional, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help publishers review and revise written submissions at scale. He was seeking a $400K equity investment at a $1.5M pre-money valuation. Williamson was intrigued, but only wanted to go in as a partner with one of the other sharks, and nobody else bit. Still, the sharks wanted to hear more from Gaynor after the event, so the door was not totally closed.

Besides the Shark Tank investing event, Startup Summit provided a full day of programming and networking opportunities. But alas, no Mr. Wonderful.

About Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez 26 Articles
As a reporter at GrepBeat, Marco writes about startups and innovation and enjoys writing about entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. He is a junior studying business journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reach him at or on twitter @marcoquiroz10.