On the Go with Jay Bigelow - 1

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On the Go with Jay Bigelow - 1
Jay Bigelow's column is part of a weekly series. Why Jay? Because he's charged with meeting and learning the needs of entrepreneurs all over this region and connecting them with the resources and people to help achieve their goals.

Alpha and Omega—the beginning and the end. Oh how that resonates in the startup world.

Alpha

Friday, May 16, I participated in the NC IDEA pitch finals for spring 2014 recipients. Since its inception in 2006, NC IDEA's grant program has awarded over $3.1M to 82 companies across the state. Most of the companies that apply to NC IDEA are at the beginning (hence alpha) of their existence.

Based on my experience, this spring's cycle of presenting companies was a very strong set of contenders. While four rose to the top for me, almost any of the other companies I evaluated were worth consideration. Winners haven't been announced yet so stay tuned for more news.

Moreover, while everyone who applies wants (and often really needs) the $50,000 grant, I tell all of the companies that I speak with that just getting to the finals is a very big deal and goes a long way to raising the profile of a young startup.

You see, NC IDEA leverages members of the community to help review proposals at each stage. In particular, many of the active individual angel investors as well as the organized angel groups donate their time and expertise to the process. So if you make it to the finals, you are in essence making an indirect pitch to many early stage funders.

The NC IDEA fall grant cycle will kick off this summer with awards made sometime late fall. If you think you've got a great idea and will need some funding to get it off the ground, don't miss this important opportunity to be seen and potentially, to be funded.

Omega

Last week, we hosted a small intimate dinner for Ben Weinberger and Matthew Berry, co-founders of Digitalsmiths.

As you may recall, back in January (in the middle of a snow storm), Digtialsmiths announced it had been acquired by TiVo for $135 million.

The purpose of last night's dinner was to recognize Ben and Matt for their achievement, but also to allow them to share the story of the company's founding (in a dorm room 16 years ago), the ups and downs ( they had received previous offers to buy the company that for one reason or another did not pan out) and perhaps most importantly, the decision to go with TiVo and how they have managed to maintain the integrity of the company and its culture, despite the merger. All told in a heartfelt and honest way.

Not everyone will start, grow and exit a company like Ben and Matt have done. But please know that exits are a very important to create a virtuous cycle of sustaining and growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Of course, investors need exits to create a return-on-investment, but exits also create 'new wealth' and added benefits to the ecosystem.

Those include:

1) Founders and employees may become angel investors themselves.

2) Staff may have the means to pursue new ideas/start new companies (and potentially apply for NC IDEA grants).

3) Founders and staff with experience growing a company now add to the depth of talent pool.

4) A high-profile exit like this one elevates the stature of the region on the national radar.

And lastly, in the case of Digitalsmiths/TiVo, we now have a new corporate investor/partner with ties and interest to the region.

So thank you and congratulations to Ben and Matt for the success of Digitalsmiths and for helping to fuel a possible virtuous cycle—Alpha and Omega.