Charlotte Venture Challenge
was birthed 15 years ago to promote early-stage businesses out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During its early days, the competition was only open to those affiliated with the university and was named Five Ventures, which reflected the number of startups involved.
This year CVC was held at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis and applications came in from across the Southeast region. Nearly 100 companies entered and out of those, 27 were declared finalists in one of these four categories: General, New Energy & High Tech, Student Ventures and IT & Informatics.
Categories vary year to year depending on the applicants.
Thirty judges from places like Belk, AvidXChange and the Charlotte Angel Fund were divided between the four categories. From their insights, four category winners and two wild cards advanced to the final round Tuesday night.
MadDogg Heat Sleeve
Sweetie Pie Organics (of Raleigh)
After the final six pitched to a new group of judges, a short break convened for the deliberation period. Greg Brown, president of Cardinal Finance and administrator of the Charlotte Angel Fund, was one of the final judges. Here's how explains the judging process: “The criteria were a combination of the perceived validity of the business opportunity, the presenting company’s ability to capture that opportunity, potential of attractive returns for investors, and effectiveness of presentation."
Let's get into the winners.
Grow Bioplastics of Knoxville
Grand Prize Winner ($7,500) and New Energy and High Tech Category Winner ($5,000)
uses a biodegradable polymer made from lignin (found in trees and grasses) to create biodegradable mulch films for the agriculture industry.
“Grow Bioplastics is addressing an existing pain point in the market (removal and disposal of plastic mulch) and seems to have some defensible IP in the area,” says Brown on the grand prize winner.
Traditional oil-based plastic mulch films cost farmers more than $300 per acre of crops and end up in landfills. Grow Bioplastics’ films are plowed into the land and cut out the removal and disposal process for farmers.
The Knoxville-based company is currently working with Oak Ridge National Lab and negotiating a license for the technology used in the film making process. Grow Bioplastics’ main competitors are the traditional oil, paper and starch-based plastic mulch films, but the agricultural plastics market is worth $6.5 billion and growing. This startup can manufacture its film for $75 to $95 per 4’ x 4000’ roll and will sell rolls for $175.
GuidePro3D of Charlotte
Grand Prize Runner-Up ($2,500) and Hauser Family Fund Winner (Award for startups in the Charlotte Metropolitan area) ($7,500)
is a surgical guide system for the placement of dental implants. The technology will be sold as a kit to general practice dentists for $20,000. The kit includes a 3D scanner, 3D printer, software and other materials needed to do the first 25 implants. Most dental implants are done freehand, and according to The Journal of the American Dental Association, 20 percent of them fail. GuidePro3D will not only increase confidence in dentists, but it will also increase their profitability. For dentists not already placing implants, they can increase profits by $100,000 a year by doing five to six implants a month.
Based out of Cornelius (near Charlotte), GuidePro3D got its first U.S. patent last month and has tested its prototype with dentists in implant surgery courses. Now it is seeking $700,000 in convertible notes with an eight percent interest rate and a 15 percent discount to the next raise.
uBack of Charlotte
General Category Winner ($5,000)
is a free mobile app that connects nonprofits with donors. Altruistic impulse lasts eight seconds. After that, individuals are less likely to donate to a non-profit. uBack’s personalized donation process lets donors give money to causes they care about quickly and securely.
Over the past six months, the Charlotte-based app has been downloaded 30,000 times, more than 200 nonprofits have signed up and 200,000 donations have been made. Cofounded by UNC-Chapel Hill grad, Melissa Bodford, the company partnered with Bank of America. The app is free to nonprofits and users with a 3.9 percent transaction fee paid upon donation. uBack keeps around one percent of that fee, but gets additional revenue via advertising, customer analytics and technology features.
Thrive GPO of Charlotte
IT & Informatics Category Winner ($5,000)
I first met Jill Bossi at this month’s Pitch Breakfast at Packard Place. Bossi was the first chief product officer of the American Red Cross and led her team to save the Red Cross $250 million in purchased goods and services over five years. Now, she’s leading Thrive GPO
(Group Purchasing Organization), a member of the QC FinTech Accelerator in Charlotte, and serving the $380 billion U.S. nonprofit industry by procuring common goods and services at lower, pre-negotiated prices. The company has around 140 members and 10 active suppliers, the most active of which is Staples Advantage.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation, a $300 million nonprofit that spends $30 million a year in purchased goods and services, is a client. Thrive GPO can save it $5 million a year, which means the nonprofit can grant 500 more wishes.
Thrive GPO will also compete in DIG South later this week.
MadDogg Heat Sleeve of Elon University
Student Ventures Winner ($3,000)
Elon student Madison Tamblyn realized cold coffee was a problem for busy individuals on the go. That’s how MadDogg Heat Sleeve came to be. The single use, portable sleeve keeps coffee at 120 degrees for three hours. She hopes to replace traditional sleeves, in which coffee reaches room temperature after just 30 minutes.
MadDogg Heat Sleeves can be made for five cents a piece and sold to distributors for 10 cents. So how do these warming sleeves work? Tamblyn couldn’t say too much since the technology has a patent pending, but the gist is there is a reaction going on inside the sleeve. The product will launch in 30 Panera locations in the Northeast later this year. Tamblyn hopes to expand into retail stores as well and sell her sleeves in packs of five or seven.
Student Ventures Runner-Ups
Glance makes the recruiting and hiring process easier for both the candidate and the hiring professional. The platform hosts a 1-minute elevator pitch from candidates and filters potential hires so recruiters spend less time setting up phone interviews, and more time interviewing viable options. The service will be offered to undergraduate students for free and subscription packages will be offered to recruiters and companies. Some beta customers for the Appalachian State startup include Northwestern Mutual and Grant Thornton.
Reel Scary is a digital platform out of UNCC that lets users rate scary movies in three categories: Disturb, Gore and Suspense. Unlike IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, Reel Scary bases its ratings on more characteristics than just overall movie quality. The site takes user ratings and generates a Reel Scary Rating to measure how scary a movie actually is. To date, the web application has nearly 10,000 user ratings and 300,000 total unique visitors to the site. In terms of revenue, the Amazon affiliates program is the company’s short-term solution, but in the long term, partnerships with movie organizations, movie trailer ads and online advertising will be revenue sources for the company.
J. Chris Murphy (Award for the best undergrad presentation from UNCC) ($500)
Tailor Made Financial offers educational and financial services to help consumers manage their household cash flow. The company’s target market is variable income employees and volatile income households. Right now Tailor Made is getting in touch with employers of variable income workers to learn about their employees’ financial needs and show how Tailor Made Financial can help.. The app will generate revenue through referrals to financial service providers, in-app purchases and marketing ads from businesses.