One founding team has MBAs from Duke's Fuqua College of Business. Another founder advised legislators and foundations on national education policy. And yet another earned $100,000 as a 17-year-old landscaper before selling home mortgages to Spanish-speaking homebuyers. And his new business has nothing to do with either.
They're all aspiring software entrepreneurs.
In coming days, they'll receive checks totaling $270,000 and join 82 other startups who've earned NC IDEA grants since the program began in 2006. With the funds (which are still being divvied up between the winners), they'll hire staff, build products, launch beta tests or initiate marketing plans.
In a news release, NC IDEA program manager Andrea Cook said, "Our final decisions came down to where our money will make the most impact, certainly for the companies, but ultimately for the state of North Carolina."
The teams were selected by a panel of venture investors and experienced entrepreneurs who first whittled down 133 applications from around the state to a group of 25 semi-finalists. They interviewed nine finalists before choosing the winners- six instead of the typical five and all software because those were the most impressive of the bunch.
The competition was tight among the nine, said reviewer and Idea Fund Partners' John Cambier. But what struck judges about the final teams was the novelty of their businesses and the strength of their teams.
"We had a good group of very entrepreneurial teams, people who were clearly committed to their ventures and were both scrappy and knowledgeable," Cambier said.
So who are the winners and what are they building?
The list is below. We talked with five of the teams to learn their startup stories and what they plan to do with the grant funds (the last wasn't available this week to chat). Click on the links below to read those stories. We're anxious to follow up in six months or a year to see where they stand.
So here you go, this spring's NC IDEA grant winners:
Cellbreaker, a "Napster" for the Cell Phone Industry
AnyCloud, the Mint.com of Personal and Shared Content
80Pct Solutions, A Tool to Prevent Distractions Online
CrowdTunes, This Generation's (Digital) Bar Jukebox
Lea(R)n, Clinical Trials for EdTech
Pack Purchase, A Tool to Help Homeowners Make Purchases for their Homes