"This was, by far, the hardest selection process to date," said NC IDEA President Dave Rizzo, who I caught up with yesterday. "We could have easily given out another three or four grants, and that's different than prior years."
One thing that separates this group of recipients from previous groups is that they all had affiliations with startup accelerators or, in one case, a well-known startup hub. This was not by design, nor did it play a role in their selection. It's not a trend.
But it is an indication of a coming trend, says Rizzo. The competition for an NC IDEA grant is fierce. So the startups need to not only prove themselves worthy of receiving the grant, but must also distinguish themselves from all the other worthy competitors.
Those involved in accelerators like Groundwork Labs, Triangle Startup Factory, and hubs like Charlotte's Packard Place tend to be more in line with what people think are high-growth companies.
That's good news because this will carry on down the chain as support springs up around these worthy companies. The top tier of the startups that weren't selected have every component to be successful, and there are other options.
Maybe joining ExitEvent is a just the success booster shot you need? Not just yet, but I'm working on it. Let's just say three of the five winners were members.
I also got a chance to talk to each of the winners. Here's what they had to say.
I feel like I'm starting to stalk Anil Chawla and ArchiveSocial, but dude is on a roll. He'll be graduating Triangle Startup Factory today and going directly into the NC IDEA grant program. Although he actually applied for NC IDEA first, he says that both processes helped him fine tune his business strategy, just in time for fundraising.
He also knows all this noise creates great expectations. And he knows he needs to "double-down on customer traction and make a real impact in the market."
ArchiveSocial is a social media archiving solution, and Anil will use the money for online advertising, creating industry targeted content for the website, and investing in creative efforts to generate awareness and said traction.
Alex Zhang is a co-founder of Motaavi, along with Nick Bhargava, Kaiting Chen and Melanie Plageman. This stock market for startups will use their grant to apply for patents and register as a broker-dealer.
The Groundwork connection was an absolute help. Zhang says that John Austin, Groundwork Director, "was able to provide invaluable feedback on our full proposal and pitch deck."
Brent Fagg and Joanna Rogerson founded Gema Touch, which sells a patent-pending Near Field Communication (NFC) platform. The grant will allow them to finalize initial RFID tag design, build a beta, complete a pilot, and field test.
Brent credits Groundwork and the other teams with helping "refine our message as well as identify partnerships we would have otherwise missed."
Impulsonic develops audio content creation tools for sound designers, and is as fun as it sounds. Pun intended. It was founded out of the UNC Department of Computer Science by Anish Chandak, Lakulish Antani, and professors Dinesh Manocha and Ming C. Lin.
Anish says the money will go to developing initial prototypes and products. He says that Austin "insisted on doing practice pitches every day in the week leading up to the final pitch and provided invaluable feedback."
The only selection not from the Triangle, Charlotte's DealCloud provides a free, web-based platform for M&A professionals. Co-founder Rob Cummings is currently in India working with a development team, but was nice enough to take time out before bed to shoot me an email response.
He and the other co-founder, Ed McMahan will use the grant for marketing and biz dev, product development, and legal, for a patent.
Cummings says that "We share office space with MailVu who was a grant winner in the last selection cycle. The management team at MailVu helped us through our applications and preparing for our verbal pitch. Adam at Packard also helped us with our pitch. Just having other entrepreneurs pass through the building on a daily basis really encouraged us throughout the process."
I know Adam Hill a bit, who runs Packard, and he is committed to startups, so that's no surprise. But what's interesting there is the refrain of help from other entrepreneurs in the program.
To me, that proves this evolution theory. It's not just the startups that go through the accelerators who have an edge, it's those who are active in the startup community at large -- because you can find a lot of help there too.
And that's a trend I welcome.