Charlotte Venture Challenge was birthed 15 years ago to promote early-stage businesses out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. During its early days, the competition was only open to those affiliated with the university and was named Five Ventures, which reflected the number of startups involved. 

This year CVC was held at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis and applications came in from across the Southeast region. Nearly 100 companies entered and out of those, 27 were declared finalists in one of these four categories: General, New Energy & High Tech, Student Ventures and IT & Informatics. 
Categories vary year to year depending on the applicants. Thirty judges from places like Belk, AvidXChange and the Charlotte Angel Fund were divided between the four categories. From their insights, four category winners and two wild cards advanced to the final round Tuesday night. 
Final Six: 
MadDogg Heat Sleeve 
Thrive GPO 
Grow Bioplastics 
Sweetie Pie Organics (of Raleigh) 
After the final six pitched to a new group of judges, a short break convened for the deliberation period. Greg Brown, president of Cardinal Finance and administrator of the Charlotte Angel Fund, was one of the final judges. Here’s how explains the judging process: “The criteria were a combination of the perceived validity of the business opportunity, the presenting company’s ability to capture that opportunity, potential of attractive returns for investors, and effectiveness of presentation.”

Let’s get into the winners.

Grow Bioplastics of Knoxville

Grand Prize Winner ($7,500) and New Energy and High Tech Category Winner ($5,000)
Grow Bioplastics uses a biodegradable polymer made from lignin (found in trees and grasses) to create biodegradable mulch films for the agriculture industry. 
“Grow Bioplastics is addressing an existing pain point in the market (removal and disposal of plastic mulch) and seems to have some defensible IP in the area,” says Brown on the grand prize winner. 
Traditional oil-based plastic mulch films cost farmers more than $300 per acre of crops and end up in landfills. Grow Bioplastics’ films are plowed into the land and cut out the removal and disposal process for farmers. 
The Knoxville-based company is currently working with Oak Ridge National Lab and negotiating a license for the technology used in the film making process. Grow Bioplastics’ main competitors are the traditional oil, paper and starch-based plastic mulch films, but the agricultural plastics market is worth $6.5 billion and growing. This startup can manufacture its film for $75 to $95 per 4’ x 4000’ roll and will sell rolls for $175. 

Student Ventures Runner-Ups

Glance makes the recruiting and hiring process easier for both the candidate and the hiring professional. The platform hosts a 1-minute elevator pitch from candidates and filters potential hires so recruiters spend less time setting up phone interviews, and more time interviewing viable options. The service will be offered to undergraduate students for free and subscription packages will be offered to recruiters and companies. Some beta customers for the Appalachian State startup include Northwestern Mutual and Grant Thornton. 

Reel Scary is a digital platform out of UNCC that lets users rate scary movies in three categories: Disturb, Gore and Suspense. Unlike IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, Reel Scary bases its ratings on more characteristics than just overall movie quality. The site takes user ratings and generates a Reel Scary Rating to measure how scary a movie actually is. To date, the web application has nearly 10,000 user ratings and 300,000 total unique visitors to the site. In terms of revenue, the Amazon affiliates program is the company’s short-term solution, but in the long term, partnerships with movie organizations, movie trailer ads and online advertising will be revenue sources for the company. 
J. Chris Murphy (Award for the best undergrad presentation from UNCC) ($500)
Tailor Made Financial offers educational and financial services to help consumers manage their household cash flow. The company’s target market is variable income employees and volatile income households. Right now Tailor Made is getting in touch with employers of variable income workers to learn about their employees’ financial needs and show how Tailor Made Financial can help.. The app will generate revenue through referrals to financial service providers, in-app purchases and marketing ads from businesses.