The Miss America pageant it wasn’t, but on Monday night in Raleigh a promising number of startup business candidates showcased their own talents and products to the harshest judges of all in the emerging business world: Investors.

NC IDEA, the Durham-based economic development group, put on the event at the Raleigh Convention Center in conjunction with a Angel Capital Association meeting and the annual CED Tech Venture conference to show off emerging ventures it believes have the potential to become successful enterprises. NC IDEA awards non-dilutive grants up to $50,000 to promising startups as seed money.

More than one hundred investors gathered at the angels meeting with the hopes of identifying early-stage technology and life science companies worthy of angel investment. And their value to the startup community shouldn’t be under estimated, especially with venture capital funding from institutional investors remaining far below pre-2008 recession levels.

 Noted Joan Siefert Rose, president of CED, on her first day back on the job after a planned summer sabbatical approved by the organization’s board of directors in early 2013: “Angel Investors have been the key source of funding for many early-stage companies.” The NC IDEA Showcase preceded the CED Tech Venture Conference, which will take place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Raleigh Convention Center.

At the NC IDEA showcase, CEO Dave Rizzo (who also works with venture capital fund IDEA Fund Partners) pointed out: “Approximately $51 million has been raised in equity. We’ve had 40 companies come through Groundwork Labs (mentoring program).” In his view, NC IDEA has been a great vehicle in building the entrepreneurial base in the Triangle, and as for the grant recipients: “We think that our grant winners are good investments.”

They’ve been vetted, said Rizzo, and not just by NC IDEA. The companies receive grants that are milestone-driven, “and the discipline of having to meet milestones,” said Rizzo, “is a process that prepares our companies for investments by you all and by others.”

NC IDEA has awarded nearly $3 million in grant funding to 77 companies since their first grant cycle in 2006.

“We work with our companies and educate them,” said Rizzo, “and go through a complicated evaluation process.”

Each year, NC IDEA sees approximately 300 applications, and distributes only 10 grants to companies. NC IDEA does not take equity in the companies.

Monday night, 10 of the early-stage ventures took the stage to talk about their businesses. Snapshots of each follow:

  • Arcametrics Systems (NC IDEA Grant Fall 2012)

“Arcametrics is solving a huge probem that is costing businesses billions of dollars,” said Paolo DiVincenzo, CEO of Arcametrics Systems.
They launched their product in June, and the company is already revenue positive, said DiVencenzo. The product helps advertisers reach a better market segment of potential consumers by studying more than 2,000 online and offline attributes for a given customer.

“On average, our targeting delivers three times the results,” said DiVencenzo, “for the same cost.” One test delivered results that were 47 times better than their client’s previous advertising efforts.

The company was $17,000 in the black in July, said DiVencenzo, and has signed more than 11 clients.

Arcametrics is currently seeking $500,000 for a seed round, and expect to close by the end of October, said DiVencenzo, with the goal of hiring junior sales staff to ramp up the revenue stream.

  • PopUp (NC IDEA Grant Fall 2012)

PopUp is a mobile application that lets people leave and discover notes at specific locations.

“It’s like virtual sticky notes,” said Dov Cohn, co-founder and CEO, recanting a testimonial from a user.

PopUp started in late 2012, launched through The Startup Factory, and received $200,000 in angel funding in May 2013. With three co-founders, PopUp works out of space at the American Underground at Main Street, and recently partnered with more than 25 Durham-based small businesses on a promotion, Bull City Secrets.

The promotion was a huge success, said Cohn, generating more than 500 new PopUp users with a cost of acquisition at $1.38/user. Of the 2,800 PopUps that were delivered, said Cohn, 60 percent were opened by users.

“We’ll be going out in Q4 this year and raising our first equity round,” said Cohn. Numbers like those from the Bull City Secrets promotion should help the company lock down their Series A investment.

  • Unravel Data Systems (NC IDEA Grant Fall 2012)

“Big Data is big business,” said Kunal Agarwal, but existing systems often struggle with problems of interpretation of the data, including speed of download and optimizing a company’s Hadoop operations.

“There is a new technique,” said Agarwal, which is the beta product that Unravel Data Systems has launched.

More than 400 organizations have utilized the original research product, Starfish, since its launch in 2009, including Accenture, NetApp and IBM.

  • BaseTrace (NC IDEA Grant Spring 2013)

BaseTrace develops well-specific DNA-based tracers for use in the hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) industry.

“We add our DNA tracer to the underground mixture,” said Justine Chow, “and we’re able to identify any contamination” down to the individual well level. “We’re expecting to grow quickly in the next year,” said Chow, “and most of our revenue is expected to come from the oil and gas market.”

The company has already generated revenue, and expects to be profitable, said Chow. Thus far, BaseTrace has raised close to $325,000 through grants, awards, direct investment and a loan from the NC Biotechnology Center.

The company is currently pursuing $1 million in new equity financing, and plans to expand their sales team to serve the oil and gas market.

