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Durham to stuff the next big thing in a tiny little office

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Sometime in May, you’re going to be walking down Main street in Downtown Durham and pass by a glass-encased habitat at the front of a well-known coffee shop where a single entrepreneur or team of entrepreneurs will be feverishly working for your enjoyment.

You may stop in for a delicious coffee, you may just watch for a few minutes while lines of code are slung at some business problem that needs fixing. But when you walk away and go about the rest of your day, you’ll be thinking, “I should have thought of that.”

The Smoffice

You’ll be peering through the glass at The Smoffice, a so-crazy-it-has-to-work partnership between the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc., Beyu Caffe, and a host of other local sponsors.

The idea is to give a single startup six months of free space in “the worlds smallest office” in downtown Durham, driving home the point that a startup doesn’t necessarily need big or fancy or cash or backing, but simply a great idea fostered in a stimulating and supportive environment.

smoffice

It’s a rather artful statement on Durham as an up-and-coming startup ecosystem.

Of course, there are other bells and whistles, but these are grass roots bells and whistles, most importantly a nearby condo for potential out-of-town candidates, and also free custom office furniture, a tablet, assistance from experts in legal, accounting, and marketing, and finally connections to over 70 of the startups in downtown Durham.

The application process starts Wednesday, 2/29 (Leap Day, just to drive the quirkiness home), and more info can be found on http://www.thesmoffice.com

I’ll wait while you turn your world back rightside up.

So Who Did Think of That?

When people ask me how Durham has come from seemingly nowhere to emerge overnight as the most hypeworthy startup hub of the east coast, I give a varying array of reasons: The establishment of the American Tobacco Complex downtown, the low cost of space, the growing number of privately run support organizations, elves, etc. But usually I include one specific thing.

Or rather dude. Adam Klein at the Durham Chamber.

Klein is one of those guys you see at all the startup-related events in the area, from the smaller, street-level meetups to the big fancy conferences. Because he’s so much better looking than me, I tend to stay away from him, but I have gotten to know him, and I’m floored by the things he’s done, and the things he didn’t do, to contribute to the growth of Durham’s startup scene.

When people think of the Durham Chamber, which admittedly isn’t very often because of the fact that 90% of what they do is support behind the curtain, they think of things like Startup Stampede, a program that put a handful of budding startups into a downtown Durham space with infrastructure and mentoring – like an accelerator, but without the cash and investment components, although said investment was in Durham itself.

See? Sneaky.

How to Start a Startup Stampede: Step 1 = Don’t Start a Startup Stampede

Klein now advises other chambers and government organizations from locals to regionals to the National Chamber on how to build a localized startup culture into a Stampede. His primary advice: Don’t do it, or rather, don’t start with the event, there’s a lot of prep work to do first.

For all the out-of-the-box thinking and risk taking that produced the Stampede, it was the months behind the scenes he and others spent talking to the local startup community and the greater business community.

This meant countless meetings with individual entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs, selling the benefits of Durham and listening, intently, to their needs and desires. This is not easy to do, since most of those lists of needs and desires usually start, ill-advisedly so, with “a boatload of working capital,” which of course the Durham Chamber does not have or have access to.

It also meant countless meetings with Durham companies, from giant corporations like HTC to establishments you wouldn’t expect to be a part of the ecosystem at all, like downtown’s Beyu Caffe. In these sessions, he’d sell the benefits of a sprouting startup community back to them, an equally difficult proposition when you’re talking about propping up a tax/customer base known for being broke and desperately seeking “a boatload of working capital.”

And finally, it meant getting out of the way — knowing what to provide, what to support, making it happen, and then letting it grow on its own, grass-roots, live or die.

I’m Looking at You, Every Other Startup Support Group

It took ages for all that to pay off in the form of Startup Stampede, and that, along with multiple other initiatives from both the public and private sectors, a metric ton of hard work from the startups themselves, a parsec of good press, and a half-dozen elves, is how the Durham startup ecosystem sprang up from “nowhere.”

With a couple of successful Startup Stampedes under their belt, Klein and frequent collaborator Matthew Coppedge from Downtown Durham Inc. knew that they had to evolve. They realized that in order to keep up with and properly serve Durham’s fledgling startup environment, they needed something new, something unique, and something bigger.

And because the Raleigh-Durham area has a reputation for being so vanilla that you can literally flavor your coffee with a few blades of grass taken from the finely manicured lawns of Cary, they knew it should push the boundaries a bit.

A bit.

So they went small.

A Tiny Window Into Durham

Klein and Coppedge know that there isn’t nearly enough attention on Durham as a startup hub, certainly within the area and definitely outside of it. So they hope that there are several marketing aspects that can be ramped up through the lifecycle of The Smoffice.

It will start with the application process, which will be worldwide and centered around the uniqueness of the space. This is not only meant to attract outside entrepreneurs to the program, but also serve as an introduction to the location and the culture, a huge and very important task in keeping the Durham startup ecosystem growing.

The marketing will continue with the live nature of The Smoffice itself, offering locals and non-locals alike a peek into how entrepreneurs can succeed in Durham, with or without a Smoffice and all the sponsors and connections, but because of a culture that promotes risk, acceptance, help, sharing, and support. At one point there was talk of a documentary, but I don’t know where that went. It’s a great idea though

Wish I’d thought of it.

Joe’s last column offered “Five Reasons why you need to be at SEVC”

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for automated content startup Automated Insights. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent, consulting marketplace Intrepid Company, and the Intrepid Media writers network. You can read him at http://joeprocopio.com and follow him at http://twitter.com/jproco.

