Drive from one end of Silicon Valley to the other and you’ve trekked nearly two hours, about the same distance as a drive along I-40 and I-85 to Charlotte.
That’s one reason Devin Collins wants more Triangle-area companies as applicants in this year’s Charlotte Venture Challenge. If the two regions act as one, they can take advantage of each other’s unique resources and better promote North Carolina as a state for startups.
Today is the last day to apply for the annual May pitch competition and startup showcase at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It’s an event unique to the state, where 40 pre-selected startups get to network with each other, pitch before investors and meet executives at Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, manufacturers like Electrolux, SPX and Ingersoll Rand and locally-headquartered retailers like Family Dollar, Belk and Lowe’s. There’s also cash on the line.
“What we hear from corporate folks is they want to see the best ideas and the most ideas all in one place,” says Collins, the competition’s organizer and assistant director of business and entrepreneurial development at the university’s Charlotte Research Institute. “The main goal is giving these startups access to customers.”
Different from the Triangle region, Charlotte lacks research and development expertise and supply of venture capital. But it does have major corporations with many technology needs, making it an appealing place for the researchers here to travel to find buyers and testers of their products. And more and more startups are forming in Charlotte, South Carolina and the rest of our state, making the contest attractive to investors here.
But the corporate draw is especially unique. Only in the last two of the contest’s 13 years have the corporations signed on to support and attend the event, he says. And it’s already been successful in at least one case. A team last year was invited to deploy its technology in Lowe’s stores and has since published a white paper about the project.
UNC Charlotte’s goal is to eventually bring in technology scouts from companies outside the region too.
So how do you sign up?
If you’ve already applied for an NC IDEA grant, then this will be easy—the two entities use the same form. Otherwise, visit the Charlotte Venture Challenge website and enter one of six challenge categories. The deadline is midnight tonight. The winning 40 teams (up from 20 last year) will be notified March 25, and they’ll have about a month to participate in online workshops to perfect their pitches. The competition and showcase will be held all day on May 1.
The Triangle has some track record of success in the contest. Last year, Raleigh-based BENANOVA won third place in the graduate student challenge. And CranioVation from Durham made the top 20. BENANOVA is a biochemical company formed at N.C. State University as a method of making environmentally friendly crop protection products. CranioVation, born in the neurosurgery department at Duke University Medical Center, is developing a minimally-invasive device for treating malignant brain tumors, and apparently has an Indiegogo campaign wrapping up this week.
So take a look at your business opportunities, and if investment or corporate customers is one of them, it might make sense to apply. If nothing else, it’ll be a good chance to show your support for North Carolina as a startup state.