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Durham-based InrFood: you are what you eat

Thursday, April 24th, 2014



By Allan Maurer


Several years ago, watching his weight, like the rest of us, Keval Meta, founder and CEO of, was drinking a diet soda. “That’s not really very healthy for you,” a friend told him.Inrfood logo

“What do you mean?” he asked. “Zero calories and carbs, what could be wrong?”

“Read the ingredients,” his friend said. He did. The results disturbed him, because there was a wide range of controversial information about the ingredients in that cola, from the sweetener Aspartame to food coloring.

Although he completed medical school, Meta never practiced. The entrepreneurial bug caught him instead and at 33, he’s already launched and sold two companies. Inrfood, is his third, which he founded in 2011 in Durham. He took a hiatus after medical school to work with clinics in Africa, and to work in research when he returned to the states.

Technology the only answer

But he grew increasingly interested in how technology was the only answer to solving the nation’s serious healthcare problems. “I saw that problem getting bigger and technology is the only answer.”

So he founded Originally headquartered at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, the company has since gone virtual and has offices in Austin, TX, and Boston, MA.

bananaStill, Meta calls it “A community company,” because of its ties to scientists, nutritionists and others at Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and other regional connections. “We’re heavily embedded with Duke, NC State, UNCC, local farmers.”

Inrfood currently offers smartphone apps that tell users what’s in what they eat, and that’s important because “You are what you eat,” Meta says.

“We believe that when you think of the word nutrition, it’s about more than food,” he adds.

Foods today more chemistry than biology

A lot of foods today, he says, “Are more chemistry than biology. You almost need a Ph.D to pronounce the names of the additives. Many of those are banned in multiple countries around the world, event though they’re approved in the U.S, labeled as “Generally Regarded as Safe,” when they may be carcinogens.

When it comes to weight – the factor that spurred the creation of the company – he says, “You need to look at more than calories. You need to look at the ingredients and what they mean to you.”

Right now, he says, the company is geared toward helping people with a variety of chronic conditions create a healthy diet. Based on a users height, weight, sex, and other factors, it can tell you what you need…and what you don’t, based on Institute of Medicine guidelines.

It can yield some surprises. For instance, the average 35-year-old male should get about 1500 milligrams of sodium daily, but instead, most get about 3500. “That’s one reason for the problems we have with high blood pressure and heart disease,” he notes.

The app learns what a user consumes over time and will advise on what may be lacking in a diet and how to get needed nutrients. “Everyone is different,” he says. “A peanut can affect one person profoundly, but not affect a million other people.”

Uses Huge database

cookiesThe company’s database already has ingredients of 450,000 bar-coded products, 50,000 products from top national restaurants, and hundreds of products without bar-codes such as the basic ingredients of tuna casserole and chocolate chip cookies.

The two-employee company, which also uses freelancers and part-timers, bootstrapped up to now – meaning self-funded – will probably look for funding from investors in the spring to initiate projects beyond the scope of its current operations. “We see opportunities more capital intensive than our current projects,” says Meta.

Meta previously founded two other healthcare focused companies – one that provided first aid (GoToAid) and disaster recovery information and alerts and another that provided information on pet first aid (Petsaver), each of which sold to two of the largest healthcare organizations for people and for pets.

Goal? Empowering you

“Our goal, overall,” Meta says, “Is that we want you to be empowered. We don’t tell you not to eat anything. Consumers have the power to decide what to buy and vote with their dollars. We’re trying to help people buy healthier products. That’s our core mission. To let people know what’s in their food and be wiser about what they’re consuming.”

Located in Durham’s American Underground facility for startups until April, the company also completed a stint with the Boston, Mass, Challenge, which selects about 120 startups from 2,000 applications for an incubator session. It won an innovation award from Blue Cross Blue Shield in October, and was among the top 25 healthcare innovations at CES in Los Vegas. It also won an award from the Perkins Institute for the Blind.

In June, it won a $50,000 grant from NC IDEA. It also won the startup pitch contest at the recent Internet Summit in Raleigh, an annual event bringing 2,000 attendees and speakers from top brands including Google, Bing, Twitter, Adobe, and many others to the Research Triangle in November.

The company actually had a demo table at the Internet Summit two years ago and Meta says before coming, he bought some McDonald’s French Fries to show their ingredients. “We’ve had those fries ever since and they didn’t turn black or green or anything. It’s plastisized food.”

Presenting at the Southeast Venture Conference in May

sevc 2014 logoThe company will also be pitching its wares to investors at the upcoming TechMedia 2014 event, the Southeast Venture Conference coming up May 6-7, 2014 at the Ritz Carlton, Atlanta.

SEVC plays host to the most dynamic high-growth companies in the Southeast alongside billions of dollars represented in investment capital from around the country – May 6-7, 2014 at the Ritz Carlton, Atlanta.

The conference features and highlights the region’s all-star tech companies ranging from startups to late stage from a range of industries. In order to receive an invitation, the over 50 featured presenting companies have demonstrated proven success metrics – ranging from strong proven revenue and market traction for later stage companies to initial investor and organization miles for mid-range companies to proven management or other 3rd party validation (winners from other regional investment forums, etc) for earlier stage companies.


Durham-based ArchiveSocial selected for Code for America Accelerator program

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013
Anil Chawla

Anil Chawla, founder, CEO, Archive Social..

Durham-based ArchiveSocial has been selected out of 190 national applicants to join the Code for America Accelerator, an exclusive four-month program focused on startups disrupting the state of technology in the public sector.

ArchiveSocial CEO Anil Chawla tells the TechJournal, “We receive an equity-free $25,000 grant, get to spend a week in their San Francisco headquarters each month for four months (Aug – Nov), and receive mentoring from high-caliber folks like Tim O’Reilly and Aneesh Chopra. O’Reilly is credited with coining the term Web 2.0 and Chopra is the former White House Chief Technology Officer.

Impact government for the greater good

ArchiveSocial was founded in 2011 to provide business-grade record keeping of social media for a variety of industries, but quickly realized that there was a special opportunity to impact government for the greater good.

An example of ArchiveSocial’s commitment to disrupting the state of technology in government, the startup pioneered a first-of-its-kind interactive “Open Archive” of social media available for any citizen to access. The states of North Carolina and South Carolina were the first to launch Open Archives with the company, with other major cities and counties following suit.

Although the company will temporarily work from San Francisco for the four months of the program, it says it remains “dedicated to its roots in Durham.”

ArchiveSocial has participated in several local initiatives including Startup Stampede, Triangle Startup Factory, and NC IDEA. The company was also the first tenant of the highly-touted American Underground @Main campus in Durham, which is now home to more than 40 local startups.

“The local startup community has opened more doors for us than I can count, and I can directly credit our involvement here in the Triangle with creating this opportunity for us. We now hope to play our small part in building the bridge between Silicon Valley and the incredible talent, technology, and unique perspective that the Triangle community has to offer,” Chawla said in a statement.

