DURHAM – There are nine new NC IDEA SEED grant recipients from across the state of North Carolina.
NC IDEA announced the SEED grant awards, which come with a $50,000 non-dilutive grant with the goal of providing early stage startup companies based in North Carolina with funding designed to enable more rapid growth.
According to NC IDEA, the funds also come with offers of mentorship and guidance to the companies, and all together, the award may “push companies forward and reduce the risk associated with these nascent firms.”
The awards came after a rigorous application and selection process. Nine is the most companies to receive grants in any prior cycle, which has occurred twice yearly since 2006, and has now awarded more than $8 million in grants to 178 companies. The 2021 fall cycle is the 32nd for the program.
“We are empowering entrepreneurs to reach their full potential by funding them directly and working in partnership with others that support their efforts when they need it most, said NC IDEA president and CEO Thom Ruhe in a statement. “These awards are yet another direct investment in the equitable startup ecosystems of North Carolina that so many people depend upon.”
Acta Solutions LLC (Chapel Hill)
Acta Solutions was founded in 2018 by three co-founders during undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
“We saw persistent problems that technology could help solve,” said Tai T. Huynh, a co-founder and the CEO of the company. “The initial problem we set out to solve was improving community engagement by leveraging tech.”
“In the early days, we had a sizable group of students working on the company with us. So, it was a little chaotic and a lot of fun. Over time, we failed, iterated, and learned how to be better entrepreneurs along the way,” said Huynh.
The company is bootstrapped, though Huynh noted the company had applied to an NC IDEA SEED grant once before this cycle. “As our customer base is growing, this grant is coming at a pivotal point,” said Huynh. “The NC IDEA SEED grant means acceleration for our team.”
“The funds will be used to build out our customer support infrastructure to serve our growing customer base as well as ramp up our sales and marketing efforts,” said Huynh. Next, the company will seek to raise additional capital and grow to reach $50,000 in annual recurring revenue, said Huynh.
Beam Dynamics LLC (Winston-Salem)
David Kaszycki worked for one of the largest manufacturers in the film and media industry and would visit more than 250 film sets every year, working with engineers, technicians and creatives on set. According to Kaszycki, these professionals faced a challenge: keeping the thousands of unique pieces of equipment from hundreds of manufacturers in perfect working condition.
“When a piece of equipment had an issue on set it could cost these productions up to $50,000 per hour,” said Kaszycki. Seeing the need for a single user interface to bring product intelligence data across all of this equipment into a single user interface, he set about designing a solution that would reduce downtime on set, which he noted is estimated to cost the industry over $6 billion annually.
The company launched in 2019, with cofounder Ryan DeMars. In 2020, after the onset of the pandemic in the United States resulted in the shut down of many film and media productions, the co-founders continued to pursue the company. The company won an NC IDEA MICRO grant, which allowed Kaszycki to pursue the company full-time, and “take the next step for the business,” said Kaszycki.
The company has now also closed a pre-seed funding round, and was recently awarded the Pilot Innovation Award from an industry trade association, the National Association of Broadcasters. According to Kaszycki, the company also signed up its first pilot customers and paid accounts.
According to Kaszycki, BEAM will be adding a full stack developer and customer success manager to their team to help automate their onboard process and keep up with customer demand, and expect to add 5-8 people to their team in Winston-Salem.
CliniSpan Health (Charlotte)
“The origin of CliniSpan Health comes from a two-sided experience,” said Dezbee McDaniel, co-founder and CEO of CliniSpan Health. McDaniel noted in an interview that family members were adversely affected by drugs, due to incorrect dosage amounts and side effects that had not been discussed with their medical providers. On the other hand, said McDaniel, Dr. David Lipsitz, who would become the company’s co-founder and medical director, had been a physician and clinical researcher for more than 20 years and during this time, Lipsitz observed a dearth of participation from patients of color within clinical trials. “He knew that this meant that patients of color were also taking medicines that then did not affect them efficiently,” said McDaniel.
“[We] came together to solve this problem because [we] knew it needed a solution,” said McDaniel. CliniSpan Health started in 2018, but did not launch on the market until January 2021. Including the funding from this NC IDEA SEED grant, the company has raised more than $100,000 in capital, said McDaniel.
While all of the prior funds have helped the company learn more about their product-market fit, market insights for potential diverse volunteers, and more, said McDaniel, the funds from this grant will be put directly into business development activities like expanding the digital community engagement model, expanding the marketing team, and boosting paid and organic social media presence, McDaniel said. That will prepare the company for raising institutional capital, McDaniel noted.
Flux Hybrids (Troutman)
“The idea for Flux Hybrids came about around my second year of college when my Dad bought a new plug-in hybrid that was not the best-looking car on the block,” said co-founder Micah Ulrich. “It was hilarious to look at until I drove it and realized it was faster than my car and got close to 70 MPG. That made me realize that hybrid powertrains are just better technology, they’re more efficient and can provide better acceleration and top-end speed.”
