Startup Stampede, the South’s consumer product incubator, has selected nine emerging consumer product companies to participate in the 2018 program from March 1 through May 4 in Durham, North Carolina. The program is free for entrepreneurs thanks to a two-year $100,000 startup ecosystem grant from NC IDEA.

“Establishing your brand is critical for CPG firms, moreso than for other startups,” said Adam Klein, Director of Strategy for Capitol Broadcasting Company and founder of Startup Stampede. “Getting that right early on is going to be really important for companies to craft a compelling story.”

Teams will have help along the way. Startup Stampede is structured to expose participants to the concept of the digital marketing funnel and they’ll focus on a specific part of the funnel during each week of the program. Teams will be held accountable by their peers and by more than a dozen expert mentors. As a result, CEOs are expected to design a tailored brand strategy that they’ll be able to test and refine during the program.

McKinney, a leading advertising agency with offices in Durham, has committed to providing as much as $100,000 in brand guidance to help one or more companies build their brand. McKinney CEO Brad Brinegar participated in the selection committee meetings and is directly involved in the program.

“We’re excited by the opportunity to help promising consumer product startups unleash their full potential,” said Brinegar in a statement in November, “through our participation in the Startup Stampede.”

Companies from across the nation applied to participate in the program, with more than 35 submitting an application to participate in the 2018 cohort. From this pool, nine were selected.

“What stood out to us about these nine companies was the traction they’ve already earned,” said Klein, “and the commitment of their founding teams.” Klein noted that the selected companies share a common goal in participating in the program: a focus on specific branding challenges—which aligns well with the assistance that McKinney will provide.

The 2018 Startup Stampede Companies:

  • Beard and Lady (Creedmoor, NC): Beard and Lady sells apothecary inspired grooming products for men and women which enhance the chemistry of relationships through our unique flavors and scents creating intrigue and curiosity.

  • Brothers Vilgalys (Durham, NC): Brothers Vilgalys Spirits makes delicious small-batch spirits including Krupnikas Spiced Honey Liqueur, a traditional Lithuanian liqueur flavored with North Carolina wildflower honey and whole spices, and other craft liqueurs flavored with whole botanicals, herbs, and spices.

  • Descalza (Raleigh, NC): Descalza is a handcrafted, latino-inspired clothing brand that fuses artisan textiles and modern fashion.

  • Fillaree (Durham, NC): Fillaree is a small batch, organic, liquid soap manufacturing company, focused on providing refill services to consumers & businesses who want to reduce their waste in a more impactful way.

  • Healthy Roots Dolls (Providence, RI & Cincinnati, OH): Healthy Roots Dolls is a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks that teach natural hair care because every girl should feel empowered by the beauty of the kink of her curl and the color of her skin.

  • Nellino’s (Raleigh, NC): Raleigh-based Nellino’s makes extraordinary super-premium all-natural, organic, and biodynamic pasta sauces. Nellino’s is committed to helping in the fight against hunger through annual donations to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

  • Sonoma West Beauty (San Francisco, CA): Sonoma West is an all natural beauty and cosmetics company founded in Northern California.

  • Tracy’s Gourmet (Morrisville, NC): Tracy’s Gourmet® sells healthy artisan foods made from high quality ingredients that are clean, flavorful and fun without compromise.

  • Wotter (Cary, NC): Wotter is a modern athletic swim gear brand that celebrates and elevates female swim athletes. We employ tech crafted materials and female forward styling to foster individual expression, self confidence and lifelong retention of girls in the sport of swim.

Moving to Durham

Yelitsa Jean-Charles, Founder and CEO of Healthy Roots Dolls applied to participate in Startup Stampede without ever visiting the Triangle.

“I’d never been to Durham or heard anything about it,” said Jean-Charles. “But the reason I applied is that there are rarely opportunities where accelerators or incubators are looking for consumer product companies.”

Jean-Charles launched Healthy Roots Dolls to show girls they can be beautiful no matter what they look like. They raised more than $50,000 in their successfully funded Kickstarter campaign—a successful crowdfunding campaign is one of the prerequisites for all companies—and have launched their first product.

“Startup Stampede will help us with our execution and allow us to achieve our mission of empowering young girls of color,” said Jean-Charles. “I want to build an empire. I want to truly disrupt the toy aisle with great products that showcase diversity.”

So she’s moving to Durham. Part of the NC IDEA Startup Ecosystem Grant provides a housing stipend to entrepreneurs coming from out of the region.

2018 marks the fifth edition of Startup Stampede. The first three cohorts completed programs in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Klein worked with NC IDEA to relaunch Startup Stampede with a focus on consumer product companies in 2017.

“We saw a gap in the ecosystem,” said Klein. The Triangle is known for its technology and life science companies and startups, and support networks and programs are established for these industries, said Klein.

“Despite the lack of an ecosystem, over the past five years, there have been a series of successful consumer product companies that started in the Triangle,” said Klein.

A success story

One such success story is Tom & Jenny’s, a Durham-based candy startup that makes tasty and healthy candies that promote healthy teeth. Founder Tommy Thekkekandam participated in the 2017 cohort of Startup Stampede and has expanded from a digital-only sales model to 30 brick-and-mortar retail locations with an expected 100 locations secured in 2018.

“We really clarified our brand identity and how we present that to the world in our packaging and our website,” said Thekkenkandam, “and we got a lot more sophisticated about how we think about numbers, from our pricing to budgeting to tracking metrics.”

Startup Stampede provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn and implement, said Neal McTighe, CEO and Founder of Nellino’s. “The program is a perfect fit to help us reach our goals.”

McTighe plans to focus on establishing a strong e-commerce sales channel during the nine-week program. “Nellino’s will position ourselves to take advantage of the power of the digital marketing landscape,” said McTighe. “I look forward to being a part of the cohort.”

Nationally, there continues to be growing interest in consumer product companies. There’s interest in starting new companies and brands from entrepreneurs like those that applied to participate in Startup Stampede, says Klein, but there’s also significant interest from investors and from large companies that are seeking to acquire new brands.

“There is interest in this market,” said Klein, “and there are investors that plan to make investments in consumer product companies, even though they’re not organized yet.”

The 2018 Startup Stampede begins on Thursday, March 1 and wraps up on Friday, May 4. Founders will invest 20–25 hours per week in Startup Stampede programming in addition to operating their businesses.

Author’s disclosure: Jason H. Parker is a partner and investor in one of the companies selected for the 2018 Startup Stampede cohort, Brothers Vilgalys Spirts Company.