ArchiveSocial enables public entities to safely and effectively utilize social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. ArchiveSocial is the industry’s first archiving technology providing 100% authentic capture of social media for compliance with state and federal records laws such as FOIA. It provides a legal safety net, and eliminates the time and effort required to respond to public records requests.

Chawla participated in TechMedia’s Startup Summit, part of the Internet Summit in Raleigh in November last year. The Startup Summit will again be part of this year’s event.

Underground at Main opening in Durham harks back to Internet boom years

Friday, July 19th, 2013

By Allan Maurer

Underground@Main, the downtown Durham extension of the Bull City’s expanding tech hub opened officially last night with a party that reminded us of the heady Internet boom days at the start of the century

201 West Main, a former bank building, is home to 40 startups in downtown Durham, NC. Photo by Renee Wright.

201 West Main, a former bank building, is home to 40 startups in downtown Durham, NC. Photo by Renee Wright.

The party showed off the site’s colorful and playful corners as well as its office and meeting room amentiies – such as a recreation room in a former bank vault.

The Vault rec room includes several flatscreen TVs, a virtual fireplace, comfortable arm chairs and sofas, and safety from nuclear attack.

The facility also includes Mayor McCheese, who has a loudspeaker in his generously-sized mouth, for issuing announcements, a 50-foot slide, a treehouse lounge, and old video arcade games, such as Pacman (but the controller isn’t very responsive and leads to being eaten by Pac creatures every time.)

One of the reasons startups love downtown hubs is that so many amenities are available within walking distance. Many restaurants located within a couple of blocks of 201 W. Main provided tasty treats for the evening, including the fine French restaurant Rue Cler, Toast, Beyu Caffe, Mateo Tapas, Taberna Tapas, The Parlour,  and The Cupcake Bar. Local breweries such as Railhouse Brewery supplied craft beers, while pro pourers from Bartending Unlimited mixed signature cocktails designed for the event.

The crowd circled the offices of the 40 startups already at home there, the downstairs area called the co-working Bull Pen, and other areas.

We’ll show another set of photos of the office amenities at the site in another post.

Here are some of our photos of the event (all by Renee Wright).

Mayor McCheese, who issues announcements through a loudspeaker in his mouth.

Mayor McCheese, who issues announcements through a loudspeaker in his mouth.

How's this for a startup amenity? A 50-foot slide.

How’s this for a startup amenity? A 50-foot slide.


Called The Pipeline, it provides a quick trip between floors.


The vault rec room.

The vault rec room. First to crack the vault’s code receives 6 months free rent.



The cupcake bar.

Inside the vault rec room, where you'll be safe from nuclear attack and just about anything else.

Inside the vault rec room, where you’ll be safe from nuclear attack and just about anything else.



Underground Main space adds another spoke to Durham’s tech hub

Thursday, July 18th, 2013
Underground Main

Underground Main

Durham adds another spoke to its growing reputation as a startup and technology hub today, officially opening a new American Underground location off Main Street called Underground Main.

Located at 201 West Main Street in Durham, the new space is an extension of the award-winning American Tobacco Historic District, home to the original Underground hub. The 22,000-square foot new space opens with 40 startups and has room for 50.

It offers a meeting rooms – one in a former bank vault – something a little different from the usual ping pong table, a 50-foot-slide.

For years we heard tech employees of major firms based in Research Triangle Park – only 10 or 15 minutes from either American Underground – lacked places to grab lunch, drop off your dry cleaning, or meet and chat with colleagues. While IBM and other large tech firms retain their somewhat less populated but still large campuses in the RTP, the startup ecosystem is blossoming in downtown Durham.

Original site designed by Disney

The original American Underground site on the American Tobacco Campus, designed by Disney, complete with a waterfall, running water canal, restaurants, shops and office space, offers much the opposite, a place where entrepreneurs, organizations such as the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and even venture capital firms can easily interact with others. Downtown Durham offers similar, if less fancy amenities.

The Underground model has earned national attention.

Recent visitors include John Biggs (TechCrunch), Joe Klein (TIME), Alexis Madrigal (Atlantic Monthly) and the President’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness, including G.E’s Jeff Immelt and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

Paul Singh, a venture partner with the national 500 Startups, visited recently, noting, “I’ve rarely seen an entrepreneurial ecosystem as thoughtfully developed or successfully executed as Durham’s American Underground.”

“At the Underground, we want to help launch businesses with truly innovative ways to serve real world needs and see them grow into full-fledged successes that produce good jobs,” says American Underground Chief Strategist Adam Klein.

“It’s no secret that the startup world is sometimes charged with being an ‘echo chamber’ that relies too heavily on hype. There’s not a lot of ‘hype’ here in Durham. Instead, we’re focusing on the pieces that make for real world success: good ideas, access to capital and mentors, and, ultimately, positive deal flow.”

Regional partners

Keen to capitalize on a regional entrepreneurial legacy that includes SAS and Red Hat, Underground leaders have recruited regional partners, including the Research Triangle Park Foundation.

NC IDEA — a catalyst for young, high-growth, North Carolina tech companies — will sponsor relevant content for entrepreneurs via events, networking and other programming.  Both RTP Foundation and NC IDEA are ‘founder’ partners as are Duke University, The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and Self Help Credit Union.

In addition to Duke, university partners include NC Central (which has an office @Main) and NC State (which has one @American Tobacco) as well as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Opening party

Opening party (Thursday, July 18) To highlight the region’s many attractions, including Durham’s burgeoning reputation as a foodie mecca, @Main’s opening party features eats and drinks from a variety of local producers. Railhouse Brewery, for example, is providing pours of its acclaimed craft beers. Republic Wireless is raffling one of its groundbreaking $19 per month mobile phone packages.

@Main’s roster includes: Archive Social, Duke University, Cloudfactory, NCCU,PopUp, Durham Cares, Sovereign’s Capital, Virtue Event Planning/ Tivi Jones Media/ Art of Cool, Zone Five Software, eyeNET Security, Knurture, PRSONAS, InfoHounds, ShiftZen,

Hazard Studios, Text2Give, 519 Games, Robotfactorial, Changemaker Capital, StoreHouse, Trust, LifeKit, Side, Z Shift and Third Track, Open’s Horse, Splitmo, CrowdSearch, Latitude, Growth Partners, Mighty Thumbs, Haiti Hub, Investors Mosaic, CleanHatch.

For more information, please visit

Automated Insights now offers plain English web analytics

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

By Allan Maurer

Automated InsightsIf you’ve ever spent hours digging through Google Analytics trying to find the stats that are meaningful to you, you’ll appreciate the new offering from Durham, NC-based Automated Insights called SiteAi.

The first-of-its-kind service helps website owners find the hidden insights buried in web analytics by providing daily and plain English actionable reports in email.

