DURHAM —Optimal Solar, a Durham startup that has developed a solar technology that is more efficient and less expensive than traditional methods, won the demo day event of the Black Founder’s Exchange program at American Underground at Main Friday. Optimal Solar won an all-expense paid investor trip to the San Francisco Bay area. Backstage Capital also offered Optimal Solar a spot in its upcoming three month accelerator program, which includes a $100,000 investment.

Reginald Parker, founder, president of Optimal Solar presenting at the Black Founders Exchange demo day. Copyright: Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved.

Runner ups among the ten presenting startups included Sightworthy , a Brooklyn, New York based company that transforms a brand’s exiting assets into 10-second social videos, which was second.

MedHaul , of Memphis, Tennessee, a startup providing transportation solutions to patients in distressed and rural communities so they don’t need to use emergency services they can’t pay for, was third.

Parker told the three judges, Brittany Davis from Backstage Capital, San Francisco, Leigh-Ann A. Buchanan, of Venture Cafe, Miami, and Phiderika Foust, of SilverPea Ventures in New York City, the company has already made $2 million in profits on an Atlanta project. “They came to us with a landfill site and said they wanted as much power as they could get as cheaply as they could get it,” Parker said.

Using land resources better is one of the advantages of Optimal Solar’s technology, he said, because it provides a higher yield at a 30 percent lower cost than traditional methods. Optimal estimated the project would save Atlanta $23.7 million over 25 years.

The company “Splits” incoming sunlight into chips to use 60 percent more sunlight with a 40 percent conversion rate, double that of traditional solar. Its chip system separates out the infrared light that causes a 25 percent heat loss in traditional solar methods. The company is seeking $500,000 to scale its manufacturing, obtain certifications, and hire additional staff.

Ten startups participated in the event, hailing from Los Angles, New York City, Nashville, TN, and Mobile, Alabama. Spa Utopia, also based in Durham, and Coworks, based in Raleigh, were the other startups from North Carolina.

Following the presentations, the startup founders had some photo fun. Copyright: Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved.

SPA UTOPIA is “Uberizing the luxury spa and wellness industry” said founder Naya Powell, a third generation entrepreneur. Powell, herself a massage therapist, noted that much illness is caused by stress. “We deliver holistic and customized spa services to our door within two hours,” she said.

Naya Powell, founder of Spa Utopia. Copyright: Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved.

Another primary market for Spa Utopia is hotels, including 17 in the North Carolina and Atlanta markets. “We delivered a service at the Durham Hotel just yesterday,” she said. The company has even worked with celebrity clients such as Martha Stewart. Many hotels do not have spa services, “So they welcome us,” she explained.

The company offers massage, manicures, facials and more with music, candles, and tea. Powell said the company is seeking $775,000 in backing but expects to make up to $12 million in its first year. “We allow our clients to experience paradise without the travel,” she said.

Coworks , based in Raleigh, helps co-working spaces, which have increased 180 percent in the last five years, automate their space, save money and gain and retain members, said DeShawn Brown, founder. “It’s an amazing software platform that allows community managers in these spaces to optimize resources. It includes a member and company directory, room booking, member billing, event management, and data and analytics features, he explained.

It’s a SAS model and co-working spaces pay a monthly fee.

Oakland, CA-based Resilient Wellness did not present. For a quick look at the other companies presenting and their web sites, see:


Here’s a look at the 10 startups heading to Durham for Black Founders Exchange


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