2014 has been a great year for the Wilmington startup and entrepreneurial community. There's more momentum, activity and sense of community than at any point in my 10+ years in the area. And so I took the challenge the recap our community's biggest year yet. Check it out below, and let us know what you're excited about for Wilmington's new year.
• Next Glass
built buzz all year for its scientific wine and beer recommendation app. The startup finally delivered on that buzz when it launched the app on November 20th
. In a little over a month, 240,000 users had downloaded the app. This shattered the expectations of both Next Glass's team and investors. For 2015, it will be interesting to see how the product evolves and the team approaches monetization and/or exit strategies. Also, how that continued progress will draw attention to Wilmington
• UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE)
Next Glass was an early tenant of the CIE's co-working space, which celebrated its year anniversary in September. The UNCW CIE has grown in influence under Jim Robert's leadership. The previous iteration of the CIE, the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center, was a great local secret but was not as visible across the state. The CIE surpassed 33 startups in its space this year, and it will be interesting to see how they all play out in 2015.
• NC Noise.
• Coastal Connect Conference.
In September, the UNC CIE held the inaugural Coastal Connect Conference and celebrated its anniversary. Organizers recruited Hugh Forrest, Director of SxSW Interactive, as the keynote speaker. The event drew 300 attendees from across the Southeast. Feedback from many was that they had no idea that Wilmington had the startup community to hold such an event. It also introduced new resident, super angel investor and entrepreneur Adam Burke to the business community. The event was given its name for a reason and the connections made will have an impact in 2015. (Check out the 11 startups that impressed ExitEvent at the event.)
• Tek Mountain and CastleBranch.
CastleBranch, a leader in background and employment screenings, added an additional 100,000-square-foot building to its Wilmington headquarters. But one of the challenges that CastleBranch faces is a dearth of tech talent in the Wilmington area, so it also included a technology incubator, Tek Mountain, as well as a brewery and onsite food truck. Tek Mountain has had an immediate presence at entrepreneurial events in the community. Tek Mountain is unlike any other space in the area and will attract startup companies that can take advantage of CastleBranch's existing sales channels.
• nCino and Live Oak Bank.
Sibling companies nCino and Live Oak Bank have continued to earn traction and build upon their successes. Live Oak Bank is a high volume Small Business Administration (SBA) lender that focuses on narrow verticals, such as dentists and veterinarians. Last summer, Live Oak Bank contemplated a public stock offering but has since decided to continue with private financing. nCino, the cloud-based bank management and lending software spun out of Live Oak Bank, raised $11 million in venture capital this year and added several dozen customers. Both companies continue to grow their teams and create jobs in Wilmington. It will be interesting to see how they progress and how their success (and potential exits) ripple across the community.
• Elite Innovations Makerspace
Military veterans and entrepreneurs Andrew Williams and Ed Hall opened the downtown Wilmington makerspace in October 2014. It provides inventors and entrepreneurs tools to develop and manufacture physical products and prototypes. There are already 18 open projects and 12 members. In 2015, they hope to help inventors bring many new products to the market.
Mimijumi is a Nashville-based baby bottle company with a cult following online. But issues with product distribution and operations attracted the attention of Wilmington's newest investment fund, Seahawk Innovation. The fund's partners saw good potential in the product and took it on as a portfolio company this year. Under the leadership of Seahawk partner and now mimijumi CEO Brendan Collins, the company is relocating much of its operations to Wilmington, with the possibility of strong job growth in the near future.
• Wilmington Investor Network (WIN) and Cape Fear Inception Micro Angel Fund (IMAF) Joint Pitch Meetings.
In 2014, WIN and Cape Fear IMAF, Wilmington's two angel investment groups, combined their startup pitch meetings. This is a big deal for local startups—if they get in front of one group they are in front of the other. While the groups are very different—WIN makes investments at the individual angel level and IMAF operates as a fund—having them in a loose partnership can provide better funding opportunities for startups. This combination should continue to benefit startups in 2015.
• The Unseen.
There are several startups that have yet to make it on the radar, want to stay off the radar for a little while longer, or are about to pop up. The number of these companies is greater than at any point in the past. It will be interesting to see which rise to the top as 2015 progresses.
All the hard work by countless individuals has collectively paid off this year, evidenced by the list above. And they'll continue to pay dividends in 2015. Those of us that take part in the Wilmington startup community are really looking forward to a great 2015.