It’s the latest use of the Automated Insights sophisticated AI engine, which sifts through large data sets looking for patterns and trends. Previously the company sold Yahoo a product that automatically produces recaps of Fantasy Football games, cranking out 500-1,000 word articles for millions of players at the rate of more than 1,000 per second.

Automated Insights started life as the StatSheet network in 2007, a very popular college basketball stats site, and soon expanded coverage to MLB, NFL, NBA, and college football. It was founded by CEO Robbie Allen.

Expanding off its first base

Using no human writers whatsoever, it published tens of thousands of articles for over 400 team-based web sites, over 450 team-based mobile apps, and thousands of Facebook and twitter feeds. The websites and apps are data and visual rich, with articles, charts, lists, and feeds.

AI’s Joe Procopio tells us, “When we became Automated Insights, our goal was to expand off our sports base.” The company’s mantra is to automate everything. “We’re still working on automating our ping pong games,” Procopio quipped in an earlier interview.

The goal of the new product, he says, “Is to help website owners maximize whatever their goals may be, not just report the statistics. But it does save you from needing to click through all those charts on Google Analytics.”

Viral pricing

Joe Procopio at a TechMedia event. If you're in the Research Triangle and involved in startups, you've probably run into him. He gets around.

Joe Procopio at a TechMedia event. If you’re in the Research Triangle and involved in startups, you’ve probably run into him. He gets around.

The company is “Eating its own dogfood,” says Procopio. “We have hundreds of websites and its a huge time-saver for us, helping us maximize impact from how and where we run our ads.”

The company is also using something Procopio calls “viral pricing.” He explains, “The product is free for 60 days, then we start charging a fee based on the number of people we’ve signed up.” The fee will range from $4 to $10 a month, he says.

Just a start

“The more people who sign up, the less the price will be, so it encourages users to tell others about it.”

Analytics is a sweet spot for the company, Procopio adds. “There is so much data and much of it is difficult to access. We automate reports and do it quickly.”

The new product, though is just “a first shot,” at product development outside the sports arena. “We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do with AI,” Procopio says.

SJF Ventures triples size of previous fund

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

SJF VenturesSJF Ventures, which has offices in Durham, NC as well as in New York and San Francisco, conducted the final closing on its third fund with more than $90MM in capital commitments, tripling the size of the previous $28MM second fund.

The target for SJF Ventures III was $75MM and the fund was substantially oversubscribed at its final April closing.   “We are honored that so many investors choose to join our partnership,” said David Kirkpatrick, SJF Managing Director and Co-Founder.

“We are particularly excited that a wide variety of bank, insurance, foundation, family office, pension, mutual fund, and individual investors have recognized that SJF’s impact investing strategy can yield above market financial and mission results.”   SJF’s current, second fund is performing in the top quartile all US venture capital funds of its vintage year.

Invests in high growth companies

SJF Ventures invests in high growth, positive impact companies seeking expansion capital rounds of $1 million to $10 million.

SJF has invested in 36 portfolio companies over the last decade.   “We realize SJF’s success is due to the exceptional results achieved by our portfolio companies such as Aseptia, BioSurplus, CleanScapes, Community Energy, eRecyclingCorps, Fieldview, Optoro, MediaMath, MedPage Today, and ServiceChannel,” said David Griest, SJF Managing Director.   “We are eager to find the next set of great entrepreneurs for our third fund.”

SJF Ventures has a team of six senior investment professionals, based in offices in Durham, NC, New York and San Francisco, and invests nationwide. SJF has particular expertise and focus on the asset recovery, recycling & reverse logistics, energy & resource efficiency, intelligent infrastructure, sustainable agriculture and food, education, health and wellness sectors.


What drives decisions in the Enterprise data center market?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

How do Enterprises make decisions about where to locate their data centers and what drives their growing need for them?

Facebook data center

Facebook’s air-cooled data center in Forest City, NC.

A new study of the data center industry commissioned by Compass Datacenters has identified a number of emerging factors that are shaping the data center strategies of enterprise companies in the United States.

The study also projects a strong wave of new data center construction in 2013 and 2014. The research was conducted by the respected research firm Campos Research, which surveyed senior decision makers who steer the data center strategies at 150 U.S. companies with annual revenues of $250 million or more.

Key findings from the study include the following:

  • 87% of companies will build a data center in next 12-24 months. This represents an acceleration of the trend, with 63% reporting that they completed data center projects in the last 12 months.
  • 71% of companies ranked new applications as the primary reason for needing expanded data center infrastructure—making it the most often-cited driver for data center expansions in 2013 and 2014.
  • Three-quarters of companies reported that they plan to support a combination of new applications, virtualization, Big Data, and Private Cloud with their new data centers—showing a variety of needs behind the expansions.
  • 97% of companies are seeking to locate their new data centers less than 30 miles from their headquarters or major operations center—making geographic proximity a chief consideration in upcoming data center projects.

GoogleHere at the TechJournal, we’ve noted that data center construction barely stalled even during the deepest part of the recession. In North Carolina, where we are headquartered, both Google and Facebook have built data centers and regional data center firms such as Peak 10 have steadily expanded their footprint.

Compass data center

The Compass data center in Raleigh, NC. The company is also constructing a data center in Durham, NC. Other regional data center firms such as Peak 10, have also expanded their footprint substantially in the last few years.

 Chris Crosby , CEO of Compass Datacenters, said, “Our team has worked with Campos for several years, and they have an uncanny ability to identify emerging trends before they reach critical mass and transform the data center industry.

“Their past research was prescient in identifying energy efficiency, wholesale data centers and modular design as important emerging issues well before they gathered steam and were broadly acknowledged as major trends. This new study identifies geographic proximity as a key consideration for the projects that companies are currently planning, and that has the potential to change the landscape of the data center industry, both figuratively and literally.”

He added, “In the past, companies based outside of major data center markets had to sacrifice proximity when it came to the location of their data centers. They had little choice but to put their data center in one of the handful of markets, often placing those IT assets far from the companies’ HQ or major operations center.

“Not only did that increase costs and risk, but it also was inherently inefficient from a long-term operations perspective. This new study makes it clear that enterprises don’t want to make that compromise any more, and that has huge ramifications for data center providers.”

Following are additional findings from the study:

  • Companies who are planning to build in the next 12 months are planning to add an average of 2 facilities. That average increases to 3.5 when the timeframe is expanded to 24 months.
  • The companies who participated in the study currently have an average of 3 data centers. 25% reported that they currently have 5 or more data centers.
  • 96% of companies reported that the size of their data centers will be 20,000 square feet or less.
  • CIOs were identified as the primary executive who determines need for data center expansion. CIOs were cited by 37% of companies as the person who approves the project, with 24% reporting that the final decision is made by the CEO. 44% of companies described CIOs as having the most influence on the purchasing decision with 19% saying that the CEO now has the greatest influence.
  • The most common process for beginning a project is to set the requirements and then look for providers as a second step in the process (71% of respondents).
  • The most important factors cited in the selection process for a provider is Service Level. Green strategy was the lowest-ranked selection factor.
  • 75% of companies will evaluate 3 providers as part of their selection process.
  • Only 44% of companies said that they would consider building the data center themselves, indicating that “do-it-yourself” is declining.