Ulrich co-founded the company with Clay Dowdey and Cody Biedermann, with the goal of developing what Ulrich calls “a system that could make any car into a hybrid” for the trio’s senior design project while enrolled in North Carolina State University’s Engineering Entrepreneurship Program.
“After graduation in 2019, we were able to win enough funding to keep the dream alive and develop our first prototype in the parking lot of a local auto shop,” said Ulrich. “Once completed, this prototype truck went from 17 MPG to 34 MPG and with results like that, we were off to the races.”
The company has now raised $115,000 in non-dilutive grant funding and additional funding from Techstars Alabama Energy Accelerator, and Ulrich noted the company plans to raise additional capital, a pre-seed round, in 2022, in order to scale up production capacity.
Piedmont Pennies (Charlotte)
Becca Jordan Wright founded Piedmont Pennies based on her Grandbetty’s recipe. It was October 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting the economy. Meanwhile, Wright was in the second year of the full-time MBA program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and decided to start the company as a way to help friends and family “Stay Cheesin.”
Wright launched as a direct-to-consumer company, selling products online. That led to growth channels including gift shops and specialty grocery stores across North Carolina. According to Wright, the company now sells online and in more than 80 retail locations across five states.
This year was the first NC IDEA SEED grant application for the company, which hasn’t raised any other capital, said Wright.
“The funds will be used to hire more production staff, invest in product development, and run promotions in stores and online,” said Wright.
“I have always been passionate about mental health,” said Tyler Castle, the founder of ResolveX. “I remember going to the bookstore at seven years old, asking for books on game theory because I lacked words such as psychology or mental health to describe my interest.”
Later, during a conversation with a friend about Castle’s desire for companies to make progress in addressing mental health, Castle was challenged to design a solution to address the issues observed in the industry. “I had already been saving money to start my next business so the company was founded before the end of the day,” said Castle.
“We initially wanted to focus on suicide prevention from the start as we feel it is a critical limiting factor within the mental health industry,” said Castle.
Castle, who funded the company to-date, noted that the timing of the NC IDEA SEED grant “is critical for us as we support suicide hotlines as they ramp up their capacity and capabilities prior to a substantial increase in call volume and demand due to the 988 number launching next year.”
Now, the company will focus on milestones related to growth and expansion of services in North and South Carolina. “We will now be able to support key staffing and infrastructure expansions in parallel with our business development activities,” said Castle.
Niki and Ritika Shamdasani first incorporated Sani in 2017 with the goal of establishing access to quality South Asian formalwear in the United States. “After realizing that 82% of South Asian Americans waited to go abroad to get their cultural formalwear, we decided to design our own pieces from scratch and make them in India,” said Niki Shamdasani in an interview with WRAL TechWire. “Our initial approach of selling through pop-ups and fashion shows was taken to another level when we launched South Asian fashion on Rent the Runway for the first time in February 2020 to make this clothing accessible to non-South Asians and South Asians across the United States.”
The company applied to the NC IDEA SEED grant program three times, winning a grant during this cycle. Shamdasani bootstrapped the company, and this is the first outside funding the company has received.
“We are excited to receive the grant at an inflection point for the company,” said Shamdasani. “The funds will be focused on hitting new revenue milestones, specifically by testing scalable customer acquisition channels and speeding up our new product development.”
SnapPicFix is subscription based software for service pros to generate instant repair estimates for their new and existing customers. According to materials shared with WRAL TechWire by NC IDEA, the company’s proprietary technology uses AI/ML to enrich incoming requests. The SnapPicFix website notes the process: First, “customers find you and get in touch via phone, text, web, or lead generation service.” Then, the company’s technology product “immediately responds and finds the engaged customers that are most likely to book,” with the company enriching the lead, adding “useful information for your front office.”
Ultimately, the company claims on its website that its clients will save time and money during the sales and scheduling process.
Without A Trace Foods (Raleigh)
Brooke Navarro has a family history of food allergies that spans at least three generations. That can be frustrating, explained Navarro in an interview with WRAL TechWire. That frustration led Navarro to take action, starting a company to explore what could be possible in the creation and production of allergen-friendly, filling, on-the-go snacks.
“I hired a professional chef to develop recipes and did taste testing with people without food allergies and dietary restrictions,” explained Navarro. “Our food needed to taste great, not just ‘great for something that is allergen free’,” she noted. Next, she found and hired a food scientist to commercialize the recipes, then left a corporate job in 2020 to launch the company.
“We are really excited about increasing distribution and ensuring more families are able to more easily access allergen-friendly snacks,” said Navarro. “We are actively looking to add more wholesale customers—schools, hotels and offices.”
Navarro raised a friends and family round, and had previously applied to the NC IDEA SEED grant program one time. Now, her company will receive the $50,000 in funds. “It is a huge relief. For us, it creates a viable path to scaling and meeting our demand. We plan to use the funds to hire more staff and to purchase equipment to allow us to increase our production capacity,” said Navarro.