Update: Encapsio (pictured with judges above) won the 2016 Big Launch Challenge and $20,000. Read below for more details on the company, second place (and $10,000) winner Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies and the other four finalists.

Six companies pitched in the 2016 Big Launch Challenge at RTP, organized by The Launch Place. The founders are pictured with the contest’s judges, here. Credit: The Launch Place

Six companies pitched in the 2016 Big Launch Challenge at RTP, organized by The Launch Place. The founders are pictured with the contest’s judges, here. Credit: The Launch Place

Original story:
When The Launch Place sifted through over 30 applications to its annual pitch event, the review team focused on three filters—a solid overall idea for a company, a well-thought-out application and a strong group of founders.

That’s what led to the six finalists headlining this year’s Big Launch Challenge. The competition, a joint venture between Danville, Va.-based The Launch Place and RTP tech incubator First Flight Venture Center, will take place Tuesday at the Research Triangle Park headquarters.

Stakes are high for the finalists. A total of $30,000 is up for grabs and will be split between a maximum of three winners.

Overseeing the pitches will be a panel of judges, some on the advisory board for The Launch Place’s seed fund, which invests between $100,000 and $250,000 in portfolio companies. But that’s just one of the opportunities it extends to entrepreneurs.

The Launch Place also offers space subsidies, business consulting services, mentoring services, training and pre-seed investments of $25,000 to help validate a product or market or $50,000 to refine a business model.

Eva Doss, CEO of The Launch Place, says the purpose of the competition is to let the entrepreneurial community know about the organization and its pre-seed and seed funding opportunities.

The Launch Place CEO Eva Doss welcomes attendees of the organization’s annual pitch event, the Big Launch Challenge, in 2015. Credit: The Launch Place

Despite covering separate industries or niches, Doss says the selected finalists for this year’s challenge all have strong potential—especially in their business plans.

Here’s an overview of the participating companies:

Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies, Inc.

This biotech startup just made the move from Pennsylvania, where it was founded, to Research Triangle Park last month. Its patented technology serves to make cell and particle separation research gentle and safe.

Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies, Inc. is led by CTO Tony Jun Huang (left) and CEO/President Lin Wang (right). Credit: Ascent Bio-Nano Technologies

Ascent’s founding team is made up of Pennsylvania State University professor and researcher Tony Jun Huang and Lin Wang, who has years of experience in marketing, finance, project management, and strategic planning for companies like Genworth Financial and Capital One. She also has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Duke University.

Wang, Ascent’s president and CEO, hopes the competition will help introduce the team to the Triangle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

But specifically, she hopes to find advisors and partners to “expand the research and development capability, and connect with suppliers and service companies.”


This Durham startup wants to simplify the process sick people often go through when trying to visit their doctors.

Medlio’s mobile app allows patients to find a doctor, schedule an appointment, check in, receive a cost estimate and even pay for the visit. A patent-pending virtual health insurance card will add to these features.

“Medlio has captured how to acquire users better than other companies with apps for the health industry,” Doss says.

Medlio is led by (from left to right) Lori Mehen, Ravi Ada, David Brooks, John Paredes and Jessica Duensing Cox. Credit: John Paredes Design

The challenge will benefit Medlio in many ways, Founder Lori Mehen says. A big one is getting constructive feedback from the judges and mentors, who are also potential users.

“It will keep us on track and give us an advantage as we take what we’ve built to market,” she adds.

The startup is a graduate of several accelerators, including Healthbox, MassChallenge and DreamIt Health.

And it’s coming off a big win from the Allscripts Open API Patient Engagement Challenge. Earlier this month, Medlio scored first place against 20 competing companies in the Health 2.0-hosted challenge.

Clinical Sensors

Born out of a laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this startup has a device to protect hospital patients who are at risk of developing sepsis.

The device measures nitric oxide levels, which are critical to maintaining immune system, neurophysiological and cardiovascular health. Clinical Sensors wants to use the devices to help identify and treat sepsis early, to prevent risk of death.

Primarily funded through the National Institutes of Health, the startup has reached its research and development milestones. But its head of research and development Jon McDunn says the funding doesn’t support the business and commercial development necessary to succeed.

The Clinical Sensors team consists of (from left to right) Head of Research and Development Jon McDunn, Founder/President Mark Schoenfisch, Principal Scientist Wesley Storm and CEO Philippe Chemla. Credit: Clinical Sensors

That’s why the challenge is a good fit for Clinical Sensors, especially adjacent to its seed fundraising round.

Doss believes the startup’s technology is unique and in high-demand, and that its management team is “strong and addresses key medical solutions.”


Born out of a Duke lab, this startup produces silicone microspheres for brands in the cosmetic industry, helping them safely and accurately distribute ingredients throughout skincare products.

Encapsio, formerly known as MicroSiO, won an NC IDEA grant earlier this year and has the potential to target industries like pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, but it’s focusing now on topical applications in skin care.

Doss believes that the target market is in high demand for Encapsio’s product. “I’m impressed with the technology and how the founders present their business plan and application.”

The founders of Encapsio include (from left to right) Nick Kirby, CEO, Wes Day, chief business officer, and Wyatt Shields, a Duke PhD and the technology’s inventor. Credit: Encapsio

Co-founders Wes Day and Nick Kirby say the expertise, potential investors and capabilities offered by the Launch Place were what made them want to apply for the challenge and they believe the opportunity could be the start to “a longer-term, beneficial relationship.”


This startup is helping people figure out what they want for dinner, making it easier for families to eat homemade meals together on a regular basis.

The web-based platform suggests recipes to users based on their lifestyles. Then, they can order ingredients from the brands and local grocery stores of their choosing.

The challenge is a great way to introduce the service to new users and create new connections in the community, says founder and CEO Monica Wood, who previously served as LivingSocial’s senior product manager.

“More importantly, we are looking forward to the chance to propel Myxx forward with the influx of grant money from winning the event,” she adds.

Reveal Mobile

Raleigh-based Reveal Mobile has developed software that gives app publishers the data they need to gather insights about their mobile audiences and target advertisements based on those insights.

The company is a pivot from Stepleader Digital, which previously built apps for news organizations. It has raised more than $2 million in venture funding since June 2015.

The technology launched last year and is in marketing mode to reach its top 100 target prospects. Those prospects receive a tablet in the mail pre-loaded with a custom video explaining Reveal Mobile’s impact on mobile advertising and location-based targeting.

(From left to right) The Reveal Mobile team is comprised of Vamshi Guduguntla, Tyler Kotkin, Zack Behringer, Andy Schrader, Brian Handly, Laragh Covington, Sandy Marcantonio, Matthew Davis. Credit: Reveal Mobile

Matthew Davis, vice president of marketing, says he and the team have seen similar campaigns generate a high response and close rate. But “applying the proceeds of the Big Launch Challenge, should we win, enables us to make a bold and attention-getting statement.”

He adds that the impact of the challenge also comes in the form of new relationships, which lead to new opportunities, new customers and new revenue.