Can Apple’s textbook tech help save U.S. education? (infographic)

Friday, January 20th, 2012

AppleApple’s recent entry into the educational textbook market with highly interactive digital textbooks available on the iPhone and iPad and the updated version of its iTunes U, which offers teachers digital tools, is its latest effort to modernize the U.S. education system.

A pet project of the late Steve Jobs, the digital textbook move is only Apple’s latest foray into the education field. Apple Marketing VP Phil Schiller says the company owes much of its early success to education, where its Mac computers were often standard equipment.

We’re not sure Apple can rescue education from its mounting woes, many worsening because of the economic distress of recent years, but technology can certainly help. Jobs isn’t the only tech titan who wanted to revolutionize education. Jim Goodnight, founder and CEO of Cary, NC-based SAS, has also promoted the idea of using technology to improve schooling and even supports a North Carolina high school putting some of his ideas to work.

OnlineEducation.net created this infographic asking, “Can Apple Save Education?”

infographic

Google best place to work; new Facebook Timeline apps; Lightsquared wants new tests

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Google+Google is the best company to work in 2012, displacing Cary, NC-based SAS, according to Fortune Magazine.

Fortune said, “Everything was up at Google last year  revenue, profits, share price, paid search clicks, hiring,” and “employee love.”

Boston Consulting Group claimed the number 2 spot on Fortune’s list, while SAS Institute slipped to third.

Facebook adds Timeline apps

FacebookFacebook has released more than 60 new apps to help members share more of their lives on its Timeline.

They range from apps that assist users in “telling their story,” whether it’s about cooking, travel, movies, or going for a run.

“Apps bring your Timeline to life,” the social network says.

“Once you’ve added an app, you can begin updating your timeline with your activities as they happen. For example, if you love design, shopping or fashion, you can add the Pinterest or Pose apps to make your favorite items part of your timeline,” it adds in a blog entry.

“If you love to cook, you can add the Foodily app to your timeline and share your latest dishes. If your friends have added the Foodily app, you can discover new recipes with each other, as you’ll see their updates in the ticker and their timeline, and possibly News Feed.”

The apps include Rotten Tomato (movie reviews), Pinterest, a virtual pinboard where people can pin things they collect online, and more. Facebook says developers will create thousands more in coming months. Just what we need, more ways to lose hours to Facebook, huh?

Personally, we’re not so crazy about Facebook’s whole Timeline thing, but some users seem to love it.

GPS industry rigs evidence, Lightsquared says

Gigaom.com reports that LightSquared has accused the commercial GPS industry of “rigging” government tests on potential GPS interference from Lightsquared’s proposed nationwide LTE network.

The National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee, or PNT-ExComm decided last week that Lightsquared could not build such a national network without interfering with GPS navigation devices.

LIghtsquared believes their are serious flaws in PNT-ExComm’s test process and is calling on the agency to conduct a new round of testing.

Lightsquared needs FCC approval to build its network, but the approval depends on the firm’s ability to show the LTE network will not overpower GPS signals.

The Royalty Exchange starts online auctions with music from Disney classics

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

 

Snow White

Frank Churhill's music catalog includes "Snow White" and other Disney classics.

By Allan Maurer

Would you like to have an income from the music used in classic Walt Disney’s animated features such as “Snow White,” “Dumbo,” or “Bambi?” Interested in acquiring an income stream that is also a conversation starter? Cary-NC-based  The Royalty Exchange, an online company created by the founders of SongVest, has begun auctioning royalty streams from songs, TV shows and movies.

The first auction, which began July 2 and lasts until July 16, is for the royalties oof Disney song writer Frank Churchill’s catalog. Churchill joined Disney Studeios in 1930 adn his work includes songs from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, ((“Heigh Ho,” “Whistle While You Work,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “I’m Wishing”), Dumbo and Bambi.

Churchill scored 65 Disney shorts, including “Who Killed Cock Robin.”

Buyers get a look at previous royalty income and details about the items for sale and compete in an auction. Winners will be paid royalties via organizations controlling them, such as BMI, ASCAP for music and the Screen Writers Guild for TV shows.

Sean Peace, founder and CEO of The Royalty Exchange and SongVest, is a tech-savvy computer expert with grew up in Henderson, NC, just 45 minutes north of Raleigh. He attended UNC Wilmington as well as UNC Chapel Hill, where he majored in economics. Upon graduation, Peace started three technology companies, one of which helped integrate technology into classrooms via wireless networks and connected teachers with common educational tools.

Peace tells TechJournal South the idea for SongVest, which is similar to The Royalty Exchange, but more focused on selling a piece of a song or a catalog as memorabilia than as an income stream, evolved after he had a conversation with Tia Sillers, a former teacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He met Sillers while he was a student there and she harbored dreams of becoming a songwriter, which she later fulfilled.

“She mentioned that at some point when she retired she would sell her catalog,” says Peace. A songwriter’s catalog packages the royalty interest in all of an artist’s work for sale to investors.

“People buy catalogs based on a financial multiple of how much it made over the last several years,” Peace explains, “paying 10 or 20 times the royalty stream.”

SongVest, though, only hit a small percentage of the market and it proved harder than Peace first expected to get people to understand the concept.

The Royalty Exchange uses essentially the same auction mechanics of SongVest, but the multiples on the music or other creative property being auctions is a modest 10 to 1.

Peace notes that “Royalties are fairly consistent and trend one way or the other. But there is a potential upside. It’s possible that an artist or song will suddenly get big. A song from an album might be used in a movie or on (the TV show) “Glee.” So you could have a little spike, although it’s not something you should count on,” he adds.

Buyers will get to see what they have on an online dashboard, and eventually The Royalty Exchange may add a social component so buyers can show people on Facebook or other services what they purchased.

Down the road, Peace says, he’s looking at the possibility of creating a secondary market for royalties for accredited investors.

