“It’s a great way for people like me to improve my business plan and improve exposure.”…Mark Miskie, founder, president and GM of Arcus Medical

CHARLOTTE — And then there were five–

Alveolus, Arcus Medical, The Elevator Channel, End II End Communications and TreoSystems have all been named finalists in the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council’s (MEC) $5,000 business plan competition.

These five early-stage companies were chosen by the MEC and a panel of nine judges from a group of 10 semi-finalists representing four states from Georgia to Virginia.

But picking the five finalists was no easy task, nor it should be, when $5,000 is on the line for the first time ever from the MEC. Choosing the winner will be even more difficult.

“Narrowing it down from ten to five was a tough job, and picking one to walk away with a check will be even tougher, I’m sure,” competition co-chair David Worrell tells Local Tech Wire. “–It’s a great cross-section, and says a lot about the entrepreneurial vitality of the Charlotte area.”

Charlotte has long been overshadowed by the Research Triangle when it comes to entrepreneurship, especially with groups like the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) and the N.C. Biotechnology Center (NCBC) based in RTP.

But Charlotte is diversifying from its well-known role as a financial and banking center, second in the nation only to New York. And groups like the MEC (Charlotte’s version of the CED) are helping, as will a new regional office of the NCBC that is slated to open next year.

At the recent Charlotte TechExec event, which is a joint venture between Local Tech Wire and ClearImage, the growing enthusiasm among the area’s entrepreneurs was evident. The turnout of 200 or so reflected the talent in the region that the MEC is seeking to promote and encourage, top executives to startup entrepreneurs.

This changing role of Charlotte is well exemplified by the five finalists chosen by the MEC for its business plan competition. Each of these companies is based in the city and represents a unique industry–

Alveolus is a producer of non-vascular interventional stent technology. So far, stents have only been used in coronary and peripheral arteries, but thanks to Alveolus, they are now available for use in the lungs. The company has attained FDA approval in the United States earlier this year, has already begun domestic commercialization. Alveolus also has regulatory approval in the EU for a new implantable device to be used in non-vascular interventional pulmonary stenting.

Arcus Medical designs, develops and commercializes medical devices for incontinence and ostomy. The startup was founded last year by Mark Miskie, after his father defeated prostate cancer and developed a device he felt was “better than what was out there.” Miskie left his day job to help his father further develop this device and has since gathered a team of urologists and other locals to invest in the company. Arcus is currently seeking $1 million and commercialize its first product, known as Afex and currently in patient testing, by next spring.

The Elevator Channel, as its name implies, sells advertising on elevators. Through high-resolution digital displays, the company provides tailored content in full motion digital audio and video to inform and entertain their clients’ tenants. The company currently airs advertising, along with new and traffic updates, on flat screen televisions in nine elevators at the Odell Building in Charlotte.

End II End Communications is a network security and communications software company focused on bringing service to remote offices at the edge of a company’s WAN. Its patent-pending Broadband Network Optimization (BNO) Technology is used in the company’s entire product line. End II End had $1.1 million in revenues in 2002 and was cash positive without any outside investments. This year, the company has focused on sales and marketing efforts and moved into new facilities on the former Microsoft campus in Charlotte.

TreoSystems is a software development firm focused on providing clients in the retail industry with point-of-service solutions. The firm has developed the iPAL System Suite set of software tools designed specifically to help both customers and employees find products faster and easier in large retail stores. TreoSystems launched iPAL in June after more than a year of research, investment and development efforts. It has received funding from angel investors in the Charlotte area.

Come Jan. 14, the final five will present to a new panel of judges at the MEC’s Big Event (formerly the Capital Access Conference), sponsored by Womble Carlyle in Charlotte. One will be chosen to receive the $5,000 cash prize, funded by RSM McGladrey.

Regardless of who wins, both competition organizers and participants say they have enjoyed the process…as they should. Because money or not, the MEC and this competition are about supporting and recognizing entrepreneurial potential.

“The MEC’s business plan competition has been a great experience for all involved,” says Worrell. “I’m excited to report that we’re down to five really well-qualified young companies.”

“It’s an exciting time,” says Miskie, who serves as president and GM at Arcus. “It’s a great opportunity for people to gain awareness as to what Arcus Medical is about and the direction we’re going. It’s a big milestone for us to be recognized. Last year, we took a run at the finals, but this year, we did it. That says a lot about how far we’ve taken the venture and better made the products and understood the market.

“It’s a great way for people like me to improve my business plan and improve exposure.”

MEC: www.mec.org

Alveolus: www.alveolus.com

Arcus Medical: No website

The Elevator Channel: www.elevatorchannel.com

End II End Communications: www.eiiecomm.com

TreoSystems: www.pivotalchoice.com