When Brian Platz co-founded HR tech firm SilkRoad Technology in Winston-Salem 13 years ago, it was hard to find technical talent and even harder to keep it.
Fast forward to 2017, and his summer intern from Ithaca College in New York is passing up big city offers to work at Platz’s latest Winston-Salem software company, called Fluree.
The difference between 2017 and 2004 is the community that’s building around entrepreneurship in the Triad area, Platz told a crowd of entrepreneurs and investors gathered for the New Ventures Accelerator Demo Day last Friday.
As keynote speaker, Platz (pictured above) shared his experience building SilkRoad Technology alongside co-founder Flip Filipowski. They raised over $150 million and employed 500 people around the world. And though the company eventually moved its headquarters to Chicago, both men remain committed to Winston-Salem. They hope to build an even bigger software company in Fluree, but more on that below.
Two weeks ago, we profiled four startups in the 2017 cohort of New Ventures Accelerator—they pitched their businesses at Demo Day. But another seven companies caught our attention too. They offer examples of the type of innovation and business acumen that’s spawning from the academic and business community in North Carolina’s third and fifth largest cities.
A rebranding and pivot just over a year ago is allowing this nonprofit donation app to offer corporations an easy way to collect and match employee donations for any of 1.5 million U.S. nonprofits.
Ross Treakle came up with the idea at church—he never carried a checkbook or cash and thought Millennials like himself would like a sort of Venmo for donating to important causes via mobile device.
His brother Graham Treakle runs the business as CEO, and helped lead its pivot from a B2C focus to B2B after last year’s CED Tech Venture Conference. With an API newly launched, the men are just starting to line up corporations as customers and hope to partner with payroll processing companies like ADP and Heartland to make the technology even easier to integrate. A key benefit is the ability to deduct donations from an employee’s pay, eliminating credit card processing fees, Treakle says.
Different from the annual United Way campaign, he expects corporations to use One Donation for year-round giving, as well as pop-up fundraising campaigns like hurricane relief.
A pair of Wake Forest University students started selling their homemade kombuchas through Instagram while in college. Now they’ve got a slew of yoga-themed flavors like Lotus (hibiscus), Sun Salute (ginger turmeric) and Happy Baby (lavender) on tap and in bottles at breweries, coffee shops, yoga studios and markets across the Triad and into South Carolina and Virginia.
Founders Olivia Wolff and Lauren Miller were high school friends in New Jersey before choosing to attend Wake Forest together. Wolff, a 2016 graduate, and Miller who just finished her degree in May, participated in Wake Forest’s Startup Lab and received grants from The Deacon Springboard to help fund the business.
Platz, Filipowski and several other former SilkRoad executives are building a cloud platform that is aimed to transform the way enterprises manage data and build software applications.
The thesis is that the tools and apps we have today won’t meet the needs of the next era of computing, which will be defined by nanoeconomics. In that sort of economy, single small transactions have immediate economic impact, requiring that all systems be in sync. Platz says technologies like artificial intelligence won’t reach their full potential in a world where apps and systems don’t talk to each other, and mobile phone users log into numerous disparate apps to conduct their daily lives.
The vision for Fluree is to make application development happen faster but also to organize data in smarter, more secure ways. This month, Fluree will release a new database platform that sits on top of blockchain technology, making it easier and safer for companies to share databases together in the cloud. More products are to come.
Esteem is creating a new e-commerce channel for local boutiques and shops in the Triad, and within three months in Raleigh and Charlotte. The Greensboro startup aggregates a small selection of products from its independent local retailer partners on an app, and uses a courier service to offer same day delivery when orders are made.
Founder Christopher Devalle has a background in logistics at Cardinal Health, but a passion for fashion. He’s combining both in this new startup, launching this week with a host of local retailers.
Tom Clarkson spent years in content marketing before deciding to return to his roots of computer science. He’s spent the last couple years writing and fine-tuning a powerful tool for optimizing the work of content creators for SEO and making the job of editors easier. A beta went live about six months ago, and he’s preparing for a first quarter 2018 launch.
WriteBoost integrates pretty much every aspect of content creation, so while you’re writing a blog post or story, for example, you can easily find photos and keywords, mine for headline suggestions, and check grammar and word usage. Beyond that, IBM Watson APIs are used to analyze keywords, tone and sentiment. Clarkson’s goal is to help content creators get into the minds of their audience, making the work fast and more effective.
There’s a cool back story to this pharma startup led by Wake Forest University scientists and business graduates. The team won IP from the National Institutes of Health in a national Neuro Startup Challenge in 2015. The challenge sought to find university-affiliated entrepreneurs to bring to market government-owned intellectual property.
Teams pitched business plans that integrate the technology or science and NIH awarded the IP to the winners. EncepHeal’s mission is to use NIH patented compounds to develop drugs that treat patients that suffer from substance abuse, addiction and other mental health disorders. The team will take the drugs through early discovery, clinical trials and the FDA approval process, with the goal of selling them to big pharma companies.
EncepHeal is led by CEO Aaron Lazarus, who has an M.A. and B.A. from Wake Forest, and Chief Science Officer Omeed Rahimi, who is working toward a Ph.D. in integrative physiology and pharmacology at the School of Medicine. They’ve won several federal and state grants, including a recent SBIR grant totaling $300,000.
Cyber risk management is the expertise of this team, and they’re now published on the subject. Founder and CEO Rob Arnold, who’s spent more than 15 years in the industry, will unveil Cybersecurity: A Business Solution in October. The book guides businesses through the steps to take to manage the financial impact of security efforts.
The core business of Threat Sketch is analyzing the risk of cyber crime on behalf of small and medium sized businesses, and modeling potential losses—it’s inspired by Arnold’s recent work in the Masters of Information Assurance program at East Carolina University. The company connects its clients with IT services providers and insurance companies rather than providing those functions.
The two-and-a-half year-old company has partnered with numerous local universities to conduct research and complete legal work. It’s based at Flywheel in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem.
German student Carl Turner spent his senior year at Wake Forest University thinking about how people decide what to eat. His mission is to build a mobile ordering and delivery service that showcases food, rather than just a listing of restaurant names, locations and menus.
The approach of Neighborz, which launches this week in Winston-Salem, is to create a sort of Tinder for food, using compelling food photography to showcase dishes at a variety of restaurants around town. The swipe left or right functionality helps people make choices of what to order. And Neighborz handles delivery too.
Now that Turner has finished college, his goal is to quickly expand in the Triad, and eventually to other cities.
All photos are credited to New Ventures.