Duke And NCCU Hold Black Founder Pitch Event For $60,000 In Prizes

Unravl Hair CEO Zanbria Asante presents to judges at Duke and NCCU's competition.

Nine startups competed for $60,000 in prizes today at Duke and North Carolina Central University’s pitch: A competition for Black founders virtual event. All teams were led by Black founders, and they included U.S. companies in market verticals spanning vacation travel, hair devices, blockchain, healthcare and more.

The virtual event was split into two competitions, one for idea-stage ventures and one for traction-stage ventures.

Charlotte-based BatteryXchange won second place for the traction track, earning $15,000 in funding. BatteryXchange offers a battery rental kiosk solution for charging cell phones on the go.

The first-place winner was California-headquartered Sayenza Bio, a life science company automating the processing of fat tissue to create injectable stem cells for regenerative medicine. Atlanta-based BrightPay took third place for its healthcare-focused platform to reduce medical debt and prevent patients from experiencing unexpected costs. The teams won $25,000 and $10,000, respectively.

BatteryXchange Founder and CEO Desmond Wiggan was inspired to create his startup when he found himself stranded with a dead phone, unable to call his wife or an Uber to get home.

“It was through this that I started to say, why isn’t there a more convenient way for you to charge your cell phone while you’re on the go?” Wiggan said. “I started to look at this holistically and saw that there was an increased user reliance on our cell phones because it’s our lifeline, to connecting to loved ones, using our applications and basically maneuvering throughout our day.”

Traditional charging stations don’t solve the problem because they’re often too far away or don’t even work, Wiggan said. BatteryXchange provides a kiosk machine in which users simply download an app, rent a battery and then return the battery to the kiosk.

“We flip the sharing economy on its head,” Wiggan said. “No longer does the end user have to pay for this. There’s a subscription to the partner in the location.”

BatteryXchange has already raised $450,000 and is planning a seed round for $2.5 million in Q4.

In the idea-stage category, Chicago’s universal sizing shopping platform Tylmen Tech claimed third place for $2,000, Denver-HQed travel app Trameter came in second at $3,000 and Cambridge-based Privy Photos secured the first place $5,000 prize.

Privy Founder Maya Brooks started off her presentation by asking how many of participants had ever taken a photograph they’d never want on the front page of The New York Times.

“Unfiltered connection and intimacy, these are basic human needs,” Brooks said. “And over the last 15 years, we’ve used technology to share our most intimate moments with friends, family and romantic partners. The issue is we don’t have any control of the content we send after we send it.”

The consequences from a leaked private photograph can be devastating, especially for women dealing with image-based sexual abuse.

Brooks’ solution is a blockchain-enabled secure messaging platform that gives users complete control over their most intimate photographs. Privy will operate under a subscription model with an extended functionality premium plan of just $1.99 a month.

There are 3 billion people on mobile messaging apps today, and 70 percent of people are interested in using a new product to protect their photos, creating an addressable market of 2.1 billion users, Brooks said.

Joel Bailon of Cisco, the event’s grand prize sponsor, explained the judges’ reasoning for picking Privy for the idea-stage award: “It was in large part due to the construction or the approach of the team, and I think at this stage that’s going to be one of the most important factors.”

The pitch competition’s judges engaged in vigorous debate before choosing who would ultimately leave the event with funding, but with so many different ideas, it could not be seen as a reflective ranking system, according to Bailon.

“The exciting thing about these types of competitions is you get to practice pitching your ideas, learn from others in terms of how they’re thinking about the world, the problem, and these different trends to refine your own thinking,” Bailon said. “The downside is when you’re looking at a broad swath of different opportunities, it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison.”

About Suzanne Blake 308 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.