Jim Kittridge and Drew Hamlett of Brand Assurance

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Brand Assurance is one of six startups to win ~$50K in grant funding from the nonprofit Durham-based NC IDEA Foundation. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded nearly $4.2 million to 104 startups around the state. The six companies were narrowed from nine finalists, 22 semifinalists and 130 total applications for the Fall 2015 cycle. Profiles of the rest of the companies are linked below.

Brand Assurance is a small Wilmington-based startup helping apartment communities improve their reputation with potential renters. 
Essentially, this software allows for the aggregation and presentation of renter or owner reviews, ratings, comments or concerns in an easy to view and polished manner. Additionally, tools for the evaluation of property managers and employees are available. 
Founder Jim Kittridge (top left) launched an online reputation agency called ResponsiveReach in 2013, helping small and mid-sized clients improve their reputations online. But he took a break from that company to serve as vice president of marketing for the very successful launch of the beer and wine recommendation app called Next Glass. On LinkedIn, he calls the year at Next Glass his “MBA in startups.” 
But it was enough experience to prompt him to quit his day job at the beginning of this year and devote $30,000 to building Brand Assurance. 
In his own words, “As soon as I saw it work for businesses and they were willing to pay us money for it, I knew I was onto something that could be big.“ 
Now, it’s getting matched with grant dollars from NC IDEA, becoming the first Wilmington startup to win the prestigious statewide award since the program began in 2006.
Kittridge’s co-founder is former Next Glass developer Drew Hamlett (top right). When they started work on the reputation management business, they considered a wide range of service providers—from accountants to dentists to roofing companies—but quickly zeroed in on real estate. Property owners can fairly easily suffer bad press, they learned. 
Rather than provide mediocre solutions to many companies, they wanted to be “laser-focused” on becoming the “best solution possible” for one industry. It’s a common trend among software companies in 2015. And real estate is an industry getting a lot of attention from venture capitalists. According to CB Insights, real estate technology companies are expected to raise $1.5 billion by the end of 2015. 

Brand Assurance profile
The men took part in The Startup Factory’s inaugural boot camp in August in Winston-Salem, and say its leaders provided the advice, mentorship, tough love and guidance they needed to get the product to market and vet it with customers. According to its website, more than 100 companies are partners and they’ve generated more than 1200 positive reviews and thwarted more than 800 negative ones using Brand Assurance. 
The NC IDEA grant funds will help the company continue to build software that helps apartment owners promote their communities, recruit tenants and improve operations. Kittridge told the Greater Wilmington Business Journal in November that the award would also help the company scale faster and become more profitable.
“[It will allow us to] improve the scalability of our software and add a much-desired feature (semantic analysis). Doing this will give us another distinct competitive advantage over the current incumbents,” Kittridge told ExitEvent. 
This comes in addition to adding another 4-5 headshots to the company roster next year.

Read about the rest of the winners here: