When children are growing up, they begin to form images of their value to society. For kids with disabilities, this is especially hard. They stand out, and it’s hard for them to gauge their self-worth. Keepsake Tales, a Chapel-Hill based startup, is aiming to make that easier by creating personalized children’s books in which the child is the main character.
Keepsake Tales was just one of seven startups that pitched their ideas at the Launch Chapel Hill Cohort 13 Demo Day and Annual Report Release Event that happened Wednesday night over Zoom.
Launch Chapel Hill is a startup accelerator and co-working space located in downtown Chapel Hill, focused on supporting startups in Orange County. The nonprofit partners with UNC-Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County to provide resources to help keep the local startup community strong.
The event marked the end of Launch Chapel Hill’s 13th Cohort, which began in January with nine companies. Two companies, Blawsome and nXus, were unable to pitch during Wednesday’s event.
Dwight Bassett, Economic Development Officer for the Town of Chapel Hill, began the presentation to a crowd of 90 participants with some statistics. Launch Chapel Hill has accelerated 132 companies, of which 64 are still active. The 2019 companies have seen almost $1 million raised, and generated $43 million in total revenue.
Vickie Gibbs, Executive Director of The Entrepreneurship Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, then gave a brief presentation on translational research around startups and what they can do for communities. (You can see the “Trends in Entrepreneurship Report” for yourself here.) Some main points that she made included that founders of startups can be of all ages, not just young people, and diversity makes companies more attractive to customers and investors.
Velvet Nelson, Program Director at Launch Chapel Hill, announced that there would be an in-person demo day for Cohort 13 later in August.
Pitches, Pitches, Pitches!
The first company to pitch, overcoming technical difficulties, was Eats2Seats, founded by UNC rising senior Mary Laci Motley. Motley is currently running a one-woman show, and doing it profitably.
The startup idea began after Motley worked at concession stands at UNC’s Kenan Memorial Stadium volunteering for a nonprofit. The stands are usually staffed by volunteers from organizations, but staffing different groups evenly throughout the season can get messy.
Eats2Seats takes over the back-end side of scheduling and staffing groups, and makes it easier both for the company running the concession stands and the nonprofits that are volunteering. The company was successful at UNC during the 2019 football season, and plans to expand to other schools and then professional events in the future, Covid-19 permitting.
Next, Emily Maginn pitched her company, EXO Technologies. The startup is aiming to develop smart textiles to alleviate pain. Using biometrics, Maginn wants to create athletic apparel that can mitigate pain.
To start, the company plans to market to pregnant and postpartum women with tank tops, sports bras and leggings. The products are currently in the prototyping stage, but have the potential to receive patents. In the future, the company plans to expand to adjacent markets as well.
Travis Brady, founder of Grace + Ease, pitched her company while also sharing her experience as a cancer survivor. Her company wants to help people diagnosed with cancer by streamlining the process of getting help from family and friends. It will work similarly to a wedding registry, and friends and family will be able to see what exactly they can do to help out the patient.
Cancer patients often feel helpless and overwhelmed, but are not sure what they need from those around them. Brady is using her own experience to help build support networks for other patients. Since there are about 1.4 million new cancer cases a year in the U.S., the company has a large market. Brady will also be joining NC IDEA LABS next to continue building the platform.
Turning Kids Into Characters
Mike Vaggalis, founder of Keepsake Tales, presented his company next, highlighting the importance of making children feel valued. The company starts by taking a photo of the child, and then turning it into a personalized cartoon character that can be used in the current story. The startup incorporated in September and launched a pilot in November, which was a Christmas-themed book for kids that sold for three weeks.
Keepsake Tales wants to continue raising funding to make the process of creating the digital cartoon images easier in the future. For Vaggalis, the Cohort made being a founder less lonely at times. He is now looking for investors who want to get involved in a highly profitable business that is doing work that truly matters.
Chihao Tsui pitched his company My Own Communications. Tsui is a Physician Assistant at UNC Orthopedics, and also is finishing up his MBA at Kenan-Flagler. He wants to create a platform that can connect healthcare providers so that care can be transferred quickly and easily.
For primary-care doctors, it can sometimes be hard to find the right person to take care of a patient. Tsui’s platform will be like a HIPPA-compliant version of Slack. His business model will be to target individual providers with a bottom-up approach.
Next, Float Parking, previously known as Sparc, was pitched. UNC rising seniors Bryan Guin, Jackson Perry and Ian Edwards founded the startup, which wants to monetize underutilized parking spaces in unconventional lots, specifically in college towns. Float will take a small service fee and leave the rest of the payment for the lot owner.
In August, Float hopes to be operating at UNC, Penn State, and UVA. Next, the company wants to expand into on-demand hourly parking in 2021, and then horizontally to peer-to-peer self-storage later on. They plan to raise a seed round in September.
Last but not least, Tim Horan and Brian Abrahamson pitched their company, Atlas. The startup is going to create a platform that’s similar to Glassdoor, but for the military community.
The platform will connect educators and employers with veterans, making it easier for veterans to have a positive life after their military service. This will also help build up diversity and inclusion for educators and employers.
By the end of 2020, the startup is aiming to have 50 universities on the platform and 500 employers. They aim to raise a seed round in Q1 of 2021, and are currently looking for software engineers.