Where Are They Now? What We Can Learn From Promising Startups That Still Fail

[Editor’s Note: This series includes seven standalone feature stories on former startups that made NC TECH’s annual Top 10 Startups To Watch list but are no longer operating. Each of those startups are discussed in the story below, with links. Or you can jump directly to them here: Organic Transit (2014 list); Tiger Eye Sensor (2015); Tourpedo (2015); EmployUs (2016); Forecast Health (2016); Cultivate (2017); and myBeeHyve (2018)]

It’s an inevitable fact of life in the startup world: the vast majority will fail. In 2019, the overall failure rate of startups was estimated at a whopping 90 percent. Most that failure comes pretty quickly. Research indicates that 21.5 percent of startups fail in the first year, 30 percent in the second year and 50 percent in the fifth year—of those that even made it that far.

A small percentage of startups beat those early odds to show significant promise and progress. Some of these go on to become major successes, even hitting “unicorn” status with valuations of $1B or more. Others are acquired and deliver a nice return to investors and a potential windfall to founders.

But even among those startups who break out of the pack early, the road is still treacherous. Funding might fall through. The idea could be ahead of its time. Deep-pocketed competitors might join the fray. Then there’s simple bad luck.

This series explores what happened to those promising startups that ran into roadblocks that couldn’t be overcome. What did those founders learn, and what in turn can we learn from them?

We looked at the Triangle-based startups that made NC TECH’s list of Top 10 Startups To Watch, which NC TECH has compiled as part of its annual awards every year since 2014. Some of the awardees are a who’s who of the Triangle’s leading startups—Pendo, Diveplane, Reveal Mobile, Adwerx and more.

But we’re going to focus on the startups that are no longer in business as standalone companies. We ask the big questions: what happened? Where did things go south? Where are the founders now?

We wrote deeper-dive stories on each one for which we could track down a founder. We’ll link to those stories as we publish them.

For context, here are all of the Triangle-based startups that made NC TECH’s annual Top 10 Startups To Watch list, with a brief summary of where they are now—if anywhere.

 

2014

No longer operating

Organic Transit  [Read our full story]
In June 2019, Durham-based Organic Transit filed for bankruptcy. The pedal-and-solar-powered vehicles saw significant customer interest, but as it tried to ramp up production, the startup took on significant debt and ran out of money. But Founder Rob Cotter continues to pursue his passion of finding environmentally cleaner alternatives to gas-powered transportation.

Boss Key Productions
While Founder Cliff Bleszinski has undeniably made his mark in the video game industry—most notably as a leading developer for Cary’s Epic Games before launching the video game production startup Boss Key Productions—he has now turned to a new Triangle business pursuit: the bar and hospitality industry. Since his tech days, he has opened Raleigh Beer Garden and The Station.

Windsor Circle [Listen to the Exit Stories podcast]
Led by Founder and CEO Matt Williamson, predictive marketing startup Windsor Circle strategically exited to private-equity-backed email marketing company WhatCounts in 2018. After integrating Windsor Circle into its new parent company as WhatCounts’ Chief Operating Officer, Williamson is now the CEO and Founder of Plum CoOwnership, the “easy button for co-owning vacation homes.” [Update: Plum announced on Feb. 24 that it raised a $1.5M pre-seed round.] Williamson told the full Windsor Circle story on an episode of GrepBeat’s Exit Stories podcast in December, 2020.

Still going strong

Durham-based Biomason is known for offering technology and product lines to the building and construction agency. Last year, the business made headlines when it partnered with H&M to implement sustainable flooring.

Blue Gas Marine still operates as a company in Apex pioneering natural gas fueling solutions for boaters around the world.

Validic continues to be headquartered in Durham as a technology platform for convenient data access to the world of mobile health and in-home devices. We profiled Validic CEO Drew Schiller in a Download Q&A in September, 2021.

 

2015

No longer operating

Tourpedo [Read our full story]
What was once a promising live-streaming platform for music concerts, Tourpedo ceased operations in 2016. But founder Emily Finkelstein has used her past experiences to help find  success in her new role as CEO at VentureXpert Advisors.

Tiger Eye Sensor [Read our full story]
CJ Scarlet created her startup because of the sexual assaults she had experienced, something that she never wanted to happen to anyone else. But her solution, Tiger Eye Sensor, closed when it was unable to raise the funds required to turn its prototype into a commercial product that it could bring to market.

PredictifyMe
PredictifyMe once made headlines for being the startup that could change the world by predicting when bombing attacks would occur. But according to co-founder Rob Burns, the startup closed due to investor disagreements. Since then, Burns spent five years at App Dynamics, which was acquired by Cisco. He is now part of an early stage AI company, Arthur. 