 

InfusedCommerce makes it easy to create a Facebook store

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

InfusedCommerceBy Allan Maurer

CARY, NC – When Michael Bender and his InfusedCommerce co-founders created a technology that will embed a buy option directly into an online ad, it didn’t take long to figure out where to start offering it to customers. “We realized you could embed this technology anywhere, but the people we talked to wanted it on Facebook,” he says.

Michael Bender

Michael Bender

Bender, president, Brian Cary, lead developer, and Arthur Tew, business development manager, started InfusedCommerce in March 2010 and it is now one of the first companies in the Cary TechStarts+ accelerator.

“We started getting value from TechStarts Plus immediately,” Bender tells us. “There is a big advantage to being surrounded by tech people and startup people who have been there before. Even the water cooler talk is more interesting and applicable.”

In addition, the company gets advice from TechStarts+ head honcho, Bob Butler, himself a successful serial entrepreneur currently running BestThinking.com and ReallyWho.com in addition to TechStarts. Butler has a passion not only for helping other entrepreneurs but for boosting the Research Triangle area’s startup ecosystem to another level.

TechStarts Plus conference room

The entrepreneurial bug bit early

Bender says his own entrepreneurial instinct goes back to his childhood. “I was selling charm bracelets while everyone else was selling lemonade,” he says. “My mother was the bracelet manufacturer.”

He started a company to develop a wireless sensor network for construction site security when he graduated from college (with a BS in electrical and computer engineering from NC State) and got it in front of several local angels. But, says the 29-year-old Bender, “Most didn’t think I had the gray hair or experience to take it to market.”

He then spent four years at a software company which serves Fortune 1000 companies. He was responsible for a $500K business unit. He left his position in 2009 to help start Infused Industries.

Start a Facebook store in minutes

Facebook logoInfusedCommerce can quickly (within 10 minutes) create a branded Facebook store with payment and shipping options. That let’s the seller run exclusive product offerings, limited time promotions, on-going Facebook only deals, and promotion events that help grow the company’s fan base.

The Facebook stores integrate with a company’s standard processes. “We take a link from their products, a product feed, and enter than in our system,” Bender explains. “That sources the store with product information.”

Just putting products you can buy directly on a Facebook page does marginally better than a standard web site store, Bender notes. “A Facebook user education process has to occur so people know merchants are employing stores and Facebook is a place to shop.”

While that educational process will occur over the next few years, Bender says in the meantime, merchants can connect their products to Facebook promotions such as running a sweepstakes with a purchase component in the sweeps promo itself. “It reduces the friction on how you get there to make a purchase,” Bender says.

“That’s where a social media agency play comes in,” explains Bender.

InfusedCommerce also offers services to help make a firm’s “Facebook Commerce or F-Commerce” successful. “The business is pretty service heavy right now,” Bender says. “We help them identify what sorts of promotions work best.”

News feed product set for Q3

But the Facebook stores are just the tip of the InfusedCommerce ice berg. The company will also offer a technology that permits transactions from a Facebook news feed itself. It plans to start offering that service to help non-profits – and with the election year near – politicians, raise money.

The idea of targeting the political ecosystem will be “an interesting experiment,” says Bender. Facebook certainly attacts politically inspired comments, because as Bender notes, “Most people have strong views.”

The company plans to launch the news feed product in Q3.

For an article describing Go Smile’s experience using InfusedCommerce for Facebook Commerce, see:Solving Customer Experience Problems with Social Commerce: Infused Facebook eCommerce.

TJS article about TechStarts+ (it was orginally called TechSuites+)

FCC Commissioner questions state attempts to limit municipal broadband

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Mignon Clyburn

Mignon Clyburn

WASHINGTON, DC – Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn has issued a statement saying that state efforts to limit municipal broadband deployments are new obstacles in meeting the goals of the National Broadband Plan.

In a statement issued April 4, she wrote:

“I have serious concerns that as the Federal Communications Commission continues to address broadband deployment barriers outlined in the National Broadband Plan, new obstacles are being erected that are directly contrary to the Plan’s recommendations and goals.

“I recently learned that several state legislatures are considering bills that are contrary to the deployment objectives of the Broadband Plan. For example, in North Carolina, the state legislature is currently evaluating legislation entitled ‘Level Playing Field/Local Government Competition.’ Last week the North Carolina House passed the bill, and it currently awaits consideration in the Senate.”

“This piece of legislation certainly sounds goal-worthy, an innocuous proposition, but do not let the title fool you. This measure, if enacted, will not only fail to level the playing field; it will discourage municipal governments from addressing deployment in communities where the private sector has failed to meet broadband service needs. In other words, it will be a significant barrier to broadband deployment and may impede local efforts to promote economic development.”

Seven of ten worst broadband deals in NC

Craig Settles, of Successful.com, a consulting firm with a heavy emphasis on municipal broadband and government use of mobile tech, tells us, “What we have here is a handful of corporations going into some of the most broadband-deficient states in the country, and subverting communities’ efforts to claw their way into the digital 21st Century. These entrenched incumbents are trying to pass rules that would make even Google’s support (similar to the Kansas City Gigabit City announcement) illegal. At least we’re now getting some attention from DC.”

That’s not just talk. Bandwidth.com, which does broadband mapping, shows that seven of the ten U.S. cities with the worst broadband connections at price per Mbps are in North Carolina. They include Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Wilmington, and Charlotte. Columbia, SC, is also on the list. South Carolina is also considering a bill to restrict municipal broadband.

Congressional action needed?

Clyburn points out hat the National Broadband Plan recommends that Congress make it clear that “local governments should not be restricted from building their own broadband networks.”

