Gluten-Free Bread, Drugs, Art Headline UNC Emerging Company Showcase - 1

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Gluten-Free Bread, Drugs, Art Headline UNC Emerging Company Showcase - 1
When University of North Carolina student Betty Cogdell went to the hospital three years ago, she thought she was having a heart attack. After the heart attack was ruled out, she went through multiple wrong diagnoses (including late-stage ADHD) before one doctor found the true cause: gluten and dairy-intolerance.

Once she adjusted her diet accordingly, "the difference was immediate," Cogdell says. "Within one month I was able to come off the ADHD meds." There was only one problem—the gluten-free and dairy-free (GFDF) food market, she found, had few tasty bread options. So she set out to solve her own problem by crafting a "shockingly delicious" bread recipe, and found there was strong demand for her new product. After winning the $15,000 grand prize at the 2013 Carolina Challenge, she is now ready to take her business, Betty's Better Breads, to the restaurant industry and expand her product offering.

On Monday evening at the William and Ida Friday Center, UNC hosted the Emerging Company Showcase, where local startup founders presented their business pitches, followed by an informal networking session and expo. The scientific track focused mainly on innovation in the life science or pharmaceutical industries, and the tech/social track featured companies with promising consumer or business products (They were in different rooms. I visited the tech track).

Like Betty, most showcasing founders were inspired initially by a personal issue. With a lot of research and business planning, they found ways to scale solutions to those issues to impact a larger consumer base.

Here are three more intriguing new startups out of UNC:

80Pct Solutions offers a desktop application which selectively blocks the user from accessing distracting websites. Founder and UNC graduate Fred Stutzman found he was most productive during study time when he worked out of a coffee shop without WiFi. "So I went home and made software to block me off the net for 45 minutes," says Stutzman. He called it "Anti-Distraction Software," and it quickly caught on. People started asking for more flexibility and options, such as keeping them off specific social media sites. With the average user spending 3.2 hours per day on social media, according to Stutzman, people will be willing to pay for "distraction management." He says that busy professionals, his target demographic, will be willing to pay for the Freemium version of his software (priced at $9) in five years. 80Pct Solutions is now working toward a public beta in five months.

Let's Chip In is a crowdfunding platform for the baby and wedding gift registry industry. In June 2013, founder Jeff Henriod found out he and his wife were having a baby at the same time as they decided to relocate to a new city. Faced with buying baby items without the local support of family and friends, Henriod wanted an easy way for distant supporters to chip in. He built and launched the Let's Chip In website over 54-hours during UNC's 2013 Triangle Startup Weekend, winning first prize (which completely funded his crib purchase). Let's Chip In protects the traditional 'gift coordinator' from non-reimbursement, and also features campaign launches by friends and a flexible choice of products. The future? 

"We want to partner with big retailers who have traditionally not sold high-dollar items well on their registries," Henriod says. "We could offer a white-label solution, or redirect traffic to our site. We are open to either option."

Gluten-Free Bread, Drugs, Art Headline UNC Emerging Company Showcase - 2
Artwear Designs takes artwork from emerging artists and gives them exposure by screen printing the art on affordable, American-made clothing. Lisa Marie Myers, the artistic director and brand manager for Artwear Designs, explains that as an artist herself, she struggled to find ways to sell or display her art. Artwear was created as a feel-good product to benefit both young art consumers (who see supporting the arts as "exclusive and expensive," according to Myers) and artists, who receive 20% of the total profits. The clothing include crop tops, t-shirts and tank tops with artwork from artists across the United States. Artwear currently has more than 13,000 followers on social media and has met 27% of its $10,000 goal in an Indiegogo campaign (with two weeks left). A future vision includes expanding the portfolio of artists in the line and adding new clothing styles.

During the expo, potential investors and established entrepreneurs visited with the founders to discuss their businesses. Many of the attendees purchased products or engaged the founders in deep conversation, some of them trading information across opposing tracks. At the Betty's Better Breads booth, I overheard a spectator from the scientific comment on the tastiness of Betty's GFDF pound cake. He said he was familiar with current clinical trials involving drugs for Celiac disease, and he thought Betty's products could help those patients adapt to their condition.

That moment was a good reminder that the most promising young startups are the ones committed to solving a problem for someone else. We'll see if these four new ideas can be the next in town to do just that.