Acquired

CoreCompete
Since Durham-based cloud analytics services startup Core Compete was acquired by Accenture in 2021, Founder Shiva Kommareddi has taken on the role of Global Lead of Cloud Analytics at Accenture.

Still going strong

Reveal Mobile continues to work out of Raleigh in a mission to provide results-driven geofencing marketing. CEO Brian Handly has been featured in GrepBeat both as a Download Q&A subject and a guest on the Pete Meets… podcast.

Pendo has become arguably the Triangle’s most notable recent homegrown unicorn, while ad tech platform Adwerx is a mainstay in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus. We’ve featured Pendo execs in multiple GrepBeat stories, while Adwerx CEO Jed Carlson was featured in our Meet… Q&A series.

 

2016

Successfully Acquired

EmployUs [Read our full story]
When EmployUs was acquired by Hireology in 2021, it meant the startup moved that much closer to achieving its goals of transforming the way workforce referral systems operate. Read about how EmployUs got to its acquisition and how it’s still impacting hiring practices across the country.

Forecast Health [Read our full story]
After Forecast Health was acquired by St. Louis-based Lumeris, Forecast Health’s co-founder Dr. Michael Cousins joined Lumeris as its chief analytics officer.

Pivoted

Stealz
Sometimes things fall apart for better things to come together. This was the case for Stealz, which made the pivot into Epifany in 2017/2018. Read the profile we wrote on Epifany in 2020.

Still going strong

Performance Culture, now Durham-based, rebranded as WorkDove just weeks ago. Read our story from Feb. 1 on the performance management startup (which just might happen to share a building with GrepBeat).

Lea(R)n is still going strong in Raleigh as LearnPlatform. It continues its mission as an edtech startup hoping to modernize learning environments. We profiled the startup in 2020, a year after CEO Karl Rectanus was profiled in a Download Q&A.

SZL.IT/Tanjo
Triangle-based SZL.IT transitioned into Tanjo, raising $650,000 in 2017. It was acquired by a private financial services company in 2019 but is still going strong. Tanjo CEO Richard Boyd has been featured in a Download Q&A.

 

2017

No longer operating

BruVue
BruVue is no longer the growing startup it once was. The beverage data system startup that enabled sensors to be shipped and installed in minutes closed down at some point after 2019. When many bars and sporting events shut down or significantly reduced their businesses in the early part of the pandemic, it placed enormous strain on startups like BruVue that served that market.

Cultivate [Read our full story]
What happened to Durham’s marketing tech startup Cultivate? Its closing in 2019 was a matter of misaligned product-market fit, said its former CEO Joe Bell. Although an innovative marketing tool, the real estate agents using Cultivate did not necessarily achieve what they really wanted: more homes sold. But Bell is still working in the music tech industry and is excited about what’s to come.

Still going strong

Quantworks is based in Chapel Hill and is still working to bring big data analytics to small startups. Read our previous feature here.

Cary-based ProAxion still operates in the industrial maintenance tech space. In 2020, the startup raised $95,000 in debt. We profiled the startup in 2020.

 

2018

No longer operating

myBeeHyve [Read our full story]
Although myBeeHyve closed its doors in 2020, its Co-Founder Megan Sumrell has definitely not left the entrepreneurial community. She’s taken the many stories she’s heard from women using myBeeHyve into her new business as a productivity and time management coach for women.

Still going strong

VitalFlo still operates in Raleigh under the mission of helping clinicians and researchers improve patient outcomes by providing comprehensive data and analysis. [We profiled VitalFlo in 2019.] Map My Customers, Hearful, Diveplane Corporation and Constellation Digital Partners also continue to run their businesses in the Triangle. We’ve previously profiled Map My Customers and Diveplane CEO Mike Capps was a Download Q&A subject.

 

2019

Durham-based The Climate Service, which we featured in 2019, was acquired just last month by S&P Global. We have also written feature stories on the other five Triangle-area startups on the list, which are all still going strong. They are: Aeva Labs, Allstacks, Green Stream Technologies, blockchain startup Kaleido, and Viibrant.

 

2020

We’ve profiled all five Triangle-area startups that made NC TECH’s Top 10 Startups list, and all are still fighting the good fight. They are: Blue Recruit, MuukLabs, 374Water, Fathom Science and Participate.

 

2021

Named just three months ago in November, we’ve also profiled the six Triangle startups that made the 2021 list: Courtroom5, EDJX, Floodlight Software, Levitate, Seguno and TriggerMesh.

About Suzanne Blake 275 Articles
Suzanne profiles startups and innovation for GrepBeat. Before working at GrepBeat, Suzanne attended UNC Chapel Hill, obtaining a degree in journalism and political science. Previously, she wrote for CNBC, QSR Magazine, FSR Magazine and The Daily Tar Heel.