This is the fifth of 10 profiles provided by the North Carolina Technology Association highlighting its newest Beacon Award category, Ten Startups to Watch. The companies will be recognized during the organization’s November 6th NC Technology Awards Gala.

By Ann Revell-Pechar

Wilmington’s Next Glass has been in the spotlight for nearly a year, since it won the Emerging Company award during NCTA’s last, and final, 21 Awards in 2014. 

The startup’s public beta will go live this month, and the excitement is growing across the entire country, especially now that its Beer Census 2014 is touring and the company was chosen as one of five global startups to showcase at the Wall Street Journal’s inaugural #WSJDLive last week in California.

It would be easy to suggest that this ever-growing buzz is due to the widespread enthusiasm for anything to do with wine and beer. It’s also pretty fascinating that Next Glass has a chemical analysis of nearly every bottle of wine or beer sold in stores—there’s a multi-stage process to determine a litany of differentiators that might affect taste. But what’s really important about Next Glass is the data behind the science. 

Consumers can tell the app what they’ve liked previously and, like Pandora does for music, it compares the chemical makeup of those beverages to others to make recommendations. And at the grocery or wine shop, they can hold their mobile devices up to bottles of beer or wine and see a percentage match based on those previous ratings. 
The Next Glass secret sauce lies in machine learning. This combination of statistics and computer science helps the system actually learn from the data collected. That’s what helps marry the chemistry with the data to predict enjoyment. 
“We do all this to make sure users have a great experience,” says Kurt Taylor, Next Glass cofounder and CEO. “Of course we have brilliant scientists in the lab. Internally, we employ data scientists, helping us to interpret the huge number of data points that our prediction engine delivers. Think about this: Amazon uses about 200 data points to help you decide on what to buy; we use more than 1000. That takes some serious talent.” 
Talent is one of the things that Next Glass believes sets it apart. Smart people come to the company because they want to be a part of the ‘next big thing.’ But Next Glass says that Wilmington also supports the lifestyle that new employees are looking for, and many interested in data are flocking there. 
“We have so many data-driven companies in this region that there’s always something for a broad range of smart people to do,” says Taylor. “So many Wilmington companies rely on data science that we have begun to grow an enviable talent pool.” 
When the Next Glass app ships this month, Taylor hopes to see users in grocery stores trying all sorts of new wines and beers they never would have before. He expects to eventually reach hundreds of thousands of users. He also plans to build relationships with merchants and restaurants.
Helping that are funds from about 40 angel investors and funding groups, many of whom are based in North Carolina. Next Glass hasn’t yet unveiled its total dollars raised, but it’s clear investors have been as excited about the opportunity as all the beer and wine lovers out there.