Alisha Ramsey Tellurvision

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We're all about celebrating veterans here at ExitEvent. As you reflect on the role of the military in keeping us Americans safe, check out our round-up of the men and women who've done that AND gone on to start their own companies here in North Carolina. 

Below, learn about the unique innovations these former soldiers have dreamt up to make our lives a little better or to solve our biggest problems.

Unbundling the home-buying process

Former Green Beret and U.S. Special Forces Officer Tommy Sowers believes he's figured out how to reduce the commissions paid while buying home and without pissing off the Realtors who typically collect them. His Durham startup SoloPro recently announced $1.6 million in funding from a bunch of national investors and plans to move from a pilot in the Triangle to a national launch next year. 

Tommy Sowers SoloPro in Durham
Tommy Sowers is co-founder and CEO of SoloPro, a Durham startup based in American Underground. He started the company with his cousin, Shayne Sowers, of St. Louis, MO.

On-demand, mobile car washing

A year since Spiffy vans began traveling around the Triangle to wash and detail cars in driveways and parking lots, founder Karl Murphy, a former U.S. Army captain, has expanded the service to Charlotte and has sights set on other markets. The secret to Spiffy is its app, which allows services to be ordered on-demand.

Karl Murphy Spiffy 2014

Wearable devices for self-defense

Tiger Eye Sensor founder CJ Scarlet has started several companies and nonprofits since she left the Marine Corps, where she worked as a photojournalist, in the early 1980s. But her current business is personal—it's inspired by her experience as a sexual assault victim. Scarlet designed a wearable device that both sounds an alarm if a person is assaulted or in danger and records the events for eventual use in court. The devices are available for pre-order now, but will become available in 2016. (Here's our story on Tiger Eye from earlier this year.)

CJ Scarlet Tiger Eye Security Sensor at Patriot Boot Camp July 2015
CJ Scarlet of Clayton, NC pitches Tiger Eye Security Sensor, a wearable device that can notify police in sexual assault or other dangerous situations. Credit: Patriot Boot Camp

Ending cheating in online education

After years as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army and later, the Department of Defense, Mike Murphy of ProctorFree met the pair of brother-entrepreneurs behind VersaMe and moved from New York to Charlotte to work for their first startup.

When he had his own idea—to find a way to verify students taking tests online—they were early mentors and investors and introduced him to his co-founder, career educator Velvet Nelson. They've since raised seed and institutional funding from Canada-based Real Ventures, hired a CEO and launched a platform that uses facial recognition technology to continuously verify a student during an exam, and other checks and balances like recognizing odd keystrokes or behaviors that are typically associated with cheating. 20 colleges and universities are using the technology and the number is expected to double in the first half of next year.

Mike Murphy ProctorFree
Mike Murphy is CEO and founder of Charlotte-based ProctorFree. Credit: ProctorFree

Making kids smarter through vocabulary

With a device called Starling that clips onto a child's clothing and counts the number of words spoken to the child by a parent, VersaMe founders Chris and Jon Boggiano aim to boost kids' IQ and prepare them for social, emotional and cognitive success later in life. Starling is based on research that shows the more words spoken to kids between ages zero and four, the smarter they are and faster they learn. 


The Charlotte and Palo Alto-based startup built by a pair of brothers who served together in the Army, started and sold a previous startup and studied together at Stanford University, is in the midst of an Indiegogo campaign to bring the company to life. With more than $77,700 already committed, the men have surpassed their goal by 236 percent and will begin shipping the devices in April 2016.

Chris and Jon Boggiano VersaMe
Brothers Chris and Jon Boggiano served together in the Iraq War. They are pictured in Baqubah, Iraq in 2004. Today, they're co-founders of VersaMe, a wearable device startup with offices in Charlotte and Palo Alto. Credit: VersaMe

Unscripted reality television homegrown in NC

Tellurvision Studios is a business that started by shooting corporate videos and documentaries but it s evolving to include realty shows like Flea Market Junkies and AM Raleigh (named after Oprah's AM Chicago and filmed in Wake Forest), both airing next year. The studio's founder Alisha Ramsey (pictured above) served as a U.S. Army captain, with two combat tours in Iraq and a third in Bosnia. During that time, she carried a camera around filming stories of soldiers in the battlefield. She's among the first entrepreneurs to join Bunker Labs, a startup accelerator based at RTP's The Frontier.

Alisha Ramsey Tellurvision shoot
Alisha Ramsey, or AlishaTV, is founder and president of Tellurvision Studios. Credit: Tellurvision

Building better sports, corporate and military teams

With a combination of consulting and predictive analytics software, the Cary-based team at Horizon Performance are helping organizations like NASA, the Navy SEALs and the National Football League field better astronauts, soldiers and teams. Founder Jat Thompson developed a customized evaluation system for U.S. Army Special Forces back in 2003 after spending several years as an organizational psychologist for the Army Research Institute. In recnet years, Horizon has developed the technology into a software-as-a-service focused on corporations.

Horizon Performance Screenshot

Getting non-profits the items they need most

Launching early next year is a crowdfunding platform called inKind that lets nonprofits get items or help they need the most. Founder Nick Black came up with the idea after he started the Triangle-based nonprofit Stop Soldier Suicide in 2011. He wanted another way for organizations to get support besides fundraising. inKind will let organizations ask for what they need, and then match them with donors who can provide those items or services. 

As a U.S. Army soldier, Black was deployed in combat zones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for more than two years. He also served in the North Carolina Army National Guard from 2011-2013 while earning an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill.  Black expects to announce inKind's first round of funding soon.


Better, healthier, ergonomic toothbrushing

The inspiration for the Toof-inger Brush came when founder Steven Walther worked as a Special Forces Medic and oral healthcare provider in Afghanistan. He saw a lot of soldiers with poor brushing techniques and thought he could change that with a different kind of toothbrush, one that requires only two fingers instead of most of a hand. The design forces people to be gentler when brushing.

Walther is among the 15 entrepreneurs to participate in the inaugural Bunker Labs program next year.

Credit: Toofinger

Affordable, stylish haircuts...with beer

Arrow Barbering is a mix between an old-time barbershop and a modern hair salon, with prices a step above Sport Clips and Great Cuts and amenities like free beer. The chain of barbershops is growing fast in the Triangle, now with three locations in Raleigh and Durham since 2014. The inspiration for his modern-day barbership business came when founder Pete Phipps, a West Point graduate, served as a senior intelligence officer for the U.S. Army in Japan. The full story is in the video below: 


Your health insurance card (and cost estimates) in an app

Medlio is eliminating questions surrounding health insurance coverage by giving customers access to all of their plan information in an app on their phones. The patented app was developed at the DreamIt Health startup accelerator in 2013 and launched in Durham in early 2014. Founder and CEO is David Brooks, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, has founded several healthcare-related software companies, worked as a business manager at a medical practice and run a health information technology consultancy.