NC IDEA Opens $50K Spring Startup Grant Cycle Today - 1

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NC IDEA Opens $50K Spring Startup Grant Cycle Today - 1
Do you remember which startups won the NC IDEA grant over the past couple of years?

That's what I asked myself when I started writing this article. My initial reaction was -- There's no way I have the space in my brain to keep track of these things.

Then I thought about it again and realized that I definitely do. Because NC IDEA grant winners have made themselves memorable.

Winners that came to mind were Archive Social, which has since landed a deal with the State of North Carolina, won a TiE 50 award, and been accepted into the Code for America accelerator; BoostSuite, which hit 5000 customers just six months after their public launch, and has more than doubled its revenue each quarter this year; and Keona Health, which was accepted to the Blueprint Health accelerator, has launched at UNC and Tulane healthcare facilities, and recently won $100,000 at the Health 2.0 Allscripts Open App Challenge.

This kind of track record makes being selected as an NC IDEA grant winner not just memorable, but meaningful. So it follows that when I asked some of the Fall 2013 cycle semi-finalists how they felt about coming a step closer to winning, the word "excited" was used multiple times.

This fall's NC IDEA semi-finalist pool consists of twenty-four startups selected from 117 applicants based in ten NC cities. After NC IDEA announced the semi-finalists, I got in touch with several of the companies, many of which are in the ExitEvent network.

Upswing, an online marketplace that matches students with coaches for personalized learning, is a member of the current Groundwork Labs class. They became familiar with the NC IDEA grant program via the accelerator, which is powered by NC IDEA. The company launched their platform to the public last month and founder Melvin Hines said he appreciates the validation that comes with being selected as semi-finalist.

Based down the hall from Upswing is The Startup Factory's HomeWellness, another semi-finalist. Co-founder Eric Calhoun describes his company, which was also a Cherokee-McDonough Challenge finalist this summer, as "Siri with a hardhat." Their smart software provides building expertise to improve a home's comfort, health, and energy efficiency. What's especially interesting is that the company doesn't try to reach homeowners directly; they package their software as an employee benefit and market it to employers.

Jody Porowski and the full-time team of four at Avelist have raised a $275,000 seed round from non-institutional sources for their platform, which allows users to create and search for lists of information. To them, moving forward in the grant process was both an honor and a pleasant surprise that demonstrated NC IDEA's openness to a variety of business models.

"The Triangle isn't known for Internet Consumer/Social Media technology so I wasn't sure if our business would even be considered. It was validating to see that pre-revenue, Internet Consumer business models are being given a chance," Jody told me.

I got in touch with semi-finalist Medlio, maker of a digital health insurance card, just after they returned from the Health 2.0 conference in Silicon Valley. They gave a rapid fire demo at the conference alongside other emerging health IT companies from across the country, returning to Durham with a 2nd place win. Using Medlio's technology, patients can store, share, update and own their healthcare data and healthcare providers can give cost estimates at the point of care. Lori Mehen, Co-founder at Durham-based Medlio, said that the NC IDEA grant was attractive because it's a local source of funding.

Raleigh-based DigaForce, led by Founder and CEO Anthony Pompliano, gives customers a daily instruction on how to increase engagement with specific demographics of their customer base. Anthony told me that applying for NC IDEA grant was a no-brainer, citing the impact it has had on other companies, the lack of dilution, and the access to the NC IDEA network. Well said.

David Rose, CEO at semi-finalist PRSONAS, showed me a video of his company's product in action. It resembles a customer service representative in the form of a hologram. The full-size virtual person uses artificial intelligence to interact with and support customers while delivering analytics back to the the PRSONAS client.

David said he appreciated the rigor of the NC IDEA grant application process. When a startup gets rolling, the number of day-to-day 'to dos' can keep you busy 24 hours a day. Even then, everything won't get done. A process that makes you pause to revisit your company's status and strategy moving forward is valuable in and of itself.

While Tuee wasn't founded in NC, they moved to Durham after being accepted into The Startup Factory's Spring 2013 class. And Co-Founder Kunal Arora says their team loves being here. I'm guessing that local restaurants, where post-meal comment cards never saw a drop of ink, love them being here, too. Tuee's digital comment card, presented to restaurant goers on a tablet, attracts feedback from 80% of guests. They applied for the grant after one of their advisors and a former NC IDEA grant winner, Eric Boggs, recommended it.

VacationFutures is an online marketplace for wholesale future rental rights. With their seed round closed, the company's platform is live with over 100 wholesale rental listings. Andrew McConnell, CEO, told me that his team was attracted to the NC IDEA grant program because of its successful history and the impact that winning could have on their short-term strategy.

"We had a real and immediate need where their funding could help provide a step-change in our go-to-market approach," said Andrew.

For these companies and the other NC IDEA grant semi-finalists, the next step is to submit a more comprehensive proposal by mid-October. Four to six winners will be named in December, each receiving up to $50,000 in funding and support from the NC IDEA network.