“Unfortunately, ” she wrote, “this National Broadband Plan recommendation continues to be ignored by some broadband industry members that are encouraging these misguided efforts.”

She added, “Regrettably, North Carolina isn’t the only state considering such legislation. My home state of South Carolina has similar legislation pending, and the state of Arkansas is contemplating a complete ban on publicly-owned broadband facilities. I fear that preventing local governments from investing in broadband is counter-productive and will impede the nation from accomplishing the Plan’s goal of providing broadband access to every American and community anchor institution.”

Nationally, 130 communities own wireless broadband networks.

We have reported previously that the fastest and cheapest broadband networks are city run in the south.

A group called the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says that restricting municipal broadband would hurt job creation in NC.

Additional resources:

The municipal broadband battles rages on

Here’s an excellent resource with extensive links on municipal broadband efforts:
Baller Herbst Law Group: Herbst Law

States that have already passed laws limiting municipal broadband:
State Barriers to Community Broadband Services

Wikipedia entry on municipal broadband

Municipal Wireless Snapshot report:

Fast Company: Time Warner’s Antics in Wilson, NC Give another reason to snip the cable

List of municipal broadband network organizations.

An older, but contrary view from the Reason Foundation:
Municipal broadband fails again

Fastest and cheapest US broadband systems are city run in the South

For more on the commercial providers positions:

www.techjournal.org/news/article.html?item_id=7334

Cary-based Bandwidth.com connects with $22M from ex-FCC chair’s firm

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

CARY, NC – Bandwidth.com, which says it is the nation’s fastest growing phone network, and provider of Broadband.com business Internet services, has closed a $22 million private equity financing from Carmichael Partners. Carmichael is a growth equity investment firm that was co-founded in 2010 by former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and veteran private equity investor Brian Bailey.

Martin, a Charlotte native, is a graduate of both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University. Carmichael has offices in Charlotte and Washington, DC.  Bailey was a managing partner at Charlotte-based Carousel Capital, which focused on buyouts.

The funding enables Bandwidth.com to continue the company’s expansion into key strategic areas, such as the recent acquisition of 911 emergency services provider dash Carrier Services, and accelerate the already rapid growth of its small and medium business focused services, such as Phonebooth, Bandwidth.com’s  cloud-based phone service, which doubled its customer base in the last quarter alone.

David Morken, CEO of Bandwidth.com, said, “Carmichael is an ideal investment partner for us due to its industry expertise and its ability to help us capitalize on future growth and strategic opportunities.”

The company acquired dash Carrier Services in February and announced a landmark commercial deal with the Verizon wireline companies in January. Bandwidth.com completed a record-setting 2010, as it added thousands of new customers and became the sixth largest provider of phone number based services in the United States. In total, Bandwidth.com revenues will exceed $100 million in 2011.

The company’s business Internet unit, Broadband.com, boasts nationwide coverage in more markets than AT&T, Verizon and Qwest.

 

TechJournal South is a TechMedia company. TechMedia presents the annual conferences:

SoutheastVentureConference: www.seventure.org

Internet Summit: www.internetsummit.com

Digital East: www.digitaleast.com

Digital Summit: www.digitalsummit.com

 

Durham American Underground adds six new tenants

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

DURHAM, NC – The American Underground, which occupies the lower levels of American Tobacco’s historic Strickland and Crowe Buildings and is designed to foster collaboration among startups and small businesses, has added six new tenants.

The newcomers include Themis Media, Smashing Boxes, NC IDEA & IDEA Fund Partners, Sustainable Industrial Solutions (SIS) and Zetta Worldwide Tech.

“Locating to the Underground and being amidst Durham’s emerging startup scene  will allow us to be even more accessible and collaborative with entrepreneurs,” says David Rizzo, president and CEO of NC IDEA, which  provides early financing through grants.

“The ‘natural’ and organic networking opportunities that will present themselves just by being  right there at the center of activity will immediately prove invaluable.”

Adds Jason Massy of the energy efficiency-focused Sustainable Industrial  Solutions (SIS), “Since moving back to North Carolina, this is the first place that I’ve experienced in the region that has the organic startup  culture of a place like Silicon Valley.”

Wide ranging new roster

The Underground’s new roster is wide ranging.  Themis Media, for example, describes itself as “like Rolling Stone but for video games.”  Just down the hall, IDEA Fund Partners provides seed and early stage equity funding and expertise to niche companies  throughout the region.

“The scene in downtown Durham, especially at the Underground, is electric  and filled with optimism and creativity,” says Nick Jordan of the Web  development firm Smashing Boxes.  “The collective energy gives us entrepreneurs confidence that the things we are working on matter and will make a difference.  Entrepreneurs face an uphill battle when  starting a business, and being around fellow entrepreneurs is great  therapy to help you persevere.”

Sharita Lawson of Zetta Worldwide Tech agrees, “We wanted to be in an environment where we could pull from the creative energy of those around us and also receive support, both moral and professional, from individuals who have similar visions.”

Here’s a look at the new tenants in their own words:

IDEA Fund Partners, John Cambier: “Since 2006, IDEA Fund Partners has provided seed and early stage  equity funding, along with company building expertise, to IT, materials  technologies and medical device companies throughout North Carolina, as  well as the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

NC IDEA, David Rizzo: “NC IDEA is committed to supporting North Carolina’s economic development by helping young, innovative companies grow, create jobs and become major contributors to the business community mainly by providing early financing in the form of grants. By the end of 2011, we will have awarded over $2 million to 60+ companies.”

Sustainable Industrial Solutions, Jason Massy: “Sustainable Industrial Solutions (SIS) is making American  manufacturing more competitive and reducing greenhouse gases one factory at a time.  We leverage energy efficiency, paid-from-savings  implementations to embed sustainability best practices in a facility.”

