Facing the daunting task of raising capital, three technology start-up clients of the Technology Commercialization Center (TCC) at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech), will present pitches to investors at the InnoVenture 2008 Conference in Greenville, S.C., on Tuesday.
TCC serves technology-related companies in the western part of North Carolina that are looking to raise angel and venture funding. Three of its promising clients – Emerge Industries, Infinity Learning Solutions and Lab Escape – are among the among the 16 entrepreneurial companies invited to this year’s InnoVenture, where they hope to find partners to finance their growth.
Established in 2006, TCC has assisted more than 50 companies build a sustainable business model and create jobs in the process.
“There is only so much capital to go around, especially in western North Carolina, so InnoVenture is an especially significant venue for these companies to actually present in front of venture capitalists that will invest to advance and expand a company to prominence,” said Todd Fisher, TCC director and veteran of multiple Fortune 50 companies and start-ups.
“Much like a marriage, finding the right partner to work with is critical to success. These companies may have to pitch at several VC forums until they find the right one to work with them, but hopefully this one will bear fruit.” Fisher added.
TCC is on A-B Tech’s campus as a Small Business Incubator in a partnership with Technology 2020 that supports economic development in conjunction with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Offering an alternative to boot-strapping, TCC empowers technology companies to create a sustainable business through three basic services: training programs for management teams, mentoring and coaching, and preparing a company for raising capital.
According to Fisher, there is no shortcut to creating a successful company.
“Many clients come to us the first time thinking they are ready to raise a lot of money, and we have to show them they have a lot more preparation to do first and that we can help them do it,” Fisher said. “We have experience with various rounds of raising capital as well as mergers and acquisitions. We can take them through the entire life cycle.”
Emerge Technologies had developed a product to satisfy a need for the sign industry when it was introduced to TCC just over three months ago. After receiving intensive coaching at TCC, John Denison, vice president of sales for Emerge, said he wants to catch interest at InnoVenture in order to build business significantly by refining its strategy and developing new products. Already its flagship sticky ad product, Sticky Yard Digital Measuring System, has been well received by sign designers, builders and architects who use it to measure billboards, buildings and storefronts in seconds rather than hours.
The combination measuring tool and software application provides a simple and quick method to measure many objects directly from a digital image.
“With TCC’s help, we’ve come so far in three months,” said Denison. “I have learned that the local area has everything we need to grow our business.”
Companies that qualify to work with TCC are expected to achieve key milestones such as: identifying their target customers, sizing their market niche and validating that their technology provides value to their target customers. Clients complete an execution plan, dubbed The Book, that creates a road map through development, staffing, infrastructure and operational issues.
The ideal result for TCC incubator firms is a capital investment that will turn their business model into reality.
nfinity Learning Solutions is launching DigitalChalk, a Web-based authoring tool that integrates video, audio, PowerPoint slides, images, text, closed-captioning and HTML as software as a service and e-learning solution.
Lab Escape seeks to solve the information overload problem at large companies with visual analysis software that allows managers to understand large volumes of complex data and ask questions to gain key insights and then communicate those insights to others.
Working with companies at various stages, TCC operates, in part, with a grant of $200,000 from Buncombe County that the Asheville Hub helped secure. The economic development group AdvantageWest also contributed operational funds and established the Advantage Opportunity Fund this past year to give TCC clients access to a low-interest loan up to $35,000. Fisher says this type of loan program helps early-stage companies reach critical milestones so they can get the attention of an angel investor.
Three companies have received loans from the Advantage Opportunity Fund to date.
Going forward, TCC has plans to help companies already in the area reach their full potential and help draw companies looking for a new home to consider the Asheville’s growing technology community as a great place to do business. “Our goal is to continue to help companies become sustainable and fundable, which will create jobs and economic development for the area,” said Fisher.
Some other TCC clients that have moved past significant milestones are:
- Advanced Composting (www.advancedcomposting.com), whose patent-pending, forced-air composting system is helping hog, turkey, chicken and trout farming operations convert dead farm animals into a compost that is cheaper than incineration and environmentally sound.
- Augustara (www.augustara.com), which employs an advanced sound and light platform technology for the alternative health and wellness industry to use in healing patients’ bodies, minds and spirits.
- 1 X 1 Media (www.1x1media.com), a high-quality, short-run CD and DVD reproduction service utilizing proprietary technology to fully automate the order and duplication processes.
- Safe Home Filters (www.safehomefilters.com), which has developed easy to install whole-house filter systems that remove allergens, odors and harmful gases generated from carpet, furniture, and other items found in everyone’s home.