Sara Kiley Watson, Amy Huffman and Shannon Cuthrell contributed.
For the second year in a row, ExitEvent interviewed more than 50 startup founders over two days at the CED Tech Venture Conference. It was all-hands-on-deck effort leaving us with pages of interviews, insights and news to share in coming weeks.
We’ve already shared a few stories from the annual entrepreneur and investor conference, but here’s a first stab at spotlighting up-and-coming early stage startups from across the state.
We purposely picked companies from a range of industries for this roundup. What unites them is a commitment to addressing large problems in novel ways.
Nearly two years after winning an NC IDEA grant and participating in the Soar Triangle program for female founders, this wearables startup is making headway toward measuring and diagnosing concussions and traumatic brain injury.
With a sensor that fits in the ear canal close to the skull, the Chapel Hill startup founded by an Olympic soccer star is ready to begin measuring the impact of hits in high school, collegiate and professional sports, as well as during military combat.
A new CEO is in place to guide the organization. Noel Heiks co-founded and ran Nuvotronics for nearly a decade before joining MVTrak in August.
Every year there are millions of new cases of skin cancer diagnosed, and the obvious way to prevent skin cancer is to regularly apply sunscreen while outdoors. But how do you know that your sunscreen is really working, or that you haven’t missed a spot? Sunscreenr allows the user to “see” the invisible armor that is sunscreen through a special viewer that makes protected skin appear dark and unprotected skin appear light.
David Cohen, founder and CEO of Sunscreenr, said there are 3,000 viewers already pre-ordered after a Kickstarter campaign in 2016. Fulfillment is coming later this fall, with a full Amazon rollout around the holiday season.
He’s also in partnership talks with four of the five largest sunscreen companies across the globe, conversations helped by recent press in Vogue and New York Magazine.
TexDel is exploring the idea that just by getting dressed, someone could become healthier. It sounds straight out of a sci-fi novel but this company has developed technology that makes it possible for clothing to deliver active ingredients to and through the skin.
According to TexDel President Justin Jed, 85 percent of adults think that health contributes to overall success, but only 75 percent of them are actually going through with their health and wellness goals.
This is where TexDel comes in, with a platform compatible with everyday fabrics including cotton, nylon and polyester. Active ingredients that are put into these fabrics produce consistent therapeutic benefits ranging from improving skin to relieving pain. They last multiple washes.
The technology is patented in 12 different countries, and has been funded so far with a grant from the the Department of Defense. Founder and inventor Jordan Schindler is based in Hickory, NC. He previously developed the Nufabrx Pillowcase, which includes oils that fight blemish-causing bacteria and is sold by Walgreens and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Last year, Myxx signed a term sheet for a $400K seed round led by Cofounders Capital at the conference. This year, co-founder Monica Wood presented as a “Showcase Company” the same week she announced a strategic partnership with Harris Teeter.
The idea behind Myxx came after Wood lost over 100 pounds by “learning to cook, shopping at a grocery store and eating out less.” But after becoming a senior product manager for LivingSocial, her travel schedule prevented her from sticking to those healthy habits. She tried meal kits, but they were too time intensive and costly. So she decided to develop her own solution, making it easy to find simple and delicious recipes, then add the necessary ingredients to a shopping list that she could pull up on her phone at the grocery store or order online for pickup or delivery.
What started as a simple recipe and grocery list aggregator has turned into much more. Wood’s platform now helps consumer brands and retailers market to and build loyalty among consumers. The platform automatically pairs specific brands’ products with the ingredients listed in the recipe, thus providing instant customers to brand partners. Grocery retailers can also partner with Myxx to drive local shoppers to their stores or online ordering options.
Before BruVue, the best way to conduct beer inventory was to enter the walk-in refrigerator beer kegs are stored in, pick up one of the kegs, shake it, then guess how much beer was left inside.
This universal practice led to waste—of money, time, and perhaps most importantly, the beer itself. BruVue’s IoT solution is simple for any beer distributor to adopt. They can purchase the sensors online, receive them in the mail, attach them to the beer taps in any bar or restaurant where their beer is poured, and instantly they’ll receive real-time usage and inventory data through a dashboard accessible on any smartphone, tablet or computer.
The NC IDEA grant winner also won the RIoT pitch night in June, participated in Groundwork Labs over the summer, and is raising money to pilot the product in over 1,500 locations across the country.
Joe Colopy—of Bronto fame—pitched his “really” new startup, PeopleLove. Describing it as a “cloud-based platform for human resources (HR) and people operations professionals to run all their engagements,” Colopy went on to note that PeopleLove takes the key concepts and strong software platform backbone that made Bronto a successful marketing tool and applies them to the HR field.
The goal is to increase employee retention, engagement and contentment to improve company culture and drive performance. His small team—he said the official number “depends on how you count interns”—of five to seven is excited to focus on this issue because they believe human resource management—finding, hiring and keeping high-quality talent—is and will increasingly be the factor that determines a company’s success.