Smashing Boxes, Nick Jordan: “We are a user-centric design and development firm that helps organizations build their brand, their audience, and their customer base through Web  and mobile technology.  We work with everyone from prefunded startups to Fortune 500s to nonprofits.

Themis Media, Alexader Macris: “Themis founds, incubates, and operates businesses in new media and interactive entertainment. Founded in 2001, Themis created one of the  first online social communities for games (WarCry), pioneered the first interactive gaming company to focus on community building, player retention and MMO support services (TAP Interactive), and founded the prestigious video game destination The Escapist.  Themis’ media properties reach more than 4.5 million unique visitors every month.”

The new crew joins ‘veteran’ Underground-ers Acorn Innovestments,  Adzerk, CED. Jaargon Ltd., Joystick Labs, LaunchBox Digital Preation and Two Toasters.

The American Underground is not the only place providing a collegial atmosphere and offices aimed at giving startups a boost. TechStarts Plus in Cary, which recently changed its name from TechSuites Plus, is also creating a startup friendly ecosystem. For more information see our previous story about TechStarts: www.techjournal.org/2011/02/techsuites-offers-tech-startups-bargain-space-incubator-like-ecosystem/

 

TechJournal South is a TechMedia company. TechMedia presents the annual conferences:

SoutheastVentureConference: www.seventure.org

Internet Summit: www.internetsummit.com

Digital East: www.digitaleast.com

Digital Summit: www.digitalsummit.com

 

 

NC-based Twongo holds its own competing with Groupon, Living Social

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

TwongoBy Allan Maurer

CARY, NC –Twongo, a social savings platform started in the Triangle in January 2010 offers 50 to 70 percent off local deals much like the ones sold by the 800-pound gorillas in the space, Chicago-based Groupon and DC’s Living Social. While it is currently only in a handful of North Carolina and Canadian markets, it is already profitable and plans to expand to 15 more markets in the next 12 months.

The company  helped residents of the Triangle area save more than $1 million on retail goods and services last year.

Some of 2010’s deals included discounts for as much as 70 percent off at local restaurants such as Jimmy V’s Steakhouse, 42nd Street Oyster Bar, Daniel’s on 55, Danny’s BarBQ, Peak City Grill and The Meat House .

The company also offered savings opportunities on services from businesses such as Aviator Brewing Company, Aveda Institute, Garden Supply Company, BodyLase Skin Spa, RightTime KiDS, Raleighwood Cinema Grill, White Oak Landscaping & Irrigation, Carolina Auto Spa, Rush Hour Karting and Triangle Segway Tours.

How did Canada get into the mix?

Founder and CEO Brad Halferty tells us the bootstrapped company will seek funding to fuel accelerated growth. Like its large rivals, Twongo wants feet on the ground in each new market it develops, so the 17-employee company will be doing its small part in reducing unemployment.

Currently Twongo operates in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Wilmington and four British Columbia markets. How did Canada get into that early mix?

“An investor there, Mike Minor, a former IBMer, was interested in the space and loved Twongo, so we licensed rights and they’re doing great,” says Halferty.

The company’s name derives from the Chinese concept of “tuangou”, or group buying.

The local deals group buying space is one of the hottest in the digital arena, with Groupon collecting $950 million in its most recent venture round and DC’s Living Social landing more than $230 million, including $175 million from Amazon.

“I monitor what they do, but I don’t obsess over them,” says Halferty. He notes there are new entries in the space monthly. Some estimates say more than 120 such firms are in business, most limited to only one or a few markets. Google, which tried unsuccessfully to buy Groupon, launched its own version and even the New York Times is getting into the act.

Consolidation, attrition expected

“I think in the next six months you’ll see a lot of consolidation and attrition,” Halferty says.

As for Twongo, he says he has ideas for expanding it into areas the other companies in the space have not yet tried, but would only discuss them off the record. Currently, it targets much the same types of businesses the others do, those with extra capacity and the ability to handle an influx of traffic without breaking the system, such as restaurants, spas and so forth.

One of the ways he says Twongo differentiates itself now is that it does not seek just any customer for its deals. “We don’t want everyone. We want the right customer with the most disposable income who will spend over and above the voucher and return to the business if they like it.”

So far Twongo’s strongest marketing has been word of mouth, although it does some online and radio marketing as well.

Halferty sees mobile as the driver for group buying deals in the future. “I think we’ll see a huge migration to mobile. The ability to get on demand deals will be huge and go hand in hand with electronic wallets. I think it will shake out the one trick ponies, the daily deal firms that are underfunded or not yet established.

Halferty says Twongo has already had numerous clients run repeat deals. “We work with closely with each client,” he says.

TechJournal South is a TechMedia company. TechMedia presents the annual conferences:

SoutheastVentureConference: www.seventure.org

Internet Summit: www.internetsummit.com

Digital East: www.digitaleast.com

Digital Summit: www.digitalsummit.com

MaxPoint nabs $8M for targeted neighborhood online ads

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

MaxPointCARY, NC – MaxPoint, a company focused on real-time neighborhood-level targeting technology for online advertisers,  has secured $8 million in funding led by Madrona Venture Group.

The Seattle-based investment firm specializes in funding early-stage technology companies. Trinity Ventures, which funded MaxPoint’s initial institutional round of $3 million in 2010, also participated in this round. This is MaxPoint’s second round of institutional funding.

“Since our initial round of funding last fall, MaxPoint has seen a strong acceleration in the growth of our company, as advertisers have been clamoring for a solution to successfully drive offline purchases by using online ad campaigns,” said Joe Epperson, CEO and co-founder of MaxPoint. “Our new funding allows us to accelerate our growth.”

