Editor’s note: This is the latest “Startup Spotlight” story, a regular feature from WRAL TechWire.


DURHAM – The Durham Convention Center was abuzz Thursday as members of the start-up ecosystem gathered. Area founders, investors, and the supporting community came together for the second annual Grep-a-palooza.

The conference kicked off with a welcome by Triangle investor and serial entrepreneur Joe Colopy, “Godfather” of GrepBeat, the team behind the event. GrepBeat’s Managing Editor, Pete McEntegart, then took the mic to lead a fun Q&A with JupiterOne Founder and CEO Erkang Zheng.

Zheng shared the story of JupiterOne’s fantastic growth and unicorn status. Zheng spoke about working in small start-ups before beginning his own project when he found a new way to provide security improvements.

Zheng also recalled the start-up community when he came to the area 23 years ago.

“It was almost impossible for an east coast start-up to raise a million dollars. We’ve come a long way.”

Startup Spotlight: Q&A with latest NC unicorn builder – JupiterOne’s Erkang Zheng

Breaking Out

Grep-a-palooza is growing up. Last year’s event stayed in a single room; this year attendees had their choice of break-out sessions featuring panels on a variety of start-up topics.

Beginning the day, Jenn Summe of Primordial moderated a group of founders who went through Accelerator programs. Steve Klein went through YCombinator for his business Statuspage.io before exiting in a sale to Atlassian. Sonja Ebron of Courtroom5 and Cara Borenstein of Stashpad both participated in TechStars Accelerators.

While the process for all three companies was unique, the founders unanimously agreed that accelerators are worth the time and effort. Particularly for early-stage companies, or those without business foundations, the insights and value were “extraordinary.”

Anil Chawla of ArchiveSocial moderated a conversation about finding the product-market fit for startups. Returning panelist Ricci Wolman of Written Word Media, joined Drew Schiller of Validic, and Tai Hunyh of Acta Solutions. The group began with their “where we started – where we are” comparisons, demonstrating how far the companies have grown and the clear changes in tactics over time.

Schiller emphasized the importance of having successful connections with customers.

“Your job is to effectively communicate what they need,“ Schiller said. “You have to hear what they’re saying – and if they don’t understand what you’re pitching it’s not going to work.”

Hunyh credited moderator Anil Chawla for his support and mentorship, in particular for helping his team stay focused on identifying product-market fit.

“Think about ’Is this thing that you’re spending time on helping you move forward?’”

Investors Take Stock

After lunch, Hunter Young of CED moderated a conversation with investor panelists Jason Caplain of Bull City Venture Partners, Lister Delgado of IDEA Fund Partners, and Tobi Walter of Cofounders Capital.

The group started by acknowledging the downturn in funding this year. While it seems alarming to some, the panel confirmed that this is somewhat normal and a return to a more balanced cycle. Previous years have been exceptionally successful, with high valuations, and the panel expects this year to be more of a correction.

Young asked how the investors have seen the Triangle start-up ecosystem change over the years. The group recalled all the funds that have come and gone over the years but were in agreement that the Triangle is at a pivotal time. In 2022, only Florida, Texas, and NC had more funding than ever before.

“This is a really good moment for us, Caplain said. “We’re getting more firms saying they don’t want to miss the action and making trips here for the first time.”

The maturity of the ecosystem is also a positive. Delgado mentioned that he’s now seeing repeat entrepreneurs – founders who are on their second start-ups, coming back for new funding. But the panel agreed that there’s much more work to be done. Walter shared that while there are 1,050 VCs in California, in North and South Carolina combined, there are only 32.

“Start more funds,” he said.

Inside the world of millionaire tech entrepreneur Joe Colopy’s ‘Grep Beat’

Other Sessions

A panel of women spoke on the topic of Ecommerce and Online Retail sales. Kristen Baileys of Bake Eat Love, Niki Shamdasani of Sani, and Lauren McCullough of Tromml shared their diverse experiences and insights with moderation by ChannelAdvisor’s Suzanne Miglucci.

The event also included sessions on “Finding the Exit Door”, “Scaling from $1M ⇒ $10M+”, and “Going Green for The Planet and Profit.”

Bill Spruill of Global Data Consortium wrapped up the day with a Closing Keynote before the conference adjourned to Bull McCabe’s nearby.

In a chat with Joe Colopy about the event he stated that he would continue the event for “as long as we feel it adds value.” With a strong turnout and great conversations, it’s a safe bet we should be on the lookout for Grep-a-palooza 3 next summer.