Friday, January 23, 2015

Calling all startups: Here's what's new with the Charlotte Venture Challenge this year

Stephen Howard, a UNC Charlotte graduate, won $5,000 last
year at the Charlotte Venture Challenge for his $3,000 MechBlocks, a
series of modular blocks and bearings for assembling devices. 
It's been tradition for the last 14 years: Founders of the Southeast's most promising startups swarm the Queen City and pitch their ideas to angel investors, venture capitalists and top executives for a chance at funding as part of the Charlotte Venture Challenge.

But 2015 throws something new into the mix.

Finalists in the competition, which in the past has attracted more than 200 early-stage companies, will make their pitches during the opening day of the Southeast Venture Conference, an assembly of top venture capitalists and private investors waiting for a chance to pour their money into hopeful tech companies.

Touting the tagline "where smart money meets smart people," the venture conference, entering its ninth year, was last in Charlotte in 2013. It was held in Atlanta last year, and has also been hosted in Tysons Corner, Va.,

More than 600 investors, tech scouts and Fortune 500 executives are expected to attend the conference, from Mar. 31 to April 2, at the Le Meridien hotel.

The opportunity to compete and pitch to hundreds of top-tier investors is big for aspiring startups. So, if you want to get in on the action, submit an application by noon Mar. 3.

The challenge is organized by Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte's nonprofit startup incubator.

Find applications for the Charlotte Venture Challenge here, and a chance to attend the Southeast Venture Conference on its website.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Charlotte small businesses keep changing hands at record levels

Dina Beam, regional director of Pet Paradise,
plays with dogs checked into the resort. Pet Paradise 
bought Bed & Biscuits in Lake Norman last August from 
original owners Susan and Dennis Meadows.
What do a coffee shop in uptown Charlotte, a Mecklenburg County motorcycle repair shop and a York County liquor store have in common?

None of them have their original owners anymore.

In fact, they were among the 13 Charlotte-area private businesses sold during the fourth quarter of 2014, bringing the number of Queen City enterprises to change hands last year to at least 67, according to numbers released Wednesday by, an online marketplace for small-business sales.

That's the highest number of sales recorded for any year since BizBuySell started keeping records in 2007.

The Observer wrote about small-business owners selling their enterprises earlier this month, when it seemed likely the Charlotte-area would outpace its previous record.

Third-quarter numbers for 2014 showed that at least 54 private businesses had been sold -- a 42-percent hike from the same period a year earlier.

The last time numbers were that high was in 2008 when 52 small businesses had been sold. The numbers started to dip in subsequent years, but picked up again in 2013 with 47 private business sales.

In the backdrop of the Queen City's small business deals is a spate of national merger and acquisition activity, which also reached record highs in 2014.

Nationwide, at least 7,494 small businesses were sold last year, a 6-percent increase from 7,056 in 2013, BizBuySell reported.

Experts attribute the surge to favorable interest rates, cheaper borrowing options and increasing confidence in a recovering economy.

Read mor

Here are some other highlights about the Charlotte-area this year:
  • Some of the businesses sold in Q4 were: a York Co. liquor store that sold for $150,000; a Cabarrus County child care center that sold for $1 million; and the uptown coffee shop, which sold for $237,500. 
  • The median asking price for businesses in Charlotte is $250,000. At the same time in 2013, the asking price was $226,000.
  • Businesses listed for-sale in Q4 generated median revenues of $500,000. In 2013, they generated $402,667.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

LockerDome names 10 Charlotte hubs jolting startup flurry

A new ranking praises Charlotte's "unstoppable" startup ecosystem, and names the top 10 incubators and venture capital firms helping to make it happen.

LockerDome, a St. Louis-based social networking site that catalogs users' interests and allows them to share articles and factoids with like-minded enthusiasts, has listed Packard Place, SierraMaya360, Ventureprise and RevTech Labs as some of the front-burner groups helping spur the city's startup scene.

Heading the list is SierraMaya360, an early-stage venture capital firm seeking to connecting promising startups with top-tier investors and notable celebrities.

Amish Shah

The firm is a re-brand of local entrepreneur Amish Shah and longtime investor Eric Kagan's original firm, Sierra Maya Ventures, that now includes two new partners, offices in Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and an enhanced mission to promote a client's startup in media and in front of tech-savvy investors.

Other Charlotte firms that made LockerDome's list include:

Read more about these incubators and hubs at LockerDome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlotte's T1Visions plants high-def touchscreen tables in Neiman Marcus

T1Visions, a Charlotte-based maker of interactive touchscreens, has landed its latest creation in a chain of deluxe department stores.

Interactive 32-inch high-definition retail tables now adorn the shoe salons of three Neiman Marcus stores in Austin, Chicago and Topanga, Calif. They allow customers to scroll through in-store and out-of-store inventory and add items to their 'My Favorites for Wishlist' at the touch of a finger, according to a news release.

The tables give store associates access to the most current inventory information, including what isn't in the store and what is "coming soon."

All the tables are touchscreen and built with a single continuous pane of glass that is customized in color.

T1Visions, founded by Mike Feldman in 2008 after a career in electrical engineering and micro-optics, worked with Neiman Marcus' Innovation Lab (iLab) to develop the tables.