“Over the past year, MaxPoint has been instrumental in proving to brick-and-mortar companies, the key to an effective online advertising campaign is measuring how well it drives traffic into an actual physical location,” said Len Jordan, venture partner at Madrona, who joins MaxPoint’s board of directors. “We are investors in MaxPoint because we truly believe the value in online advertising is in leveraging the neighborhood-level proximity of a qualified consumer base to a retail location. Such targeted advertising leads to the in-store purchase of the product featured in the ad served.”

To accommodate its recent growth, MaxPoint recently moved its sales office in New York City to a larger location in Manhattan and also expanded its sales team.

MaxPoint, which says it is the only provider of precision neighborhood-level online ad targeting, employs proprietary data-driven technologies to drive in-store purchases for national and regional brands.

By combining multiple data sets to form customized neighborhood profiles, MaxPoint identifies the best potential neighborhood for any brand – those both interested and capable of purchasing the product. To do this, MaxPoint draws point-of-sale data from retail stores nationwide, demographics, psychographics and other publicly available data sources – all of which contain no personally identifiable information.

MaxPoint then uses its Digital Zip technology to find the most qualified neighborhoods for the advertised product, based on the characteristics and interests of the people who live there. MaxPoint’s Digital Zips segment the country into 34,000 distinct neighborhoods, each with approximately 3,400 households, allowing marketers to pinpoint locations within a retailer’s trade area, more precisely serving their targeted online ads.

MaxPoint evaluates each individual online impression in real-time, delivering the campaign creative only if the impression matches the brand’s customized neighborhood profile – without using cookies as part of the solution.

TechSuites+ offers tech startups bargain space, incubator-like ecosystem

Monday, February 21st, 2011

By Allan Maurer

TechSuite+office

TechSuite+office

CARY, NC – Although a number of organizations offer startups incubator programs and even temporary office space in the Research Triangle area, most did not get serial entrepreneur Bob Butler very excited. “They get a lot of ownership for a little help and don’t focus on the things an entrepreneur really needs,” he says.

Boot camps are way too short at six weeks. “Six weeks is not enough to get you where you need to go,” says Butler. “You need a full year, at least.”

Also, he adds, “When you don’t have a lot of capital, you have to make a little money go a long way.”

What was needed, Butler thought, was something between Office Suites Plus and something such as Launchbox that has the “Ecosystem of an incubator, but for a longer time.”

Startups need professional guidance in areas such as legal matters and accounting that often eat up their limited resources. “I’ve seen them put $20,000 in development and $100,000 in organizing the business and expert services,” he says. “That’s just backward. You need to focus on getting a product and customers.”

Some other programs aimed at giving startups a ramp up boost tend to be “Fairly cynical,” says Butler. “They give you $20,000 for 8 percent of your company. It seems like more of a numbers game than building a long term business.”

So, Butler says, he created TechSuites+ to fill that perceived need for a different type of startup environment in which “We take some of the risk.”

The idea is to let the entrepreneur come in at greatly reduced rates ($400 a month for an office and a certain amount of professional business help) without giving up stock. At that stage, Butler says, entrepreneurs often have no clue as to what their company is worth and can easily feel resentful no matter what they give up.”

“This could get them to the point where they are generating revenue or get them in a position to negotiate an outside investment at better terms.”

Additional professional expertise will be available at greatly reduced rates, he says.

The idea is that TechSuites+ takes the risk and down the road there may be an opportunity to make an early investment or take a board seat, says Butler. A company that is really doing well may be able to stay two years, “But no one more than two. If you haven’t started growing by then, you have issues.”

The whole idea is to provide startups with incubator-like mentoring for a longer term with a hybrid model no one has tried before.

Several companies have already found them, Butler says, despite the fact that it just launched. TechSuites+ has space for about 15 companies. There is no security deposit, startup fee or termination fee. Participants can leave any time with 30 days notice.

Butler, who’s current company is Bestthinking.com, says, “As an entrepreneur myself, I hated all those commitments when I was burning my own money. So if they’re unhappy they can grab their laptop and head out the door.”

Why is he doing this, other than the opportunity to get in on the ground floor with innovative startups? “We’re making a stand to see if we can breathe some life into the startup community here,” he says.

Email  TJS Editor Allan Maurer: Allan at TechJournalSouth dot com.

TechJournal South is a TechMedia company. TechMedia presents the annual conferences:

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NC-based Securus acquires GPS tracker firm Zoombak

Monday, February 21st, 2011

SecurusCARY - Securus Inc., a provider of GPS-based products and technology selling safety and security applications, says its wholly-owned subsidiary has acquired substantially all of the assets of Zoombak from TruePosition, Inc. Zoombak a seller of personal GPS tracking devices that help people track the things that are most important to them, from teenage drivers to employees and automobiles. Financial details were not disclosed.

Zoombak’s award-winning GPS trackers are available in more than 12,500 retail locations through more than 100 U.S. retail partners including Best Buy, Radio Shack, Sears, Pep Boys, Car Toys and Amazon.com.

Chris Newton, president and CEO of Securus Inc. “Securus’ strategy has been to build market-specific product offerings and to deliver these through channel partners, with the ultimate goal of building out a retail distribution network for these products. This acquisition is intended to accelerate our business plan by providing us ready access to a developed retail partner network that the Zoombak team has skillfully assembled over the last few years.”

Securus currently offers portable GPS locators designed to serve various markets, including:

  • College Students and General Use:  eClick is especially designed for and available for use by college students and will soon be available as a general-purpose GPS-based panic button.
  • Special Needs Individuals: eCare is a personal GPS locator designed for individuals with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Autism and Down syndrome.
  • Law Enforcement: CatchAThiefGPS is designed to help law enforcement personnel recover commonly stolen items like bicycles, cars and laptop bags and prevent future thefts.
  • Pet Tracking: SpotLight and SpotLite are available to track pets with the help of the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery division.
  • Child Safety:  eSafe is a personal GPS tracking device designed to increase children’s safety.

