The Big Idea Project logo with Big Pixel

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It's part promotion, part contribution, part investment, part fun for the group of entrepreneurs, developers, marketers and designers behind The Big Idea Project.

But for one lucky entrepreneur, it's all parts mentorship, product design, software development and critical business-building help. $100,000 and six months worth to be exact.

The Big Idea Project, tagged on social media #thebigidea, is a collaboration between more than a handful of local companies to provide one Triangle tech startup with a minimally viable product (MVP) along with free co-working for six months and help on customer discovery, marketing and branding strategy, legal issues and funding. The catch is that the founders must be located in the Triangle, have a great technology-driven startup idea and at least 20 hours a week over the next six months to spend on the project. Oh, and they must be willing to give up 10 percent of their company to the project's principals.

"We want the startup to come out of our little program like a gunshot," says David Baxter, CEO of the Raleigh design and development firm Big Pixel and the project's instigator. "We want it to be practical, to get in there with them in the trenches and help build the vision of a company. And hopefully, we can do this every year and have a little portfolio, and over time, one of these will hit."

What will the winning idea look like? "I don't really care what the idea is. A good one," he says.

He just hopes to have a lot to choose from. The project team's goal is to bring in 100 local applications and choose a winner after an October 13 live pitch event between the top five candidates. The deadline to apply is September 30.

The back story to The Big Idea

If you haven't heard of Baxter or Big Pixel, that's by design. Baxter started his company in 2013 after a long career in software engineering and application development for government (the Florida House of Representatives), the energy industry and corporations like Grant Thornton. He'd become interested in the design and user experience side of development, and in startups, so he left his employer Cii Technology Solutions to start a firm. But he kept a low profile over two years to amass a credible portfolio.

There have been ups and downs along the way, but in the portfolio today is the not-yet-launched men's fashion site Swaggr, an early version of the hospitality industry app called TripTap (now in Atlanta), an app for EZSports.com (not yet launched) and Mevii, the female-focused health and wellness app that the Raleigh startup Thrive 4-7 is taking to market. He now employs three others in an office at HQ Raleigh and has big aspirations—to become as large and well-regarded among startups as Durham agencies like Smashing Boxes or Two Toasters (before it was acquired by Ticketmaster).

Big Pixel Team Photo at HQ Raleigh
Big Pixel Studios was founded by David Baxter, second from left, and is staffed by Kandice Buterbaugh, project manager, Robert Hamm, senior developer and David Curtis, developer. (Pictured from left)
Baxter wanted to come out of hiding in a big way. He's not typically one of those developers who trades equity for work—he has a family to feed—but he wanted to market his company by helping another one. And he thought he could get more attention for the project by sweetening the deal. Enter the partners: Steen Kanter and Maari Casey. 

HQ Raleigh's Jason Widen introduced Baxter to Kanter, a branding and marketing expert credited with helping to launch IKEA in the U.S. The Raleigh man has performed subsequent work with major brands like Everlast, HermanMiller, Lord & Taylor and Ashley Furniture through his Raleigh firm Kanter International, and wanted to get involved in the startup community. For The Big Idea winner, he'll provide branding assistance. 

Baxter met Casey through another designer. The former art director at McKinney founded Durham-based marketing agency Uncompany and wanted a way to promote its unique model of matching startups and brands with a network of relevant local freelancers. Here's how she explains the impetus for Uncompany: "I've seen the freelance workforce explode in the creative and tech area. The idea of agencies of record and retainers are going away and companies are moving to project or client-based work so they need project-based workers." 

A Durhamite, Casey also hoped the project would introduce her to potential partners and clients throughout the Triangle. Her team will design logos, brand images and all marketing materials.

And though they aren't equity partners, others have rallied around the project too. HQ Raleigh is offering the co-working. The law firm Wyrick Robbins is providing an incorporation package. The NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic will provide the startup with students to perform customer discovery and other market research and business plan help, as well as the manpower to generate social media buzz. Equity crowdfunding platform Malartu Funds will help the winning startup launch a crowdfunding campaign.

Like most accelerator programs, there will be a Demo Day to launch the startup and its product into the world. 

According to Baxter, the project "turned into way more than what I thought it would be." 

And it's turning out to be the perfect way to introduce Big Pixel to the Triangle too, he says. 

Applications must be in before September 30 and they must include a 1-4 minute video. A lunch and learn on the project will be held at HQ Raleigh tomorrow. Stay tuned for a Durham date.