For more findings from this study and analysis from Compass Datacenters, visit

50 high growth companies presenting at Southeast Venture Conference

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

SEVC 2013You can make connections with 50 high growth technology companies from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic as they present to hundreds of executives from the region’s innovation, entrepreneurial and venture communities at the Southeast Venture Conference March 13-14th at the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, North Carolina.

In addition to presenting companies and hours of executive networking – the conference will feature a speaker line up inlcuding SAP CEO Bill McDermott, dozens of leading venture capital investors from groups like Advanced Technology Ventures, Intel Capital and Edison Ventures; industry  insiders like Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard and policy makers such as North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

This year’s confirmed presenting company line-up includes:


The Southeast Venture Conference is headed to Charlotte, NC, in March 2013. The event offers firms a chance to present to top national venture capitalists and angel investors.

In addition to the showcase presenters and hours of networking – SEVC 2013 will feature current market relevant panel and presentation topics for investors and executive entrepreneurs. These events sell out, so register now if you plan on going.

Panel & Presentation topics include:

  • State of Venture Capital
  • Early Stage Fundraising
  • Value Creation: Company/Investor Relationship
  • Growth Stage Funding
  • M&A Outlook and Strategies
  • LP Viewpoint
  • SaaS Investment Trends
  • Getting to Market
  • IPO & Secondary Market Outlook
  • Entrepreneur’s Roundtable
  • International Health Care Trends

Durham, NC fund first licensed by SBA Early Stage Capital Initiative

Monday, January 7th, 2013

SBAHatteras Venture Partners of Durham, NC, is the first licensee in the Early Stage Innovation Funds initiative, a part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) capital investment program.

Hatteras Venture Partners (HVP), a venture capital firm based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., focuses on seed and early stage opportunities in biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, and related opportunities in human medicine.

HVP was selected because it demonstrated that it has a strong team with a clear, focused strategy and a track record investing in an undercapitalized region.

Promoting innovation and job creation

“The New Year is the perfect time to celebrate new businesses and win-win opportunities like the Early Stage Initiative,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills.

“The Early Stage Innovation Funds initiative promotes American innovation and job creation by encouraging private sector investment in early stage small businesses.  And by licensing funds like Hatteras Venture Partners IV, we can expand entrepreneurs’ access to capital at no cost to taxpayers.”

High-growth, early stage companies commonly experience a gap in the availability of funding between $1 million and $4 million levels.

The Valley of Death

This gap is often referred to in the venture capital industry as the “Valley of Death.”  Since January 2006, less than 10 percent of all U.S. venture capital dollars went to seed funds investing at those levels, and approximately 70 percent of those dollars went to just three states:  California, Massachusetts, and New York.

The Early Stage Innovation Funds initiative targets this gap by licensing and guaranteeing leverage to funds focused on early/seed stage investments. SBA’s improved licensing times under its SBIC debenture program complement the Early Stage Innovation Funds initiative.

SBA has committed up to $1 billion in SBA-guaranteed leverage over a five-year period for selected Early Stage Innovation Funds using its current SBIC program authorization. Licensed Early Stage Innovation

Funds can receive up to a maximum of $50 million in SBA-guaranteed funding to match their privately raised capital. Early Stage Innovation Funds must invest at least 50 percent of their investment dollars in early stage small businesses.

Buystand puts control in the hands of buyers of active lifestyle products

Friday, December 7th, 2012

By Allan Maurer

Joe Davy

Joe Davy, CEO of Buystand, which lets buyers set a price for active lifestyle products they want to buy.

Deals, deals, deals: discounts are the byword of online shopping these days, but usually, sellers are deciding how much the discounts should be. A Durham, NC-based startup, Buystand, wants to change that.

Buystand, says CEO Joe Davy, “Is the world’s first completely buyer-driven marketplace for active lifestyle clothing, equipment and footwear.” That includes everything from boots to mountain bikes and skis.

“Originally the brainchild of Ted Kraus and commercialized by Ted Kraus and Bill Brown at 8 Rivers Capital, which Davy says “works like an incubator for ideas, going through the patent process and funding them,” Buystand launched in beta about a month ago and already has hundreds of retailers, 250 brands, and thousands of customers signed up.

Davy, who joined the company after taking a course Brown, who is managing partner at 8 Rivers, taught at Duke University Law School, presented the company’s business plan at the Startup Summit that preceded this year’s Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC in November.

Innovative companies from early stage to pre-IPO looking for funding may want to apply to present at TechMedia’s next event, The Southeast Venture Conference in Charlotte, NC, in March. SEVC is now accepting applications.

Davy explains that at Buystand retailers let the buyer tell them what they want pay for certain products. That lets retailers see what their products are worth to buyers and lets brands see what they’re worth compared to their competitors’ products.

The retailer can decide at what price it wants to sell.

Control in the hands of buyers

“It puts control back into the hands of buyers,” says Davy. “There has never been a company before that let buyers come in and say what they’re willing to pay for a physical product, although it does happen in the hotel and travel markets. We’re inventing that model for products.”

Davy says this startup differs from many others – including the last one he ran – solve “What amounts to a big problem for a small number of people. They’re building a better widget or solving a very niche problem. What we’re doing appeals to a universal desire. It’s a much better way to shop, not just for a few people, for 90 percent.”

Customers already seem to like it. “People are using this multiple times a month. They’re not only happier when they pay the price they want to pay, but it translates into them spending substantially more money,” he says.

The firm has lots of room to grow. “It’s an $83 billion market,” Davy says. “And no one else is being innovative in the space right now. A lot of people are doing daily deal sites, but those crush brand equity and undermine the future sales of retailers.”

There are plenty of places to buy used products, he notes, including eBay and Craig’s List. “Buystand is for people who want a brand new product from retailer but don’t want to pay full price,” he says.

People have adopted it quickly, he adds. “We saw traction in just a few weeks,” Davy says.



Durham expanding its increasingly robust startup ecosystem

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Artist’s rendering of the new Durham @Main Street site for startups, expected to be ready by spring.

Durham, North Carolina is expanding it’s increasingly vibrant startup ecosystem.

The American Underground — located near the Durham Bulls baseball stadium, is expanding to a downtown space custom designed for early stage startups.

The Research Triangle area, long known as a top U.S. technology hub with tenants such as IBM, Cisco, Glaxo Wellcome, RTI and others, has also generated startups that became industry leaders such as SAS, Red Hat, Bandwidth and Quintiles.  Not only Durham, but Cary and Raleigh are also evolving strong startup support systems.