M&A update: Teradata buying Aprimo for $525M, SciQuest acquiring AECsoft

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

TeradataATLANTA – Teradata Corp. (NYSE:TDC), which sells data warehousing and analytics, has agreed to buy Aprimo, provider of cloud-based marketing software, for about $525 million.

Combining these visionary companies positions Teradata as a leader in Integrated Marketing Management, Marketing Resource Management, and Multi-Channel Campaign Management, providing customers an end-to-end solution available in SaaS and on-premise environments,” said Mike Koehler, president and chief executive officer of Teradata.

Teradata says The Integrated Marketing Management (IMM) business is a growing, $5 billion sector and is emerging as a critical focus for businesses.

SciQuest acquring AECsoft in $13M deal

CARY, NC – SciQuest (Nasdaq:SCI), which sells software as a service for electronic procurement, is acquiring on-demand procurement and supplier services firm AECsoft USA and its Chinese affiliate in a deal worth $13 million.

If AECsoft meets performance milestones, it could earn an additional $4 million from the deal.

SciQuest launched an initial offering of stock earlier this year as it went public for the second time in the life of the company. It is widely viewed as one of the Research Triangle areas success stories.

Securus nabs investment from retail executive for GPS as a service apps

Monday, December 20th, 2010

SecurusCARY, NC- Securus Inc., a provider of GPS-based products and technology to address a new and fast growing segment of the GPS market, safety and security applications, has received an investment in an undisclosed amount from Dennis Eck, a seasoned retail executive.

Eck will also join Securus board.

Securus has created a unique GPS-based technology platform, “GPS as a Service,” to deliver, along with its market partners, fully featured and customized safety and security solutions designed specifically for each vertical market.

The company plans to leverage this technology platform and use the new investment capital for company expansion with an emphasis on bolstering its sales and marketing to accelerate growth into additional vertical markets within the GPS Safety and Security market.

Eck has been the Non-Executive Chairman of the Board Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance Inc. since October 2003. From November 1997 to September 2001, Eck served as Chief Executive Officer and director of Coles Myer LTD Australia, one of Australia’s largest retailers.

Securus, founded in April 2008 in Raleigh, has launched a product for the pet market in partnership with American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery (www.SpotLightgps.com) and says it will announce new products and partnerships for additional markets in the coming months.

Previously on TechJournal South:

Naples Ventures chooses NC firm Securus for 4th investment

Survey says: social media has vast, untapped potential for most companies

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

SasCARY, NC – Despite its vast potential, many companies have yet to capitalize on social media’s ability to not only listen to customers, but analyze conversations and turn the information into bottom-line benefit. Many organizations cling to old paradigms, using social media for one-way flow of marketing messages, instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to monitor, analyze, and participate in millions of conversations among consumers.

A survey of 2100 companies, sponsored by business analytics leader SAS, revealed:

  • 75 percent of companies surveyed did not know where their most valuable customers were talking about them.
  • 31 percent do not measure effectiveness of social media.
  • Only 23 percent use social media analytic tools.
  • A mere 7 percent are integrating social media into marketing activities

Overall, companies continue to search for ways to gauge and demonstrate social media’s contribution to the bottom line.

Using, but not exploiting

More than half the companies that responded are using social media. But only one quarter know where their most valuable customers are “talking” about them. Even fewer are applying social media analytic tools. Almost none have attempted customer sentiment analysis. Just 7 percent are trying to integrate social media into overall marketing strategy, such as campaign management, retail analytics, CRM and business intelligence.

“Companies are missing the chance to effectively market products and manage their reputations,” said leading author and analytics expert Tom Davenport. “They don’t know who’s talking about their brands, products or services, let alone the positive and negative sentiments. They can’t judge the influence of someone praising or criticizing them, nor can they test brand messages, videos, etc. In short, they’re missing marketing opportunities.”

Perception vs. proof among users

Many organizations seem more focused on “making noise” than understanding and participating in ongoing conversations about them. Half the companies using social media see increasing awareness of the organization and its products and services as the major benefit. Yet only a quarter thinks it’s working – a perception possibly constrained by the low use of analytic tools. Another 30 percent look to increase traffic to their websites, but, only 29 percent report collecting and tracking customer reviews online. It is striking that more accountable benefits are far lower down the list.

While 23 percent agreed social media helped them monitor what was being said, few described measuring the frequency of discussion about the organization as a current benefit. Only 18 percent could identify positive and negative comments.

The Benefits Loom Large

Looking to the future, 36 percent of companies surveyed plan to conduct customer sentiment analysis in the next two to three years. Some 33 percent are planning social monitoring solutions, 27 percent want predictive analytics and 26 percent will measure the impact of online conversations. Many hope to integrate social media monitoring with other marketing solutions, to understand not just what is being said, but who is saying it and its impact.

In July 2010 Harvard Business Review Analytic Services surveyed 2100 Harvard Business Review magazine and e-newsletter subscribers via an online survey. In addition, 12 in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with subscribers via phone. The full report, “More Than Talk: The Search for Impact and Analytics of Social Media Use” is available on the SAS website.

Today’s announcement came at a Premier Business Leader event in Las Vegas, a business conference presented by SAS that brings together more than 600 attendees from the public and private sectors to share ideas on critical business issues.

Netsertive closes on $4M raise for local ad targeting

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

NetsertiveCARY, NC – Online advertising services firm Netsertive Inc. has closed on a $4.08 million equity raise, according to a regulatory filing.

