Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Investors up prize to $1.5 million for 6 companies in CLT Startup Grind

After listening to four hours of pitches and presentations, three top-tier investors upped the prize in a Charlotte startup competition Tuesday night to $1.5 million for six early-stage companies that made it hard to choose one winner.

Robert Grajewski and Kenneth Paulus, both of Edison Medical, and Amish Shah, founding partner of venture capitalist firm SierraMaya360, were supposed to crown one company as the champion of Startup Grind Charlotte, a two-round pitch contest that put $250,000 in possible funding on the table for the last startup standing.

But after whittling down the contenders to six finalists, the investors decided to offer their six favorite startups a potential $250,000 each in funding, which totals a $1.5 million total investment.

"We were impressed with the companies," Shah said.

"...I was floored," said Startup Grind Charlotte's director Jeff Brokaw about the six winners. "I can't say enough about how great this is for the local startup community."

Each company will meet with partners at SierraMaya360, Edison Medical or Enventys to help refine their business models, brainstorm their needs and benefit from referrals and advisory services. Grajewski also agreed to help two additional startups specializing in medical technology.

Twenty-two startups were set to pitch at the competition, held at Enventys' Ellis Street office where the PBS show "Everyday Edisons" is filmed. They had 60 seconds to pitch their innovative ideas, which ran the gamut -- from technology to aid the visually impaired to a mother of nine specializing in brand consulting.

Some used gadgets and props, while others relied on clever phrases, punchy cliches and interaction with the audience to make an impression.

The judges grilled them with questions about their expansion plans, exit strategies, revenue models, sales numbers and their "secret sauce."

It was standing room only for much of the night, at least until the first round ended and the beer and pizza started to run low.

The six companies named winners in the competition include:

  • Evolution Ortho: A company that makes and sells specialized and stylized orthopedic shoes for children and young adults. Founder Rahsaan Kearney, a former professional football player and past Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Power Up winner, says the company already uses a manufacturer in China and has generated a $320,000 net profit. He started the business when he realized the reason his father, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was reluctant to get out of bed was because he did not like his orthopedic shoes.
  • Cathedral Leasing: An online platform that helps companies find and compare offerings for leasing manufacturing equipment. It's the fourth startup for founder Doug Speight, who described the company as the "Lending Tree" for the equipment leasing industry.
  • Nimbus: A digital loyalty software that integrates credit card payment systems with gift rewards programs, allowing retailers to process Bitcoin and coupons and track a customer's shopping habits. Founder Raymond Fosdick told judges he's invested more than $1 million of his own money into the company and was on the prowl for venture capitalist funding. 
  • BrewPublik: A customized subscription craft-beer service in which its founders lead customers to their website, allow them to indicate their craft beer tastes and preferences and then deliver that beer to customers right at their doorstep. Founders Charlie Mulligan and Zach Jamison said they've created a database of 700 craft beers for customers to choose from, and generated about $15,000 in revenue since starting several months ago.
  • Collar Perfect: A company that has created a portable device meant to mitigate the tedium of ironing. The travel-size gadget irons out wrinkles in historically hard-to-reach places, such as collars, creases, between buttons and pockets. Founder Brandon Dierker expects to generate about $250,000 in revenue in Collar Perfect's first year, but sought additional funding to hire a sales staff and support his inventory. 
  • Clinician Reports: A peer-approved directory of medical products that acts as a search engine to help healthcare professionals find specific tools for their work. Right now, owner Michael Lower sends the directory to doctors, nurses and physician's assistants as an e-newsletter..