The new Durham space, located at 201 West Main Street, the new space is an extension of the award-winning American Tobacco Historic District, home to the original Underground hub as well as many sizable mature companies, and strategically located between Research Triangle Park and world-class universities.

Space for 50 startups

Underground @Main Street, as the expansion hub is known, weighs in at 22,000 square feet with room for about 50 startups (see list below of already-committed companies).

The space — expected to open in the spring — covers two floors and will employ lessons from around the tech world to foster the collaboration, learning, and connections young companies need to thrive.

The City Center building at 201 West Main Street, owned by Self-Help, has a history of hosting entrepreneurial initiatives including the Bull City Startup Stampede and now houses prominent technology companies PathCentral and Blogads.

The new @Main Street site adds to Durham’s growing startup hub, which already boasts close to 100 early stage companies in residence,  The Triangle Startup Factory accelerator, and packed networking events.

Partners put muscle in the ecosystem

Underground leaders recruited regional partners, including the Research Triangle Park Foundation. Says CEO Bob Geolas: “We believe in investing in the entrepreneurial community and we are committed to making those investments and partnerships work. RTP is focused on regional entrepreneurship that will create more jobs and educational opportunities for our state.”

NC IDEA — a catalyst for young, high-growth, North Carolina tech companies — will sponsor relevant content for entrepreneurs via events, networking and other programming.  University partners include Duke, NC Central, NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More information on their plans is coming in early 2013.

Bandwidth, a Triangle-born company that has grown into one of the nation’s largest telecommunication providers, and Yealink will equip startups at @Main Street and @American Tobacco with complimentary phone systems.

“Bandwidth and Yealink believe in the revolutionary power of startups,” says Bandwidth marketing chief Noreen Allen. “As they grow and succeed, we want to be right there supporting them.”

Growing Ecosystem Earns Broad Community Support

Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative is another key supporter. The program seeks to coordinate and enhance the university’s capabilities in education, research and translation to enable both commercial and social entrepreneurship.

“American Underground will help us reach an important goal  — connecting Duke with the vibrant community of entrepreneurs in Durham,” said Eric Toone, the new director of the university’s Initiative.

Self-Help Vice President Tucker Bartlett noted, “The Underground @Main Street fits well with our 30-year mission of fostering small businesses, and empowering communities to provide broader opportunities for everyone. The redeveloped City Center building has been key in helping revitalize downtown Durham, and we look forward to the birth and growth of more successful ventures here.”

@Main Street’s roster of startups already includes Sqord, Archive Social, StartupSpot, Pluribus Systems, Green Plus, Synchear, Impulsonic, Mint Market, SalesTags, Privateer Digital Media, SongBacker, Thryv, iKlaro, HaitiHub, and PlusDelta Technologies.

Interested companies should visit to apply for space @Main Street.


American Underground infograpic

Video about the Durham entrepreneurial ecosystem

A list of Durham-based startups with Web addresses

Summer accelerator program seeks NC university student entrepreneurs

Monday, November 12th, 2012
American Underground

artist’s rendering of the American Undergroun at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC

Groundwork Labs, a “no strings attached” technology accelerator located in Durham, NC, has announced a special program in summer of 2013 for a select group of entrepreneurs at five North Carolina universities.

A team from each school will be chosen to participate in the Groundwork Labs program, enabling the student teams to workvalongside the other companies in Groundwork Labs.

The teams will receive mentorship, marketing, legal, financial, and business plan advice from industry experts, and free office space in the entrepreneurial hub of North Carolina, Durham’s American Underground.

Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina, and Wake Forest University will select a team from their business plan competitions to join Groundwork Labs.

Bridge from University programs

“Underground Summer is a bridge from the excellent programs that the Universities have established,” said John Austin, Director of Groundwork Labs, “This experience will enable the students to experience the broader entrepreneurial community in the Triangle.”

Groundwork Labs enables technology startups to bootstrap, prepare for grant or angel funding, or apply to an accelerator. The program is similar to other mentor-driven accelerators except Groundwork does not make an investment nor take an equity stake in the company. This is made possible through the sponsorship of NC IDEA and their mission of furthering economic development in North Carolina through helping startups.

Since opening in February, 2012 Groundwork Labs has accelerated 23 startups. Three of these companies have won NC IDEA grants, two have received grants from other sources, one has its first seed investment, and two have been accepted into Triangle Startup Factory.

Student entrepreneurs should contact their respective schools regarding participation

Startup movie night offers documentary look at Durham

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

DurhamDVDBy Joe Procopio

Tonight (Oct. 17) at 7:00 p.m., Argyle Social founder and CEO Eric Boggs will present Startup Movie Night at Motorco in Durham. The film, Durham: A Self-Portrait, is a documentary by Emmy-winning filmmaker Steven Channing and covers over 100 years of Durham History, from the birth of the tobacco era and “Black Wall Street,” right up to the Duke Lacrosse case.

Channing will also provide remarks.

The film ends its story a few years ago, and that’s right about the time Durham began its evolution into an up-and-coming and much-hyped startup hub. So it makes sense that over 100 people from in and around the entrepreneurial community here have already signed up for tonight’s screening.

But why a movie night?

Well. You’ve got to know the guy. It’s not just a movie for entrepreneurs anywhere. It’s this movie, for these entrepreneurs, in this city.

Funny story:

Right around ten years ago when I was at startup number eight, someone in HR there got the wacky idea to take everyone out on a field trip to see, the independent film that chronicled the rise and subsequent spectacular fall of new media company govWorks.

The documentary traced the rise and fall of a dot com in the heady early years of Internet commerce.

HR never talked to me about things like this. I pushed out the product, they did the teambuilding. But having already seen, I made the case that this was probably not a good idea. In fact, it was an awful idea. It was akin to showing Pop-Warner football players 90 minutes of The NFL’s Most Horrible Injuries Hosted by Joe Theisman.

Needless to say, at the end of 90-minutes, morale at that startup hit an all time low.

This is not that.

Boggs is all about Durham, and he’s also about documentaries. He sits on the board of the Southern Documentary Fund, which provides financing, workshops, feedback, and distribution to independent filmmakers in the region. Much like an incubator.

A little while ago, he screened Durham: A Self-Portrait for his Argyle employees and investors.  The response was so positive (and motivating) that he decided to do it again and expand.

The result was the organization of Startup Movie Night, sponsored by The Southern Documentary Fund, American Underground,Triangle Tech Talk,
Synergy Commercial Advisors,
BoostSuite, Argyle Social,Appia,
PMC Commercial Interiors, and
Haworth Office Furniture.

Knowing Boggs’ appreciation for docs and Durham, the film is somewhat an obvious choice, but it’s also the right film for the audience. The vibe that permeates startup culture is the same one that has built the name for Durham over the last several years. So in charting where you’re going, it helps to know where you came from, and this film, for these people, does just that.

