TSF Bootcamp in Durham

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Entrepreneurs came from as far as Ghana and Mexico to Durham last week to gather with a cohort of eight early-stage North Carolina startups for intense training, mentorship and business development from The Startup Factory (TSF)

Over the course of three days, TSF's Lizzy Hazeltine, Chris Heivly, and Dave Neal led 17 startup founders through a rigorous bootcamp based on “lean canvas” theories. It was the third such bootcamp held in North Carolina in the last nine months, and an effort The Startup Factory plans to continue.

The goal is two-fold. First, TSF hopes to impart knowledge and expertise to North Carolina startups at an earlier stage than those that traditionally went through its accelerator program—the aim is to help new founders increase customer traction and better understand their markets earlier in their startup journey. TSF also hopes to broaden its reach and network to both create a stronger pipeline of new startups and add to the state’s startup ecosystem.

Or as Hazeltine puts it, “we’ve seen an opportunity in these companies—if we get a hold of these companies sooner, then they can build better, faster, more, and we have a relationship with them and have armed them with some tools.”

Free of charge, the Durham bootcamp was popular enough it attracted what Hazeltine calls “a healthy applicant pool” of startups, more than TSF was able to enroll.

Bootcamper Renán Ugalde traveled from Mexico to join his cofounder Ivan Barajas Vargas of UGetDeal—an online marketplace that matches grocery stores with unsold perishable goods with buyers. The bootcamp is designed for early-stage ventures like UGetDeal that are at the beginning stage of acquiring customers. But the definition of “early stage” among the bootcamp companies ranged from ideation to significant market traction. Riivet, for example, had over $600,000 in revenue last year. But regardless of stage, the bootcamp helps startups make a lot of progress over the next 30 to 60 days.

The previous two bootcamps were held in Winston-Salem and Greensboro last August and December. While the core of curriculum remains the same as when we first reported on it last fall, the TSF team has tweaked and improved the structure and content after each bootcamp.

TSF Durham Bootcamp, 2016
TSF Bootcampers, Steph Garett & Greg Urquhart (of PodRef) discuss in the foreground while Toni Shellady and other boot campers work in the background. Photo Credit: The Startup Factory

Lean canvas theories and a strong emphasis on the customer discovery process remain the backbone of curriculum. But new to this bootcamp was a customer interview role-play where the entrepreneurs were encouraged to “get out of the selling mode” and create a more relaxed environment where they can better highlight their products’ benefits and how they would solve the customer’s problems.

TSF also helped the bootcampers develop and refine product pitches, which they eventually presented to guests and friends of the startup community at an open house event on the final day of bootcamp, last Thursday evening.

The open house—hosted at the American Underground rooftop bar—began with beers and networking, after which the companies each pitched their companies to the crowd of roughly 50 guests.

Plans are already in place for the next bootcamp, which will be held in the next 40-45 days in a location that Hazeltine says she “is excited to go to.” Stay tuned for more details.

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the companies that bootcamped in Durham last week, along with some next steps:


Led by Chris Grainer and Ramiro Rodriguez, who also leads Code the Dream in Durham, Riivet is a turnkey live streaming technology for broadcasting live events. More than 218 events were streamed through Riivet in 2015, helping the Durham startup bring in that $600,000 revenue figure. Riivet hopes to make broadcasting live events easier and more accessible for everyone.


The average time a person waits to see a dermatologist is 29 days and that’s no matter whether his or her condition is life-threatening. Duke graduate students Ankur Manikandan (pictured below) and Shagun Maheshwari designed a mobile-enabled triage tool for dermatologists to use to cut down the wait time and increase the efficiency of their offices. The app lets patients submit pictures of the areas of skin they wish dermatologists to evaluate, and, when possible, the doctors can return diagnoses or follow-up care instructions. The product is still under development.

TSF Durham Bootcamp Pitches 2016
Ankur Manikandan of MedScki pitches his med-tech product at The Startup Factory's Open House Night for their Durham Bootcamp participants


Recent Groundwork Labs alum Collis Arrick says aLuxuRe was inspired by the saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” After a time-consuming, unpleasant visit to a consignment store with his wife, Arrick was inspired to design a business and communication tool that would streamline the consignment process and bring those stores operations into the 21st century. He and co-founder David Morris have already designed the software and are looking for stores to test it prior to launch.


A surprising 10 percent of perishable food items in grocery stores are thrown away when they aren’t sold. Ivan Bajaras-Vargas and Renán Ugalde aim to eliminate this waste and increase profits for grocery stores by connecting grocery stores' perishable food waste with buyers (think bakers and restaurants). They are targeting the one million grocery stores in the U.S. as customers, and are in the customer acquisition stage. They’ll pair those customers with the buyers once they’ve established relationships with the grocery stores.


TimberList co-founder Nate Potter is living and working in Ghana, but traveled to Durham to participate in the bootcamp with his co-founders Ken Causey and Billy Cipriani. TimberList targets North Carolina’s second largest industry, timber. Potter and his co-founders have created an online marketplace where buyers and sellers can better connect, thus eliminating inefficiencies inherent to the current way buyers and sellers connect—through old-fashioned phone calls, site visits and sometimes emails.

Turnip Learning 

Founded by Sarah RitterChristine Babcock and Colton Sinkovich—a team from Wilmington—Turnip Learning is a marketplace for interactive, teacher-created learning content that will enable teachers to better integrate technology into the classroom. In Turnip Learning, teachers can create and customize their own teaching materials using photos, video, apps, or websites. They can also sell this content to other teachers. Still in the customer validation stage, they are looking for beta testers.


Finding a podcast featuring your favorite journalist, actor or comedian can be difficult because existing marketplaces lack what most other media search sites have—metadata. PodRef co-founders Steph Garrett and Greg Urquhart of Richmond, Va. have extensive experience using metadata to organize mass quantities of information and hope to apply that experience to help consumers make sense of the exploding podcast economy. PodRef will be positioned as a metadata repository for podcasts.

Ms. Computer Teacher 

A Raleigh middle school technology teacher, Toni Shellady has created free, project-based technology lessons that teachers can seamlessly integrate into their daily curriculum. Ms. Computer Teacher has already developed and posted 50 tutorial videos to a YouTube channel and has over two million subscribers. Shellady is looking for resources and ways to scale a business to meet demand.