Stealz Founders 2014

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Following up on our morning piece about American Underground's top fundraisers, here's the HQ Raleigh version. The startup workspace is nearly a year in its new headquarters in downtown Raleigh's warehouse district and counts about 70 startups as members. 

In 2014, a dozen or so of those companies raised money from venture capital investors, angels, grant programs and accelerators. And one venture firm set up shop and raised a fund. Check out this list for more Triangle companies to watch in 2015:

WedPics, $4.25M
WedPics drew a national crowd into its series B round last year, with Silicon Valley lead investor Bullpen Capital, Chicago's OCA Ventures, some high profile angels and equity crowdfunding through AngelList. The crowdsourced wedding photography app expects to close the round at $5 million this year. It also plans to grow to serve a million weddings in 2015 and to especially expand its presence around the world. Revenue should continue too as the startup grows its offering of printed photos and photo products. 

Credit: Ryan Timms

With some money raised in late 2013, the startup developing a device to save the lives of heart attack victims won a Small Business Research Loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in 2014 and closed its series A round. Novocor's device will chill the bodies of heart attack victims during transport to the hospital, helping to reduce damage to the heart. The funds helped it bring on a small team, and development of the device is happening now.

Serial entrepreneur Todd Olson has started, sold and folded companies and witnessed a high-profile IPO as an executive at the most recent, Rally Software. After some down time following that experiencehe spent most of 2014 building Pendo, a software that helps developers prioritize software development based on the features users are most likely to use. After raising a seed round late last year, his mission for 2015 is to expand the customer base around the nation.

Credit: Ryan Timms

Beacon technology and relationships with regional McDonald's and Applebee's franchisees are helping Stealz add app users across the Southeast. Restaurateurs like that activity on the app—it requires users snap a photo at the restaurant in order to earn points and a discount or freebie—generates easy social media traffic and builds loyalty among customers. New technology makes it easier than ever for those users to remember to use Stealz. The team of four co-founders (pictured above) closed a round with local angel investors in the first half of 2014 and since then has added staff and focused sales and marketing efforts on acquiring chains and users.

The photo sharing app that picks up where the failed Bump app left off proved itself globally last fall, earning 200,000 users in the two months after launch. Local angel investor David Gardner led a round to help the Raleigh startup complete development and file patents for technology that allows photos to easily be shared between mobile devices when they are in close proximity to each other. Founder Sylvain Dufour plans to ramp up marketing efforts in the new year, with hopes of exponential monthly growth of users and shares on the app.

Raleigh native and N.C. State graduate Rami Essaid is building one of the nation's leading cloud security startups in Washington D.C., but a large series B round (including local investor IDEA Fund Partners) helped him also add a team of developers in Raleigh. He plans to continue to add to the local workforce while he grows the company in D.C. and San Francisco, and to serve as a mentor and contributor to the Triangle startup community too. 

Cloud Security Startup Founder Risks It All to Battle Bots - 1
Founder Rami Essaid, center, poses with two new developers in the HQ Raleigh office of Distil Networks.

This Indianapolis based web-based corporate training startup, with a growing sales and marketing operation in Raleigh, closed a round in December after recording months of hundreds-of-percent revenue growth. Clients include Lyft, ModCloth, Stripe and Angie's List. According to a write-up in TechCrunch, the startup plans to double its staff in 2015.

Accelerators and Grants:

An ambitious N.C. State University senior partnered up with an experienced recruiting executive to create an entirely new way for startups and other companies to find capable and lasting employees. EMPLOYUS crowdsources talent by letting anyone recommend a friend or colleague for an open position and earn cash for doing so. The startup completed the inaugural Citrix-Red Hat Innovators Program to validate the idea and create the platform and then earned an NC IDEA grant to further development.

Ryan O'Donnell Headshot 2014
Ryan O'Donnell is founder and CEO of EMPLOYUS, a company that rewards people when they refer people to jobs. Credit: EMPLOYUS

Seed investment from local angel Mark Easley and $50,000 from The Startup Factory last fall helped the photo contest platform get more than 53,000 users in 170+ contests last year. The startup also built an embeddable photo contest feature for use by media sites and brands on their websites, blogs and within online stories. 

EdTech guru Karl Rectanus earned his startup an NC IDEA grant and a spot in the prestigious Techstars Kaplan EdTech Accelerator in New York City all within months of forming the company. His vision was to develop a platform to help teachers and administrators better vet technology for the classroom and in an unbiased way. The platform is being tested now, with plans to launch in the new year. 

LeaRn Trials Team at Kaplan Demo Day
Credit: Lea(R)n

Experiential education is BetaVersity's sweet spot, and grant funds from a high-profile St. Louis nonprofit helped the startup expand its platform and offerings in 2014. The startup with offices in both cities got its shipping container-turned-makerspace BetaBox on several university and high school campuses last year, with plans for more deployments and training programs in 2015. 

The need for home healthcare is growing as the population ages and yet there's still not a platform that makes scheduling and managing care easy and seamless for care organizations and caregivers. The Citrix-Red Hat Innovators Program gave founder Michelle Harper time to talk to customers and develop a platform to fill the need. In 2015, she plans to complete a beta test with several home healthcare companies, raise additional funds and launch the platform widely.

Three months in the Citrix-Red Hat Innovators Program was enough for the Userlite founders and serial entrepreneurs to pivot from their original software and develop a working prototype for a dashboard of the many websites and applications any technology user visits on a given day. Its mission is to aggregate a day's tasks and notifications all in one place to save a user time and stress. Beta tests with individuals and corporations will be underway early this year as the startup prepares a public launch.


A huge cash infusion from Al Gore's venture fund, Generation Investment Management, is helping the eco-friendly products marketer acquire and invest in strategic young companies out of a new office in Raleigh (relocated from New York City). The company selected HQ Raleigh as its new headquarters as a way to for Seventh Generation CEO is John Repogle, former CEO of Durham-based Burt's Bees, to remain involved in the Triangle startup community.

One of the company's first acquisitions was Raleigh-based Gamila Products, designer of the Impress single-serving coffee maker. Gamila founders Aly and Beth Khalifa have committed to help Seventh Generation dream up new products through their downtown Raleigh design lab, Designbox, so we might see even more local activity from the new fund.