That’s the plan, anyway.

If you’re not already registered, you can RSVP via the Eventbrite.

For a review of by TechJournal editor Allan Maurer see: review.

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio (@jproco) is a serial entrepreneur who currently heads up product engineering for startup Automated Insights, which is also StatSheet. He also founded and runs startup network ExitEvent. You can read him at


Netsertive closes on $10M for local digital ad tech

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

NetsertiveLocal digital advertising has been one of major new media strategies and having technology that automates the process is paying for Durham, NC-based Netsertive.

Netsertive, a fast-growing ad tech firm specializing in localized digital advertising and channel marketing technology, has closed $10 million in a combination of a $7.3 million round of Series B equity financing and a $2.5 million credit facility.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the company anticipates doubling its size by adding 60 more employees over the next 12 months.

Netsertive’s proprietary platform helps local businesses, multi-location retailers and product brands reach target customers in their respective local markets with automated digital marketing.

Local digital marketing expected to double

Local marketing spending in the United States totals more than $130 billion annually. According to research firm BIA/Kelsey, about $21 billion of that has already shifted to newer forms of interactive digital marketing, and that amount is projected to double to nearly $40 billion within four years, driving a massive market opportunity.

In addition, there is over $22 billion in co-op funding made available to local retailers, though a major portion of that goes unused or is deployed inefficiently.

Netsertive brings automation and efficiency to that $22 billion in co-op to unlock the power of co-branded performance marketing at the local level, and eliminate burdensome reimbursement processes for both the brand and the retail partners.

 Standalone localized ad campaign automation

The company provides standalone localized campaign automation as well as its innovative Digital Co-Op system that combines brands and local channel partners in turnkey, cooperative online ad campaigns.

It applies its patent-pending technology in specific vertical markets including Audio/Video & Security, Home Goods, Automotive, Sports & Fitness, and Medical Practices.

“We have a simple vision: creating innovative technology to connect local consumers to products and businesses,” said Brendan Morrissey, CEO, Netsertive.

“We’ve tapped into a massive market that has gone largely unnoticed for years. Ninety percent of local purchase decisions are influenced by online experiences.”

Harbert Venture Partners, of Richmond, VA, led the equity round and was joined by existing Series A investors RRE Ventures and Greycroft Partners, both of New York City. Debt financing was completed with Square 1 Bank,Durham, N.C.

“We’ve watched Netsertive grow rapidly over the past three years, and we’re convinced that their team and technology is solidly positioned to be a market leader in the channel marketing and local digital advertising arenas, both large and growing markets,” said Wayne Hunter, managing partner with Harbert Venture Partners. Hunter, who has joined Netsertive’s board.

He added “We were particularly excited with their vertical specialization and channel marketing innovations that have attracted many notable brands to their platform.”

Moving to larger offices in the Research Triangle

“This latest round of financing enables us to continue expanding our capabilities, scale the business, and deliver more solutions for brands and local businesses that help them drive more revenue,” said Morrissey.

Netsertive secured a $4.5 million Series A round in late 2010. Since that time, revenue has increased seven-fold and they’ve hired more than 50 employees. The company expects to hire at least 60 more in the next 12 months to meet demand and extend its technology platform with more products.

As a result of its continued fast growth, Netsertive will be relocating to a larger corporate headquarters in RTP this fall.


Want to see the pix someone took across the stadium?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

By Allan Maurer

BerstSo, you’re at the big game and the Quarterback makes a startling play but your cell phone camera misses the crucial moment by an instant. Throughout the stadium, though, hundreds, perhaps thousands of other sports fans took photos. Don’t you wish you could see their pix?

If you had the Berst app on your phone you could.

Berst, founded last fall at the Triangle Startup Factory on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC, is the brainchild of foudners Matt Ramsden and Caleb Foster.

“We had been working on things together and the idea came up after we were playing tennis one day,” Ramsden explains. “We thought it was a really big thing but also something we could use ourselves.”

Berst makes a mobile app for the iPhone and Android phones that makes it easy to connect with people around you. Unlike many such apps, everything it presents to the user is based on location.

Seeing their photos of the game

“If you’re at an NBA basketball game,” says Ramsden, you can call someone across the country, but not across the stadium.” He notes that you may not necessarily want to be friends with them, but you might want to see their photos from the game.

The same is true of concerts, weddings, and “a lot of experiences like that,” says Ramsden. “This is something we know will exist in the next few years. We want to be the ones who do it right.”

When you open the Berst app, he says, “The connection we use is location rather than friendship or interest.”

Users can, however, invite their Facebook and Twitter friends and those on other services to get the app.

“But with Berst,” Ramsden says, “Everyplace you move what you see is different and super relevant to you.”

So, if you’re at a baseball game, your friends in Rhode Island probably won’t care about the photos you’re taking, but the people at the game care a lot about that homerun that just happened. Berst removes the friction from people being able to do that (share photos, etc.).

Working on monetization

Ramsden says his partner, Foster, “Isn’t formally trained but he’s been coding since he was 10 or 12. He created a video game for his friends at 14. He was that kid.”

The app is currently free, but Ramsden says the firm is working on ways to monetize it. “The biggest thing for us now is to reach scale. The difference between 10,000 users and a million opens up a lot of ways to make money.”

While they’re currently focused on getting the app right and scaling up, Ramsden said they’re weighing their options regarding potential funding from outside sources.

“We think it’s a huge opportunity and market,” Ramsden says.


In the mood for love? New Digitalsmiths video search taps your mood

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

By Allan Maurer

DigitalsmithsEver settle back in your easy chair or on the sofa, scanning your movie options and think, “I’m in the mood for a love story.” Or an inspirational film? Or scary movie? Well, soon, you may be able to search for entertainment that matches your mood via cable set-top boxes or TV connected devices.

Durham, NC-based Digitalsmiths, which has developed personalized video discovery technology has added mood-based recommendations to its “Seamless Discovery” platform.

The company has cut a deal with a tier-one cable provider to include its discovery technology in new set-top boxes which may start appearing in homes by August.

The company says it has a vast database that leverages the world’s largest collection of scene-level, time-based video data from Digitalsmiths and industry-standard data sets from Tribune Media Service (TMS) and other 3rd parties.

Digitalsmiths CTO and co-founder Matt Berry tells us the company uses both quantitative and qualitative metrics to test its recommendation algorithm. “We can look at what the customers consumed in the last four weeks and correlate that with the recommendations we would have made, then measure the error rate.”

Also, he adds, “We do random sampling and have 1,000 subcribers (their identities unknown to Digitalsmiths) rate our recommendations, regardless of how they consume the media.” In recent measurements, the company’s recommendations were well received by 95 percent of consumers, he said.