Still in testing mode, Colopy is looking for companies to partner with and pilot the software.
Though the idea of a university monorail system isn’t exactly unique, the NC State team building EcoPRT has bigger ambitions for their futuristic mass transit invention. Marshall Brain, the NC State professor and former HowStuffWorks founder leading the project, envisions EcoPRT eventually replacing traditional bus lines at universities around the globe, and at an enticingly low cost.
To explain the ideal business model, the project’s team made a comparison to the history of the Eiffel Tower. Though the inventor, Gustav Eiffel, received funding through loans, he decided to keep the elevator concession revenues for himself. That strategy paid back the loans he borrowed in just six months.
This is a concept EcoPRT hopes at higher education institutions, where students will pay fares to ride its cars for decades to come. Brain believes EcoPRT stands out by providing a more enjoyable experience than standard transit systems. The small, lightweight vehicles are private, complete with air conditioning and a self-driving system to take riders anywhere they’d like to go.
The vehicles can operate through any of three systems—on the ground, on an elevated track to get above traffic and lights, and through a hybrid system. Five cars will debut on campus next spring.
So far, EcoPRT has landed $300,000 from the North Carolina Department for Transportation and $160,000 from the RTP Foundation to fund the project. The team is seeking corporate partnerships to take the project to the next level of development.
Though the past few decades have seen massive advancements in technology to improve the quality of life for people with physical impairments, traditional braille hasn’t yet stepped up to the challenge.
This lack of progress is precisely what motivates a Raleigh startup, Polymer Braille, to build an electronic reader for people living with visual impairments, so they can feel the screen come to life with information.
The team, which consists of social impact-minded entrepreneurs who are researchers at NC State University, is following a mission to give readers with visual impairments access to millions of books and hundreds of millions of published documents through their technology. With the invention, people can listen to information, translate text to speech, and rewind and fast forward what they’re reading.
The team believes this access will have a positive impact on the lives of roughly 250 million people worldwide living with visual impairments and blindness.
They say the product encourages this demographic to “be the master of [their] own fate while pursuing [their] dreams and aspirations.” So far, they’ve raised nearly $1 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants from the federal government.
This year, businesses all around the world, from small enterprises to mega corporations, have been awakened to the increasing need for iron-strong security systems—especially in the wake of crippling ransomware attacks like WannaCry, NotPetya and this month’s Equifax breach that compromised the data of over 143 million consumers in the U.S.
The lack of solid cyber security frameworks among organizations, businesses and institutions is a void a Durham startup called StrongKey is looking to fill with its data security technology. Founder Jake Kiser says small businesses are especially at risk, because they don’t have the tools they need to protect their data. As a result, their systems will be vulnerable to hacks.
StrongKey’s product, Tellaro, is a physical box that connects users to a secure browser upon setup. It encrypts sensitive data, allows for secure file-sharing and makes password logins seamless, all while preventing phishing campaigns and malware attacks.
Research shows ransomware outbreaks are on the rise, and they’re increasingly targeting businesses as cyber criminals develop new avenues to break into data systems worldwide. Companies everywhere are met with an intensifying pressure to protect their customers’ data.
That’s why Kiser and his team at Silicon Valley-based StrongAuth created a solution to be affordable on a small business budget.
“I can give you literally the same security the Department of Defense uses for less than you [would] spend on a photocopier,” he says.
StrongKey is accepting pre-orders for Tellaro now and plans to launch the product early next year.
Around five million U.S. businesses have an imperative to recruit, develop and retain women in their ranks. Yet, the fact that there are 74 million working women in the country who are still looking for a female-friendly work environment suggests these companies are approaching their imperatives in the wrong way.
This is where Durham-based InHerSight steps in, with a web platform for women to rate and leave feedback detailing the strengths and weaknesses of their employer’s culture, especially as it pertains to factors women want in a workplace.
Founder and CEO Ursula Mead says the mission is to build on the power of data and transparency to create change, describing InHerSight as an “anonymous company ratings platform similar to Glassdoor but with [metrics] specific to women.” These metrics range from management opportunities and salary satisfaction to work schedule flexibility and paid leave.
On the platform, women can share their experiences and gather insight into companies before they take a new job. They’ve already provided ratings for over 50,000 companies. And 700 companies have voluntarily filled out profiles on the site, some paying to list their jobs.
At the same time, InHerSight is collecting data to help solve the workplace gender gap crisis in a greater capacity. Users’ data is aggregated into scorecards reflecting the analytics, insights and feedback companies can then use to strengthen their gender diversity efforts. Companies can pay for that too.
So far, InHerSight has raised two rounds of funding led by The Motley Fool and including Charlotte Angel Fund, Full Tilt Capital, GP Ventures, Hunt Technology Ventures and GrowthX.
Photo credit: Bryan Regan Photography