OneShop, T1's proprietary retail software, powers the tables, giving them the infrastructure for customers to browse and filter through the store's inventory. It also supports a recommendation engine based on customers' browsing habits.

More updates to the tables are expected later this year. Makers hope the tables will one day be able to conduct transactions, functioning as a stand-alone point of sale in the store.

Last summer, T1 Visions was ranked at No. 456 on the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. The company generated $2.4 million in revenue last year, up from $212,000 in 2010.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Co-op opens studio space to Charlotte writers

Kathie Collins
Self-employed Charlotte writers no longer have to put pen to paper in isolation.

Kathie Collins, a local author and academic writer, is giving them studio space and friendship.

Collins, 49, recently started the August Moon Creative Co-Op and is renting out studio space in Plaza Midwood to creative professional and recreational writers tired of working alone. She wants them to congregate, she said, and tap into the "the power of group synergy."

The studio is a classroom in the Midwood International and Cultural Center on Central Avenue, near Zada Jane's Corner Cafe and Lulu, a French bistro. It comes furnished with a couch, throw pillows, WiFi, bookshelves and a dry erase board.

She's charging co-op members a monthly $125 fee to help pay the costs of renting the room, which is $750 per month.

"It's really a beautiful space," she said. "It's this feeling of being in a school."

The studio space at the Midwood International and Cultural Center
Writers who can take advantage of the room include professional, recreational or freelance writers who might find it hard to focus on their craft at home. She's also offering to rent to artists or anyone with "good creative energy...interested in spending time with other people doing similar work."

The room will be available night and day, she said.

Collins, a UNC Chapel Hill graduate and mother of five, is a published poet who has written Biblical reflections for the Educational Center in Charlotte.

Anyone interested in renting studio space can contact Kathie Collins at 704-458-3293 or The co-op meets at the Midwood International and Cultural Center, Suite 302 at 1817 Central Ave.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Klassic Rides in Lincoln Co. under new ownership

Three former customers and the founder's son have officially assumed ownership of Klassic Rides, a Lincoln County automobile restoration shop specializing in vintage and classic cars.

Klassic Rides announced its new owners on Thursday.

The business is housed in a 20,400-square-foot facility in Denver with 22 employees, generated about $2 million in revenue this year and attracts customers from the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The shop disassembles, reconstructs and restores muscle, classic and vintage cars from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Employees take pictures of the restoration process and post them online each Friday so customers can track their vehicle's progress.

The new ownership team includes operations manager Billy West, who started Klassic Rides with his father, Floyd West, in 2005; Fred Rice, a 70-year-old retiree; Olindo Mare, who serves as the business' sales, public relations and marketing manager; and Steve Lyon, a "silent owner" who lives in Vermont.

Over time, Floyd and Billy West developed a "difference of opinion as to what the future should be," Rice said.

The new ownership team at Klassic Rides.
 (From left) Fred Rice, Olindo Mare, Steve Lyon and Billy West.
"You have a 30-something year old son and a 60-year-old father with slightly different interests in what the traction should be," he said. "Fathers and sons, they get to the point where they have the contest of who is going to be in charge to go forward.

"As you get older, your risk tolerance goes down a little bit and you want to step back a little," Rice added. Meanwhile, "the young son is trying to put his stamp on the business."

Billy West reached out to three customers to see if they would be interested in becoming co-owners, Rice said. They agreed.

Papers were signed in January and it took the four owners about four days to gather the money to buy out Floyd West, Rice said. In July, they started negotiations to purchase the real estate -- a deal they finalized in November.

Rice declined to disclose the value of the deal, but said it was a "mutually-agreed upon price" with Floyd West, who is no longer associated with the business.

The company's vision, he said, remains the same: Continue to remain true to a commitment for "quality over quantity."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Survey: Small-biz owners upbeat, hopeful for 2015

Small-business owners are feeling pretty good about 2015.

Business owners are more optimistic than they have been in more than six years, and are feeling the most cheerful about the year ahead since the Great Recession, according to the most recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index Survey.

The fourth-quarter survey, which polled private business owners for a week last month, returned a Small Business Index score of "positive 58," up from a "positive 49" in July and up 34 total points from a year ago.

The score is the highest its been since January 2008 when it was a "positive 83."

The survey cites several reasons for their cheery dispositions, including:

  • More than 70 percent of small-business owners feel their company's financial situation will be very or somewhat good over the next year.
  • Hiring will increase as 26 percent of small-business owners reported they plan to increase the number of jobs at their companies "a little or a lot."
  • Business owners plan to make investments in their businesses over the next year with 29 percent of them expecting to increase the amount of money they spend on capital.
  • And, more than 50 percent of business owners expect their company's revenues to increase a little or a lot. Only 14 percent expect a decrease.
But, the survey isn't all smiles. Business owners listed attracting customers and new business among their top concerns for next year, followed by government regulations and financial stability. 

The survey also questioned small-business owners about health insurance coverage, with 56 percent of them reporting that they believe the cost for healthcare in 2015 will result in some kind of financial hardship. In 2015, 25 percent of small-business owners plan to offer health insurance options for their employees, up from 19 percent in 2010.