Social buzz also considered in recommendations

While Berry sees mood recommendations as important, they are not the be all and end all of getting timely, well-received suggestions to consumers, he says. “We blend it with things such as the consumer’s behavior – what they’re watching or tend to DVR, what’s going on via social buzz – measuring through Twitter and other social media.”

One of the problems with recommendations, he notes, “Is that they tend to become stale if they just rely on historical ratings (such as on Netflix or Amazon).

“Twitter is an example of how dynamic TV shows can be. In sports, for instance, a quick recommendation that a tight game is tied in the last two minutes – that’s one type of recommendtion we’re trying to hit for our consumers.”

Digitalsmiths powers the personalized search and recommendations on M-Go, a free app embedded in a variety of coming consumer electronics, including:

Intel: M-GO will be available on Intel Ultrabooks devices through Intel AppUpSM center, bringing high definition, premium digital content for television, movies, music and apps to Ultrabooks and other Intel-based devices enabled by Intel Insider.
•  Samsung: M-GO will come pre-loaded on Samsung’s 2012 Smart TVs and Blu-Ray Disc players and will be accessible on Galaxy tablets. Additionally, with M-GO while watching a movie on the TV, you can simultaneously get bonus content, such as deleted scenes and games on connected Galaxy devices.
•  VIZIO: M-GO will come pre-loaded on VIZIO’s televisions, tablets, Blu-Ray players and stream players that are part of the VIZIO Internet Apps Plus ecosystem, offering consumers the ability to easily access their library of content across devices.

The big play is advertising

Founded five years ago, 50-employee Digitalsmiths raised about $30 million in venture backing. It has also received investments from strategic partners such as Technicolor and Cisco. It’s not actively seeking additional venture backing, Berry says, “But we’re open to discussions with strategic investors.”
It generally sells its product on an SaaS model, but that doesn’t work for every industry. The company is looking at other uses for its recommendation tech.
“Ultimately, the big play here is advertising,” he says. “If you can make a relevant entertainment recommendation for a user, you can do the same for products. And advertising powers the large majority of film and TV today. That’s definitely an area we’re working on.”

Return of the Triangle Startup Factory and why it’s huge for the RTP

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Go big or go home.

I hear this phrase a lot lately. In some circles, it could be seen as a bubblicious mantra of a bunch of crazy kids looking to hit home runs by selling their social network startup to Facebook. In others, namely here in the RTP, it’s a battle cry for survival against the long odds of starting a company in this talent-rich, cash-strapped area.

But those odds just got a whole lot better.

Last night, longtime RTP startup ecosystem guru, former LaunchBox Director, and current TriangleTechTalk and TechJobs Under the Big Top founder Chris Heivly announced that a nice big bow had been put on a reboot of Triangle Startup Factory, the accelerator he merged into LaunchBox Digital when that accelerator swung south from DC back in 2010.

TSF will now host between five and seven startups twice a year, starting this spring, for intensive three-month programs chock full of capital, mentoring, connections, infrastructure, and, most importantly, a sizeable post-program runway.

That last one is the big news.

The Long Tail

I first met Chris back in 2009, looking for synergies between ExitEvent (at the idea stage) and the original TSF (pre-LaunchBox). We were both trying to solve the same problem: Baking a startup for three months, no matter how high the heat or how closely you watch it, was awesome, but didn’t account for the abrupt exit out into the real world of sustainability and customers.  Especially not here, where the support structure was, at the time, non-existent, and even now, fledgling.

He had a much better handle on it, and talked about the creation of the long tail. In order for an accelerator to succeed here, there needs to be a much longer runway with a different-but-equal kind of support in place until the startup gets solidly onto its feet.

He’s still talking about it as of last night when we broke down the philosophy behind the new TSF. That long tail is what will differentiate the TSF program.

Going Big So They Don’t Go Home

Each startup gets the proper kickoff fuel: $50K in investment, access to a whole bunch of mentors and connections, space in Durham (TBD, by the way), and a big day at the end to show the world (and that’s the world, not just the RTP), what they’ve got.

But as a formal part of the program, TSF will offer a convertible note on the back end between $20K and $150K.

The sheer size of the initial investment figure and the convertible note puts TSF in the same stratosphere as TechStars and YCombinator. This will allow TSF to attract top-tier talent from around the country (maybe around the world) and, most importantly, keep them here.

And while the money is great, it’s up to us in the RTP to match that A-level program with the time, effort, and serious skills that make up the mentoring and the connections. In 2012, I believe we’re up for it. Finally.

Stay Hungry

Apart from the unique philosophy, another big difference will be the emphasis on a lean and agile methodology. In what Chris calls a 30% incremental difference from LaunchBox, the TSF program will run product focused, not business focused, and thus the messaging will be like very few accelerator programs as they are today.

Advice is what it is: Advice. I give it all the time, yet very few of my friends are rich enough to pay me back in Ferraris. Also, you don’t have to get too many mentors and entrepreneurs in a room before they start disagreeing about how to get to the next level. Usually these disagreements are solved on the ping pong table, but who has time for that?

The remedy for conflicting advice, repeats Heivly, is build, test, and iterate. It’s what the startup does with the advice that the startup can control and where TSF can assist. Chris feels like they did a good job of this with LaunchBox, but they need to do a great job of this with TSF.

Start Your Engines

Although there isn’t a focus on where the selected applicants will come from (although there is a limit on the type: no pharma, no medical devices, etc, we’re talking traditional tech plays), it’s certainly a boon for local entrepreneurs. It’s a huge incremental step forward for the area, and every single pre-funded startup should apply. It’s like you’re getting a head start on the rest of the country.

For once.

The application process is underway now at and runs until they get their initial class, which begins on March 19th.

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 and follow him at





2012: The Year the RTP Startup Ecosystem Explodes

Friday, January 6th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

I’ll start off 2012 with two disclaimers.

One: Apologies to you Mayan calendar believers, I didn’t mean to alarm you with the title. 2012 won’t be the year that random Durham entrepreneurs spontaneously combust – although that could happen, it’s highly unlikely. I’ll make it up to you by not making an easy joke at your expense.

Two: I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the RTP Startup Ecosystem this year. I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my time here. For all I know, Durham could become the food truck capital of the world, pushing technology, bio, and gaming aside, and prompting food truck tourism and a Food Truck Alley along Jackie Robinson drive.

For all I know.

But I can tell you this. What happens in the oh-twelve is going to build off of what happened in 2011. And if you have to put a single word on what the RTP did to justify its position in the startup universe relative to Silicon Valley, New York, Boulder, etc., that word would be: Organization.

Note that it’s not: Money. That’s what 2012 needs to be about.

In 2011, the RTP startup ecosystem finally took it upon itself to connect its various garages, coffee shops, and secret evil lairs in an effort to combine strengths, learn from one another, and sort out who is who and who is working on what. It was 99% a grass roots effort, which is good, in that it was very inclusive, but not so good, in the sense that the movement is still pretty underpowered. All in all, it was a measurable jump-start, but there’s a lot left to do.

