A company that reduces the cost of graphene production from $100,000 a square meter to $30 won the $20,000 grand prize in the 2015 Charlotte Venture Challenge at the Southeast Venture Conference Tuesday.

Graphene is harder than diamond, 200 times stronger than steel, and 1,000 times more thermally conductive than copper. It’s inert in the human body, anti-microbial, corrosion resistant, flexible and almost transparent. It has potential uses in electronics, desalination and lightweight armor composites and other industries.

Based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, General Graphene says it can generate 60,000 sheets (square meters) of the amazing material with just two of its machines at a value of more than $14 million annually.

Other winners were:

  • EchoH2O (Saros), winner of the Hauser $7,500 award for the top Charlotte-based company, is a startup that uses energy from ocean waves to create clean, desalinated water. Removing the need for electricity in the process dramatically reduces the cost of desalination. EchoH2O is meeting the need that the 2015 World Economic Forum called “the greatest risk to the planet.”
  • Wilmington-based Surgilum, developer of the RoboMarker, a new way to mark the eye for cataract surgery, and Quorum, a Cambridge, MA-based firm that makes a platform offering information about members of Congress, took home runner-up awards of $7,500.
  • CommuniGIFT won the $3,000 first place award in the student ventures competition for its integration of online retailers and charity gift-giving. Its platform lets users turn a birthday or other celebration in a way to give product donations to charity.

Runners-up in the student contest, which receive $1,000 each, are Chapel Hill-based Waterless Buddy and Lobostim.

Waterless Buddy is a waterless car detailing firm that provides a car-wash-while-you-shop service.

Lobostim, based in Raleigh, developed a non-invasive, pain-free and lower cost device for spinal cord stimulation to reduce chronic pain. It can replace the current invasive implant of an electrical lead is wormed up the spine painfully. The firm has advisors from Duke, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Earlier report:

The five finalists moving on in the 2015 Charlotte Venture Challenge were selected from the 30 companies presenting at the event Tuesday morning. They will continue on to present at the full Southeast Venture Conference (SEVC) late this afternoon. Prize-winners will be announced this evening.

The five finalists, one from each competition category, were:

  • Quorum, a Cambridge, MA-based firm that is developing an online legislative strategy platform that features quantitative insights into the U.S. Congress and up-to-date statistics for every member, bill, vote, committee, issue area, and Congressional District. It sees a $9 billion market opportunity.
  • General Graphene, an Oak Ridge, TN-based startup has an advanced technology to make graphene sheets much less expensively. Graphene is harder than diamond and 200 times stronger than steel and 200 times more thermally conductive than copper, but is currently very expensive to make.
  • Akili Software, based in Raleigh, has developed a web and mobile care management platform for private, in-home care called Savil Care. It addresses a $2 billion market in North America alone.
  • Guideon is a military veteran talent acquisition platform. It uses data science to translate military skills into civilian terms and match candidates to careers. It sees an obtainable market of $500 million.
  • communiGIFT, based in Chapel HIll, integrates with online retailers to let users turn a birthday or other celebration into a charitable giving event through online product donations.