TechWire: Windsor Circle CEO's Advice on Raising VC - 1

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Many of the startups we're watching in the new year are located within the region's incubators and shared workspaces, the places meant to provide the community and density helpful to entrepreneurs as they grow their businesses. 

But there's another key indicator of potential success too. Money.

We scanned the rolls at American Underground and HQ Raleigh for startups that (publicly) raised money from angels or venture capitalists in 2014, and starting with American Underground, remind you of their plans in the months to come. (American Underground startups raised nearly $21 million from October 2013 to October 2014, as per its inaugural annual report last year.) We also include the venture funds based in the Underground that added to their pools in 2014.

Startups

The first half of 2014 was all about this Durham-based customer retention software startup. One of two startups from this region to be selected for Google for Entrepreneurs' inaugural Demo Day, Windsor Circle came out on top of the 10 companies selected from around the nation. Several months later, it landed a lead investor in Comcast Ventures and closed a $5.5 million round. Comcast immediately surrounded co-founder and CEO Matt Williamson (see above) and his team with resources from within the global telecom, and will help it grow beyond its 200+ online retail customers today and into new verticals, all while continuing to improve a platform already turning more online shoppers into buyers.

October funding from a handful of social venture and angel investors, including VRBO founder David Clouse and the local Sovereign's Capital and Cherokee, is helping this software and outsourcing firm get ever closer to a goal of employing a million underemployed workers in the developing world by 2017. CloudFactory handles the time-intensive, data-driven tasks of major corporations like ESPN using a software platform along with a process of rallying small teams of workers in Nepal and Nairobi around tasks and promoting the top performing workers to more complex projects over time. 

Founder Mark Sears started the company after realizing the latent talent within the two African countries and developing a passion for helping those young people contribute in the workplace.

CloudFactory Cloudworkers 2014
CloudFactory's cloudworkers gather in Kathmandu for a company event in 2014. Credit: CloudFactory

Year one for the Raleigh startup was all about building the best and most unique platform for photo editing and modification around, and adding users in a grassroots way around the world. Year two was for making it a platform for brands and companies to create packages of frames, stickers and backgrounds for their fans and customers to use in their digital photos. Now with $1 million in venture capital under its belt, year three is about marketing, sales and user growth. Licenses are in place with Disney, sports leagues, colleges & universities and Greek organizations and a sales team is lining up clients in Oscar Mayer and CanvasOnDemand to create photo packages. 

With more than a million active users and a top 40 grossing photo app, Photofy is out to prove it's different than the thousands of photo platforms on the market today.

Photofy Founders
Photofy was founded by Jon LaNasa, left, and Jesse Flores, right. Credit: Photofy

2014 was a big year for this Durham startup that archives social media on behalf of governments. The team completed the Code for America accelerator program in Silicon Valley, earned Gartner's prestigious accolade "Cool Vendor for Government" and formed a strategic partnership with a leading media company for government workers, bringing in about $1 million in funding and sales/marketing help.

Civic/GovTech continues to be an investment by municipalities around the nation—they'll spend $6.4 billion this year and 14 times as much as on traditional IT through 2018, according to a recent research report. ArchiveSocial's 2014 funding and momentum positions it to take advantage of these trends.

Though the real estate crowdlending startup stunned the Triangle by moving its headquarters to Atlanta this year, it has a team of developers in Raleigh and remains committed to opening its platform to North Carolina residents soon. Many of its investors, including Inception Micro-Angel Fund and the three local angels who contributed to August's $1 million round, are also located in this region. 

Groundfloor, which champions real estate as an investment opportunity for non-accredited investors, earned national headlines this year when it closed the first crowdfunded real estate loan, helping to complete a home renovation project near downtown Atlanta. It also opened the platform to residents in five other states and made the move to Atlanta, where the earliest adopters of the platform are located and state law is more friendly to crowdfunding. In November 2014, Groundfloor unveiled its latest platform update, reducing the minimum investment from $100 to $10 and providing a new dashboard with analytics and information to better help users vet deals.

Groundfloor Proves Real Estate Crowd-Lending with Two Closed Deals - 1
Here are the first four employees of Groundfloor, including founders Brian Dally, bottom left, and Nick Bhargava, top right. Credit: Groundfloor

Thousands of kids around the nation are wearing fitness trackers and improving their health thanks to this Durham startup and Techstars Chicago graduate, which closed a round in February 2014 to bring its total funds raised above $1 million. 