  • INRFOOD (NC IDEA Grant Spring 2013)

“The US is the most food abundant nation in the world,” said Keval Mehta, CEO of INRFOOD, “and yet is one of the most nutrient deprived.”

“How do you trust that the food that you’re providing to your family is safe, healthy and nutritious,” asked Mehta.

Upon scanning the barcode of more than 300,000 products, the INRFOOD application will analyze the ingredients and notify you of any potential allergens or health concerns that are personalized to your health profile, said Mehta.

The application also boasts a feature, MyPlate, which allows individual users real-time feedback that could help modify individual behavior, said Mehta, “the holy grail in the healthcare field.”
“I left the field of medicine,” said Mehta, because the tendency is to provide reactive care. “I wanted to do something more about it,” said Mehta.

The company, bootstrapped for the last two years, has received grant funding from NC IDEA and won the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Healthcare Innovations competition.

  • NeuroSpire (NC IDEA Grant Spring 2013)

“Neuromarketing allows us to look at people’s actual brain activity,” Jake Stauch, co-founder and CEO, “and shows that it is a more accurate predictor of consumer decisions.”
But neuromarketing hasn’t been fully adopted in advertising, said Stauch, mostly because it has historically been as expensive as $75,000 and up to two weeks to study the results.
NeuroSpire has developed technology that lowers the cost to $5,000, said Stauch, and in the past year, generated more than $65,000 in revenue.

The company is raising $500,000, said Stauch, in order to ramp up their sales process, deploy marketing across multiple channels, and iterate on their current product line.

  • Novocor Medical Systems (NC IDEA Grant Spring 2013)

“Cardiac arrest kills thousands,” said Tony Voiers, founder and CEO, yet there is a medical technology that could help save lives.

Novocor has licensed technology out of NC State University that enables emergency medical service technicians to induce therapeutic hypothermia through the use of HypoCare.
HypoCare can be easily stored in ambulances, fire trucks, helicopters, and other emergency vehicles, said Voiers.

The company is seeking $1.5 million in funding in order to get FDA approval. The company closed $1 million of their target goal on August 28, and is now seeking an additional $500,000 to complete their Series A round.

  • ProctorFree (NC IDEA Grant Spring 2013)

“Online education is disrupting higher education,” said Velvet Nelson, co-founder of ProctorFree, “and colleges and universities are recognizing that online learning is a huge opportunity.”

More than 75% of students admit to cheating at some point during their academic career, and this is a huge problem that exists in online education. ProctorFree solves this problem, said Nelson.

“There are a number of ways that you can verify someone’s identity,” said Mike Murphy, co-founder of ProctorFree, “our product looks for very specific anomalies,” among users. The web application then automatically sends a “Trust Report” back to the professors of the online course for review, giving professors indicators of trust that can be used to determine honor code violations.

The company is not seeking additional investment, having previously closed an initial round of funding. The company is currently on track to launch their full product on January 1, 2014, said Murphy.

  • Physcient (NC IDEA Grant Spring 2008)

Physcient develops medical device products that speed patient recovery. The handheld device developed by the company, DifferentialDissector™, said Hugh Crenshaw, CEO of Physcient, enables physicians to deliver care quicker, safer and more effectively than alternatives.

“It’s a new class of instrument,” said Crenshaw, “the underlying technology is simple and protectable.”

The company, founded in March 2007, has previously raised $2.25 million from a variety of sources, and anticipates a Series B of approximately $3.5 million in the next 12-14 months. The company is seeking approximately $400,000 in order to close their Series A round and bring their products to market.

  •  Protochips (NC IDEA Grant Fall 2006)

Protochips develops products for microscopy to help researchers gather quantifiable and actionable data, said David Nackashi, co-founder and CEO, which enables scientists to make meaningful new discoveries.

“There haven’t been toolsets prior to ours that have been able to do this,” said Nackashi.

The company recently won the 2013 100 R&D Award for their Poseidon 500 technology, which shrinks a typical electrochemical lab to the size of a microchip, enabling it to fit inside an electro microscope.

“The key problem that we’re solving is how do you look at things that don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Nackashi.

“For a large part, nanotechnology is still a technology looking for an application,” said Nackashi, “and that means that we’re looking at materials in their actual native environments.”

If you can see the material that you’re developing, said Nackashi, and manipulate it at the same time, the scientist is able to work more efficiently. The technology developed by Protochips allows researchers and scientists to do just that.

The company has experienced ten times revenue growth since their Series A round in 2009. In addition, there is a global market for Protochip’s product line, said Nackashi, which includes Japan, China and other Asian markets.

“We don’t see a need to raise round after round,” said Nackashi, “because our business is built to build our revenue base.”

In closing, Nackashi made sure to reference the support from the Triangle’s entrepreneurial community in helping the company grow in the past decade.

“Make use of the resources that are available in North Carolina,” said Nackashi, “because they’ll help you speed up your business.”