[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of periodic updates from startup ecosystems from around the state. Up today: Winston-Salem, Greensboro and the rest of the Triad. You can also find the previous Postcards from Wilmington and Charlotte.]
From Winston, With Love—by Adrian Smith and Karen Barnes
2019 has been a big year for Winston-Salem and the greater Piedmont Triad, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Triad Startup Demo Day grew into a 2-day event (Sept. 5-6) boasting 45 startups and 30+ investors representing 12 investment funds. Venture Café Winston-Salem and Flywheel Coworking teamed up to design and execute on high-level programming that entrepreneurs and investors would both enjoy. Investor teams spoke with all startups in attendance and selected the top 10 for 2-minute lightning round pitches on the main stage.
Programming included “The Future of _______” series featuring Ryan Schmaltz of UNCSA’s Media and Emerging Technologies Lab; Pete Seeber, Chief Risk Officer of Corvid Cyberdefense; Jane Shen, Head of Sector Development at Innovation Quarter; and Dr. Janet Spriggs, President of Forsyth Technical Community College. There was much more, including an all-star investor panel, but only so much can fit on a postcard!
The top-line event at Triad Startup Demo Day was the New Ventures Accelerator pitches. The founders were as diverse as the companies represented: Janet McKay Smith pitched Gift’d, the RedBox for local gift cards; Elizabeth Escobar enchanted the crowd with Hay Trabajo, a job platform for blue-collar Hispanic labor; Joshua Gimble presented LivWell Nutrition, which makes the bee’s knees of vegan protein powder; and Cliff Duhon closed out the day with Re(FUL), a predictive nutrition app for endurance athletes.
Now 500 W. 5th St., a gorgeous passive solar high rise in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem, is becoming a startup hub. Winston Starts, a non-profit incubator for early and growth stage startups, occupies 2 floors. A third floor is split between the entrepreneurship initiatives of the local colleges and universities, and another will be the new home of Flywheel Coworking later this fall. There are considerable network effects for the tenants as each program supports the others.
The ACCESS Center for Equity + Success opened in June to provide existing Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) with coaching, certification training, contract matching and access to capital. The ACCESS Center is a partnership between Piedmont Business Capital and Venture Cafe.
September also featured a PitchMOB event for MWBE startups. The four finalists, all African-American women, pitched on Thursday, Sept. 19, for a $1,000 Prize. Lizzy’s All Natural Products, which makes personal care products for those with eczema, took home the big check. The competition was held at Venture Cafe and funded by Piedmont Business Capital.
Entrepreneurs are finding the help they need here. In fact, two startups have recently relocated here in order to take advantage of our highly coordinated, full-stack entrepreneurial ecosystem. Proodos, “GPS for project teams,” moved to Winston-Salem from Atlanta. Founder Akhil Pendalwar shared that, “We relocated from Atlanta to Winston-Salem because of the energy and support from a community that is so passionate about entrepreneurship. Winston-Salem is on the upswing and we are thrilled to be a part of the ecosystem during these exciting times.”
Point Motion, which creates fun, interactive web apps for children that track and manage data needed by childhood development specialists, has relocated to Winston-Salem from Boston. Point Motion completed the Center for Creative Economy’s creative accelerator (now known as Velocity) last year, and has now joined Proodos at Winston Starts.
Speaking of Velocity, they have wrapped their fourth accelerator cohort, launching another 10 companies from Winston-Salem, Raleigh, San Francisco, Columbia (Mo.), Lovettsville (Va.), New Delhi (India), and Mexico City. Velocity’s Demo Day was held on Sept. 26 in collaboration with Venture Café at the beautiful Biotech Place.
We are home to several companies who have matured to growth stage, including Flur.ee, which raised a $4.7M seed round earlier this year; Orbital Rx, with offices in both Winston-Salem and Raleigh; and Benekiva, which has opened a second office in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Triad is highly aligned. We actively collaborate in order to better serve entrepreneurs. Come out to a Venture Café Thursday Gathering or a Startup Grind Fireside Chat. You might find your co-founder, next investor, or the perfect advisor. See you soon!
Postcard From Greensboro—by Jennifer Hensel
Celebrating 5 years of Impact
This month, Launch Greensboro celebrates five years of impacting startups, small businesses, and the greater Greensboro economy. Launch Greensboro supports early and growth stage entrepreneurs by providing expertise, resources, and funding. The anniversary is the perfect time to highlight the over 1,600 entrepreneurs served through programs, and 250+ entrepreneurs served by Co//ab, downtown Greensboro’s first co-working space. The five-year celebration will boast a full day of programing celebrating businesses from Launch Greensboro including pitches, panel discussions, educational sessions, breakfast, lunch, and a champagne toast. Celebrate on Nov. 20.
The most visible signs of the Launch Greensboro’s growth has been the expansion from three programs to eight, providing improved access for MWBEs (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises), students, and serial entrepreneurs. The signature resource is LaunchLab Growth, an accelerator program running twice per year. The program, which has served over 140 businesses, is industry-agnostic and provides education, mentors, interns, a vast network, and expert services. Dec. 9 – Fall 2019 Demo Day.
One Example of Many
The success of Launch Greensboro is defined by the achievements of companies that graduated from LaunchLab Growth, like Freeman Capital, which went live in October. Calvin Williams, Jr. is the mastermind behind Freeman Capital, the wealth management platform designed to discover new ways to save, pay off debt, and invest wisely. This all-in-one platform provides access to one-to-one meetings with Certified Financial Planner professionals, automated investments, and custom-tailored financial education all at the click of a button.
A great example of Launch Greensboro continuing to promote innovation was the Reverse Pitch, which flipped the switch of who’s on stage. Large and midsize corporations pitched their internal challenges. The focus of the event was for the audience of entrepreneurs and investors to problem-solve with the goal of building a company with a customer in mind. Entrepreneurs know that they have to be solving a real-world problem for a real-world customer and yet it can be challenging to find those problems. This unique opportunity allowed creative and motivated entrepreneurs to identify game-changing innovations for one company, and envision taking that solution to an entire industry. Volvo Financial Services, Cone Health, ABCO Automation, and four commercial-ready technologies from UNCG and North Carolina A&T universities presented challenges in HR, transportation, medical diagnostics, lithium extraction, and more.
Greensboro I-Corps Site
LaunchUNCG’s Greensboro I-Corps Site, an NSF-funded program training UNCG and NCAT teams on customer discovery to help them validate a product-market fit for their innovation, is kicking off its third year with much success to show. Out of 50 participating teams, 15 companies have started and raised over $1M in funding in less than 24 months. This program is heavy on collaboration, feeding other great NC Entrepreneurial Partners including Launch Greensboro, NC IDEA Labs, Launch Chapel Hill, and others. The UNCG+NCAT Site is one of four I-Corps Sites across North Carolina, with NC State, UNCC, and ECU making up the others.
The Triad Gets a Seed Fund
First Launch Capital Fund announced its first investment in March to Crew Pay, a fintech, SaaS application focused on simplifying and streamlining the process for companies to manage and pay 1099 freelancers, contractors, and gig employees. The Fund invests in tech and tech-enabled entrepreneurs and small businesses located in the 12-county Piedmont Triad region to support local entrepreneurs in their growth, expand the culture of innovation and provide returns to our local investors.
Maker Space with the Workforce in Mind
The Forge recently received a $25,000 SBA grant to expand into workforce development. People coming out of the new skills development program will be prepared for pre-apprenticeship programs. The maker space already boasts partnerships with area nonprofits to teach skills like welding, machining and computer-aided design, but are now poised to work more closely with industry.