CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Venture Challenge kicks off its 17th consecutive year on Tuesday at the Center City Campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with an entirely new format. In past years, organizers sought applications from qualifying startups across the southeastern United States. For 2018, only companies from the Charlotte metropolitan areas were considered for the signature event.
UNC Charlotte Ventureprise
In prior years, companies were slotted into one pitch session. This year, organizers have recruited companies from three different tracks and changed the format of the event to include pitches, panel discussions, multiple short keynotes, and an open reception with featured companies organized at demo booths.
It’s set to be an intimate affair, and Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community is responding with significant interest. According to organizers, the event is already sold out to its maximum capacity of 200 people, though interested guests can still register for a waiting list.
“We are excited to showcase the diversity of entrepreneurs launching companies in Charlotte,” said Devin Collins, assistant director/entrepreneurship and business development for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The companies participating in this year’s Charlotte Venture Challenge represent the strength of Charlotte’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, said Collins.
Student Pitch Contest
Student teams that were selected as finalists at the 49er iChallenge campus pitch contest earlier this year will begin the event by delivering three-minute pitches and answering questions from a panel of three investor judges, all who are members of the Charlotte Angel Fund, an early-stage investment group that is becoming more active in Charlotte and in North Carolina.
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In the first session, UNC-Charlotte senior Trevon Stoddard will pitch Genubot, an application created for students enrolled in calculus courses that provides additional assistance using machine learning; UNC-Charlotte seniors Mohammad Aboufoul and Mohammad Salad will pitch their shopping app, Tijarah, that aggregates retailers, preventing users from needing to download multiple shopping applications; and UNC-Charlotte students Daniel Peccerilla and Christopher Pereira will pitch Guap LLC, which seeks to connect college students to those in need of laborers, and specifically, moving managers and hauling services. A cash prize is at stake.
Showcasing University Research and Innovation
Two panel discussions will follow the student pitch contest. The first panel focuses on the technology that UNC-Charlotte’s researchers have developed and are working to commercialize through the Ventureprise Launch NSF I-Corps program and will be moderated by Collins.
The finalists in this category include:
NanEX, which has developed a functionalized nanomaterial that removes contaminants from the drinking water supply faster and safer than existing treatments;
Vector Analytics, which provides predictive analytics to benchmark innovation and research and development, discover emerging trends, and highlight insight on product development processes;
Tell-i Technologies, a high-frequency electronic power system;
SmarTrek, a mobile app to prevent alcohol abuse among college students based on motivational intervention;
ResArt, a system that uses new technology to recommend visual objects.
The five companies were selected as finalists from a selection pool of all companies that have participated in the Launch program since inception in 2015, said Collins. The companies participating in this panel represent the promising innovation that is emerging from UNC-Charlotte’s research teams, said Collins.
“All of the companies participating in the Charlotte Venture Challenge have taken the difficult step to spend time talking to customers,” said Collins, “Before they went out and tried to sell something the customer may not have wanted.”
UNC-Charlotte is one of just 51 universities that have been named an NSF I-Corps site and is a member of the NSF National Innovation Network. The program is offered three times each year for cohorts of 10–12 entrepreneurial research teams.
Charlotte Community Entrepreneurship
The final panel features five Charlotte-based companies that have completed the Ventureprise Launch NC IDEA customer discovery program, which is funded by NC IDEA. The panel is moderated by Paul Wetenhall, president and executive director, research and economic development, at UNC-Charlotte, and features early stage companies that have recently completed a significant customer discovery process.
These companies are:
Career Unlocked, Inc, a certified veteran-owned business focused on making tools that connect companies with talent;
Med Portal, LLC, which promotes engagement within the medical community through a unique platform;
27 Software, which offers a platform for developers to build applications and manage software development projects;
Notable, which provides technology to help companies look beyond “fit” to find diverse candidates that will continue to add value for the long-term;
FixMob, Inc, a mobile app that allows customers, tenants, and employees to report maintenance issues to facility teams.
Thom Ruhe, president and CEO of NC IDEA, will then lead a small discussion with three Charlotte companies that have won a $50,000 NC IDEA seed grant: DealCloud, InfoSense, and The Wed Clique.
The event wraps up with the announcement of winners in each category—student, university research, and community—by Dr. Robert G. Wilhelm, vice chancellor, research and economic development at UNC-Charlotte and executive director of the Charlotte Research Institute, followed by a closing reception where the audience is encouraged to visit with participating companies at their demo booths.
Can’t attend the event on Tuesday? You can follow the Ventureprise Twitter account, @VenturepriseInc, for the latest updates.