CED Hosts 80+ Presenting Startups At First In-Person Conference In Three Years

ServiceTrade CEO Billy Marshall (left) and Bull City Venture Partners' Jason Caplain spoke as part of the Growth Stories segment at Thursday's Venture Connect Summit in RTP.

CED’s 2022 Venture Connect summit saw 80-plus startups take the stage Thursday to present their companies to investors and the wider North Carolina tech ecosystem.

The event, held at Cisco’s RTP campus, was the first in-person conference held by CED in three years after the pandemic derailed plans for 2020 and 2021, which were both forced to be virtual-only.

The day was separated into multiple simultaneous sessions on three different stages. Two stages hosted a series of pitch sessions for technology and life science companies, while a third stage had a morning panel on growth stories—pairing a CEO and an investor who had put money into the company—and an afternoon session featuring investor reverse pitches.

During the growth panel, ServiceTrade’s CEO Billy Marshall chatted with Bull City Venture Partners  investor Jason Caplain about the long journey that predated ServiceTrade’s successful $85 million raise from JMI Equity, Frontier Growth and BCVP late last year.

Durham-based ServiceTrade’s software serves commercial service contractors to streamline service operations and engage customers online to boost revenue. But the path to a blockbuster funding round was nowhere near simple.

Marshall was candid about two failures before the success of ServiceTrade, including at rPath, which he had founded and led as CEO. Even though rPath raised $20 million in its first three years, it didn’t work out, Marshall said.

“We had $10 million in the bank, but I was on the wrong side of the dynamic in the boardroom and essentially was asked to leave the company,” Marshall said. “It felt terrible. I remember crying when I first understood that that’s what was going to happen. But it turned out that was a good thing.”

While initially investors like Caplain were not interested in ServiceTrade for various reasons, Bull City ended up warming up to the startup, helping it get to its success today. 

“Don’t believe that every success is a straight line,” Marshall said. “I had two failures before this, backed by really smart people.”

Marshall advised others on the importance of recognizing what advice not to take but also surrounding yourself with people who can help you.

“The sooner you focus on fundamentals, the better off you are,” Marshall said. “Those fundamentals are, is our average deal size growing every six months or so? Is the number of customers we sign every quarter growing by a little bit?”

Durham-based startup Plum, which offers a platform to make vacation home ownership more accessible, also announced its new strategic advisory board at the event. 

Plum was founded by Windsor Circle’s Matt Williamson and now includes an advisory board with names like former LendingTree CEO Tom Reddin, Amazon VP Wes Herman and Allen Mask, the former GM of Airbnb Experiences. Plum made headlines earlier this year for raising over $1 million in seed capital from Studio VC and Scot Wingo’s Triangle Tweener Fund, among others. [We wrote about Plum last month.]

After the day-long event, attendees gathered outside for a celebration with local breweries, barbecue and music. 

There, RTP’s CliniSpan Health won the new award for Venture Connect Tech Startup of the Year, presented by GrepBeat’s very own Pete McEntegart. CliniSpan is a mission-driven startup that works to increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in clinical studies. (We profiled the startup last month.)

This year’s conference follows a long history of CED’s support for entrepreneurial companies in North Carolina and beyond. CED’s CEO Kelly Rowell said that companies on Venture Connect’s stages have raised a total of $6 billion over the last decade. 

About Suzanne Blake 362 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.