Founded by Coleman Greene while an MBA student at the University of North Carolina, the company won the Blue Cross Blue Shield Innovation Challenge and has conducted pilots with the insurance corporation in Washington. Late last year, it released the new Booster tracker, a sort of FitBit for kids, and began selling on Amazon. Sales must have gone well—according to its website, the Booster is sold out till February.

The spring 2014 The Startup Factory graduate ended its accelerator time with a partnership with a leader in the hotel booking industry. By summer's end, the startup had closed its first round of funding from both local investors and New York-based Great Oaks Venture Capital. The mission of CEO and co-founder Michelle McBryde is to make it easy for travelers to find and book hostel travel around the world. She plans to eventually roll out a back end platform to help hostel operators better manage their businesses.

Hostel Rocket CEO and co-founder Michelle McBryde chats with ExitEvent Editor Laura Baverman at the CED Tech Venture Conference September, 17 2014.
This San Francisco company chose Raleigh-Durham for its first expansion of its full-service online used furniture marketplace, renting a warehouse for processing and storing used furniture from around the Triangle and employing a team of workers at American Underground in Durham. With $2.8 million in funding from Google Ventures and other Silicon Valley investors, stay tuned for further expansion of its team and operation in the Triangle and North Carolina—Charlotte comes next.

Move Loot Team 2014
Credit: Move Loot

Both Washington D.C.-based startups, Orate and CareLuLu traveled to Durham to participate in The Startup Factory this year, each raising at least $50,000 from the accelerator in return for three months of mentoring and a small stake in each company. An introduction to 500 Startups' founder Dave McClure at the accelerator's May pitch event won online day care marketplace CareLuLu funding and a spot in the Silicon Valley accelerator, which led to a $1.7 million seed round including Khosla Ventures and CrunchFund. The company is now based in San Francisco and launching its platform around the country.

Orate finished The Startup Factory in November after closing a $400,000 round including D.C. investors. The partners are still working in Durham on a pilot of the marketplace for aspiring public speakers and event organizers.

NCIDEA Grant Winners, ~$50K each 

RevBoss is serial entrepreneur Eric Boggs' follow-up to Argyle Social, the social media management startup he founded and then left in 2013. RevBoss handles outbound business development on behalf of startup and other clients, creating a software that helps find and validate email addresses.

Mati Energy, the healthy tea-based energy drink maker in Durham, is making its way into hundreds of Whole Foods, Costco and Kroger stores across the Southeast. Founder Tatiana Birgisson will also introduce a new flavor, and a method of preserving the drinks so they can sit on shelves instead of refrigerators.

AnyCloud, the brainchild of a Silicon Valley veteran, is a software that makes it easy to store and find any photo from any source on a computer or online. The software has been in testing since winning the NCIDEA grant earlier this year.

CellBreaker is the personal mission of founder Jon Colgan to help people break their cell phone contracts and save an average of 62% on cell service. The just-launched software platform will eventually be used in other verticals too. Colgan has also been successful at drumming up national media attention prior to launch.

CrowdTunes, born at Duke University, is a digital jukebox software and service for restaurants and bars. It lets patrons and diners select and bid on music to be played in the venue, and from their mobile device. The founders merged with a pair of serial entrepreneurs earlier this year, won the NC IDEA grant and announced a plan to get the software and service into 50 bars and restaurants by year's end.

Funds:

It took about 18 months from when partners Jason Caplain and David Jones announced they'd raise a new fund to invest in startups both within the Triangle and North Carolina and around the nation. In June, the fund closed and they set a plan to make two to four investments annually over the next five years. Since then, they've funded the new venture of iContact co-founder Ryan Allis, now in San Francisco building Connect, a platform for locating and communicating with friends around the world. 

The network of nearly 200 investors around the nation—the oldest impact investment group in the U.S.—raised a new round of funding in May 2014 with plans to make $250,000 to $500,000 investments in entrepreneurs making a positive social or environmental impact. The organization's goal is to put $100 million into qualifying startups by 2020, all while conducting research, planning events and growing local angel investing networks in cities around the nation (Today, there are six).

The group moved its headquarters to Durham in 2011 when it merged with the local SJF Institute, which works around the nation to support and connect entrepreneurs interested in sustainability.

Acorn partner Michael Noel started 2014 with $2.5 million of a planned $5 million White Oak Innovestment Fund to invest in startups addressing environmental challenges. The fund has five local portfolio companies, two of which have raised money since Acorn made its initial investment. According to securities filings, the remainder of the fund did not close in 2014.