Founded in 2009 as AV NetResults, the company changed its name in April. It sells locally targeted online advertising services such as online search marketing to small and midsized businesses.

Principals named in the amended filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing the funding include Scott Newnam and Leon Shaw, both of Raleigh-based Audio Advice, a home entertainment provider that is a client of Netsertive.

For a recent profile of the company see this piece in Custom Retailer Magazine.

NC-based MaxPoint Interactive nabs $3M funding for local targeting

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

CARY, NC – NC-based MaxPoint Interactive has secured its first institutional round of $3 million in funding from Trinity Ventures,based in Silicon Valley.

MaxPoint will use these funds to expand and accommodate customer demand for its proprietary neighborhood-level targeting technology, which has increased in-store sales nationwide for online advertisers’ brands.

Leading CPG brands, retailers in multiple categories, financial service organizations, auto manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies are already successfully leveraging MaxPoint’s technology to improve in-store sales nationwide.

“Research has shown that over one quarter of online display ads are currently delivered outside the radius of a local store location. This means that national brands and retailers are wasting a large portion of their online advertising budgets, as these impressions are not driving in-store sales,” said Joe Epperson, CEO and co-founder of MaxPoint Interactive.

“By introducing increased geographic and data set precision into the ad targeting process, we can deliver neighborhood-level targeting on a national scale, empowering brand marketers to focus their ad spend on their prime target consumers living within the radius of the store.”

MaxPoint, the only provider in the marketing industry of precision neighborhood-level online ad targeting, employs two proprietary data-driven technologies to drive in-store purchases for national and local brands.

By combining multiple data sets to form Customized Consumer Profiles, MaxPoint says it can identify the best potential customer for any brand – those that are both interested and capable of purchasing the product. To do this, MaxPoint draws from point-of-sale data from more than 65,000 retail stores nationwide, demographics, psychographics and other publicly available data sources – all of which contain no personally identifiable information.

ABB to build new facility in Huntersville, NC, creating 100 jobs

Friday, September 10th, 2010

ABB truckCARY, NC - ABB, a power and automation technology group, has selected Hunterville, NC, for a new $90 manufacturing facility that will create more than 100 new jobs.

The new plant, located in northern Mecklenburg County and the greater Charlotte metropolitan area, will manufacture high-voltage land power cables for use in AC and DC applications.

ABB already employs more than 770 people state-wide in manufacturing and other facilities. This includes its Corporate Research Center, as well as the Power Products and Power Systems divisional headquarters for North America, all on the Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh.  The company’s North America corporate headquarters are located in Cary.

“We have a very good and long-standing relationship with the state of North Carolina,” said Enrique Santacana, region manager for ABB in North America. ”The combination of proximity to transportation, top-notch engineering talent and an attractive living environment made Huntersville an excellent choice for this facility.”

Initial site preparations are expected to begin early in 2011 with construction of the main facility—including an extrusion tower of over 350 feet—slated for completion in the second half of 2012.

The Huntersville factory will produce high-voltage and extra-high voltage cables that are increasingly being used to transport power over long distances from remote renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Hiring for job opportunities at the new ABB cable plant will begin in the second half of 2011, following plant construction. At that time, these jobs will be posted at www.abb.us/careers.  They will also be posted at the NC Employment Security Commission website at www.ncesc.com.

NC-based Clean Burn Fuels fires up with $3.4M

Thursday, August 26th, 2010
Clean Burn Fuels site

Site of the Clean Burn Fuels plant photographed at ground-breaking in 2007

CARY, NC – Clean Burn Fuels, a Cary-based firm building a $100 million plant to make ethanol from corn in Raeford, NC, has raised $3.4 million of a targeted $5 million equity round, according to a regulatory filing.

The company will be the first to make ethanol in North Carolina. It broke ground on the site near Raeford in 2007.

When completed, the plant will make 60 million gallons of ethanol a year from 20 million bushels corn annually.

The byproduct of ethanol production, Distillers grain, is a high protein low cost feed that will be sold locally to area feed mills.

The company says it will also capture and compress most of the carbon dioxide gas produced to a liquid form and sell it.

The plant will eventually employ more than 100 people, the company says.

The company disclosed the funding in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

RTP-based CeNeRx BioPharma closes on $13M round

Friday, August 13th, 2010

CeNeRxRESEARCH TRIANGLE, NC – CeNeRx BioPharma Inc., a clinical stage company with a new therapy for hard to treat depression, has raised a $13 million third funding.

Existing investors Perseus Soros Biopharmaceutical Fund, L Capital Partners and Pappas Ventures all participated in the financing.

The company closed a $9 million financing in 2009 that included a $5 million credit facility from MidCap Financial

It raised an $18.5 million first round in 2005 and a $15 million second round in October 2008, both also from investors Aisling Capital, L Capital Partners and Pappas Ventures.

It was also one of TechJournal South’s Biotech 15 firms in 2007.

CeNeRx plans to use the proceeds to conduct a Phase II trial of its improved formulation of its novel antidepressant TriRima.

“These funds will support the Phase II trial of TriRima as monotherapy for treatment-resistant depression,” said Barry Brand, CEO.

TriRima is a selective and reversible member of a novel class of drugs known as RIMAs, or reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A).

The triple action mechanism of TriRima elevates the levels of three key neurotransmitters that positively affect mood and anxiety, compared to the one or two neurotransmitters addressed by most current antidepressant drugs.

This triple action mechanism may benefit patients not responding to traditional single or dual action products, while the selectivity and reversibility of TriRima are expected to eliminate or reduce the risk of food-associated cardiovascular side effects of conventional MAO inhibitors.

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