RALEIGH — 2019 was a big year for startups in the Triangle ecosystem. A bunch of homegrown companies declared themselves “unicorns” — a term coined for firms with a valuation topping more than $1 billion. And good many others are on their way there.
Then there’s the rising reputation of the region as a whole. Durham’s low rent, startup scene and hyper-educated workforce landed it a prime spot of No. 3 on Inc. magazine’s Surge Cities list, a guide to the 50 best cities for startups in 2020. Meanwhile, Raleigh was listed as one of the top cities in the US for women to start a business based on data compiled by Business.org.
As part of a series of articles looking back at the top stories that defined the year, here’s a snapshot of some of the most clicked on startup stories:
It wasn’t WeWork’s year, to say the least. From it’s failed IPO to SoftBank’s $1.5 billion bailout, the co-working firm — with six offices in North Carolina — hit one bump after another. But it was its toxic office phone booths that proved to be the kicker. In October, the firm has to scramble to remove around 1,600 retro phone booths from its U.S. and Canada locations after elevated levels of formaldehyde were detected inside the booths. Exposure at elevated levels can cause eye, skin, nose and throat irritation, and potentially some types of cancer. The company rectified the problem, but it certainly didn’t help its reputation. Hopefully, 2020 will have much better in store.
In March, pet treats startup, Zookies Cookies – founded by Raleigh locals Justin Miller and Tom Simon – appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and got some tails wagging with offers. In the end, the Zookies duo went with Drybar founder Alli Webb’s slightly more favorable offer to invest $50,000 for a 30 percent stake in the company. In the first 12 hours after the show aired, Zookies has received more than 1,000 orders. And counting.
In October, Epic Games is expanding its headquarters in a big way to accommodate up to 2,000 employees. However, the Cary-based games developer and creators of global-hit Fortnite stressed that this does not necessarily mean new hires, however. The plans include adding a 450,000- to 500,000-square-foot facility on its campus at the corner of Crossroads Boulevard and Jones Franklin Road, a property that Epic has owned since 2015. Additional improvements are also planned for its current campus, and Epic said it is working with the Town of Cary to ensure compliance with applicable ordinances and regulations.
Get Spiffy, an on-demand car care, technology, and services company based out of RTP, is on the rise and continues to gobble up its competitors. Among its recent acquisitions: Your Location Lubrication (YLL) and NuWash. Back in June, Spiffy closed on more than $10 million in new venture capital, adding six markets and a new fleet management service. The startup is now in 20 markets with more than 200 vans and 300 technicians. Founded in 2014 by Karl Murphy and Scot Wingo, Spiffy offers a variety of hand car washing, advanced detailing, oil change and maintenance service options. Customers can schedule in less than two minutes with the Spiffy app.
In September, the Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity firm Agari has picked the Oak City for its new innovation hub. Playing off Amazon’s HQ2 project, Agari says Raleigh is the site for its own HQ2.The expansion means upsizing into a 5,000-square foot office at 227 Fayetteville Street – and almost doubling its workforce, from 28 to 40 jobs by the end of the year. The average salary: $130,000 a year. Founded in 2009, Agari is a cloud-based cybersecurity firm specializing in email scams.
A Raleigh-based startup called OnPoint is looking to bring a new kind of high-tech, activity-based shooting center to the Oak City soon. And unlike traditional ranges, they say, it’s one where women and young adults will feel welcome. The announcement came in November that the Raleigh OnPoint facility is currently under construction at 3501 Spring Forest Road. It is expected to be open in the spring of 2020.It will include “plenty of natural light” and large viewing windows to the ranges with comfortable seating, workspaces and high-speed internet. There will also be a communal area, “dynamic target systems,” custom movement-based training programs and OnPoint’s proprietary gamification technology.
In March, Brooks Bell, 38, founder and CEO of the brand consulting firm that bears her name, announced that she was stepping away from her role after being diagnosed recently with colon cancer. Six months later, she appointed Gregory Ng as her permanent successor. Ng previously worked for Brooks Bell from 2008-2015 in various roles, including chief marketing officer, chief strategy officer and vice president of sales. Bell remains as executive chairman – a role she assumed shortly after her diagnosis. Now finished with treatment and in remission, Bell said she remains focused on her “health, thought leadership and the strategic direction of the company.”
In November, CloudFactory, a startup focusing on labor management using artificial intelligence, announced that it landed $65 million in growth equity funding. The uptick: it’s now even closer to its social mission of putting one million people to work through its platform. It said it plans to invest in three core areas: workforce development, global market awareness and business development, and technology advancement. Launched in 2011 at Techcrunch Disrupt, CloudFactory is billed as a successor to “crowdsourcing,” combining people and technology to deliver “high-quality data” to businesses of all sizes, from startups to large enterprises.
Triangle-based Vector Aerial, a provider of FAA-certified, licensed and insured unmanned aerial systems and services, announced it was arming CNN with a top-of-the-line drone and tether to cover crowd activity before and after the game at the Super Bowl in Atlanta in January. The tether, about the size of a computer cable, allows the drone to fly for two to four hours without recharging at 150 feet over the rooftop. Founded in 2014, bootstrapped Vector Aerial, based in Apex, has been “primarily a defense contractor,” but is expanding its commercial use activities and on emerging technologies, said co-founder and company President Luke Layman in an interview with WRAL TechWire.
It was a great year for Pendo. In May, the fast-growing Raleigh cloud tech firm announced plans to locate its new headquarters in a new office tower from The Fallon Company, currently under construction. The clincher: its vivid logo will stand on top the tower as part of the agreement, visible for many miles. Then in October, it officially became a “unicorn” with a $1 billion valuation after after securing $100 million in its round of funding. Founded in 2013, Pendo has been growing consistently at a rate of “100 percent year over year,” Olson told WRAL TechWire in June as part of an extended interview. The startup has more than doubled in size – from 174 to 400 employees – in just the last 18 months. It’s also expanded into Europe, acquiring Receptive Software Limited, a privately held SaaS company based out of Sheffield, England, earlier this year. It’s also on track to employ 1,000 people worldwide by the end of 2023, creating 600 new jobs in Raleigh alone over the next five years and investing $34.5 million investment in Wake County.