So let’s take a look back over the year that was and make some assumptions about the year that is.

Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s do this via a collection of 2011 highlights from my column.

At least it’s not a top 10 list. Happy New Year.

Doing It Right

Several RTP companies landed major funding in 2011. Having walked that walk as part of the management team of Automated Insights/StatSheet (another disclosure), I can tell you that raising money last year wasn’t easy. But that also means that the companies that did receive funds are solid.

In Rabid Wolverines: Why Argyle Social is the Test Case for Durham 2.0, I talked about the aggressive, confident approach of Argyle and Eric Boggs, a refreshing attitude as Durham 2.0 started to spring up.

The Underground Got Relevant

Then in July, I sat down with James Avery and came out the other side with Adzerk’s No-BS Approach Results in $650K. Adzerk was proving the Durham startup thesis, founded by pivoting an existing business in RTP, moving into American Underground, taking advantage of the support groups springing up throughout the area, and ultimately running the gauntlet of both local and national VC raises. Successfully, as it turned out.

Launch Party? How About Launch Festival

Later that same month, I told you about a product launch that turned into an old-school dot-com style party in Bringing Sexy Back: Why deja Fest Is More Than a Launch Party. deja mi’s founder Justin Miller organized (there’s that word again) a two-day, 26-band event to prove out his venue-based media sharing application before it got the live customer treatment at the Hopscotch Festival in September.

All Work and No Play

By the way, those three companies were in attendance, along with about a dozen others, at Pongageddon: The RTP Startup Ecosystem Goes Rogue in March, a day of pizza, beer, and local startups competing for a ping-pong trophy hosted by StatSheet. This was one of the first formal get-togethers of some of the local entrepreneurs, but it would definitely not be the last.

The Graduating Class

But 2011 wasn’t just about the established and funded. In December, I got the chance to judge a UNC-hosted startup event and wrote about Ten Promising Rookie Startups from the Carolina Challenge. This included $1000 winner (and established though not funded) YardSprout and 47 other startups, most of whom I had not heard of before that night but will keep an eye on this year.

So yeah, that was 2011, but that was just the stuff I wrote about startups, and those few companies I got to are just the tip of the iceberg that is the 200+ tech startups in RTP. In a future installment, I’ll reminisce about the explosion of support organizations and how even those organizations got more organized.

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 and follow him at

Three startup CEOs on digital trends changing our lives

Monday, December 12th, 2011
American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

The technology scene moves fast, but which innovations and trends have the staying power to change the way we live? Startup CEOs at Durham, North Carolina’s American Underground weigh in on the question below.

Gaming Transforms Learning – Jason Massey, Sustainable Industrial Solutions

“In 2012, we’ll see a focus on technology driving breakthroughs in our educational process…from early childhood development to college.  That will range from early intervention for learning disabilities to the college textbook racket going the way of the dodo. For evidence, just look to Chegg or Kno on iPads

Technology, tools and models developed around the explosion of online gaming with companies like Zynga, the power of social networks like Facebook and the time/location shifting tutorials of Khan Academy are creating opportunities for highly scalable but highly personalized educational experiences.

We are seeing amazing breakthroughs in understanding the mind and learning patterns.

Now, we can leverage the engagement and stickiness of online games to achieve a ‘game-ification’ of the learning process that will allow for more meaningful, measurable successes.   Great North Carolina companies like Lexercise are tackling dyslexia via online technologies.”

Trends in “behavior modification” via online games and experiences have the ability to transform our diets, smoking habits and treat our learning disabilities…go figure!  Once a “bubble technology” deemed a “time waster,” these platforms will transform our educational experience.”

Blazing Access Everywhere – Keval Mehta, Jaargon
“LTE (Long Term Evolution) will revolutionize the next few years.  Remember how great wireless was the first time you experienced it?  You could take your laptop anywhere you wanted, except too far outside.  LTE will allow you to finally stay connected anywhere you are with blazing speed.

LTE will disrupt broadband, cable, satellite and the way media is consumed.  We will use LTE to tether internet to our cars and even homes, which will replace our broadband subscription.

Video and audio can be streamed without skipping and new heavy bandwidth applications can be created to push the limit of high speed connections.

Buffering would be a thing of the past.  LTE would allow content developers to create even richer mobile and web applications that take advantage of this higher bandwidth user access.

For example, a user could download a Blu-Ray DVD in a few minutes at the airport before taking off on a flight.  Most importantly, it will open up possibilities for entrepreneurs to create new ideas that may have not been feasible due to bandwidth constraints in the past.

Verizon and other providers are spending heavily and betting that LTE will be the disruptor that they expect it to be.  Get ready to get on the autobahn of informational superhighways!  Hope your battery can keep up.

De-Centralization Opens Up Innovation – Nick Jordan, Smashing Boxes

“De-centralization of information will be an important result we will hopefully see in the next three to five years as a result of large organizations embracing new technology and thus opening many more channels for people to use to communicate and contribute.

Savvy users have already embraced news ways in which to consume and create content , through hardware innovation like smart phones and tablets, and the platforms that are used to distribute content like Twitter and Facebook.

What we will see in the near future is more adoption of these trends from habitual laggards such as government and politics.  Technology provides us the ability to learn about the issues, take action, be educated, and know that what we do and think matters.

I hope that politicians and government bodies embrace the possibilities for mass input on a large scale.

When they do, our country will see greater participation in public life, which will lead to more innovation, more dialogue, more accountability, and eventually a more prosperous nation and economy.  Imagine the possibilities!”

New startup accelerator Groundwork Labs launching in Durham

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

By Joe Procopio

It’s always good to get a second chance.

Ask anyone involved in the startup game and they’ll tell you: Part of the makeup of a great entrepreneur is the ability to deal with failure. This ability usually comes, oddly enough, with actually having failed, at least once, on the way to success. It’s a conundrum of the game.

The North Carolina Research Triangle had an accelerator, very recently, and it was successful, and it closed up shop, which caused a lot of disappointment and heartbreak within the startup community. But it’s important to note that while Groundwork Labs will fill the void left by Launchbox in the American Underground in Durham, it’s not a replacement.

It’s something new, with new players, a new mission, and a new vision.

And the fact that the RTP gets another shot with the acceleration concept, that’s, well, lucky, to say the least.

How It Works

Groundwork Labs, much like your traditional accelerator, will select promising startups for a three month session and load them up with the standard foundational elements: space, advice, connections, mentoring, and the all-important $20,000 in walking around money.

They’re starting quickly out of the gate, Spring 2012, which means you should get your application in yesterday. They expect to work with between five and seven startups per session and run at least one and hopefully two sessions per year.

I actually got wind of the Groundwork Labs news about a week ago, but I had been sworn to secrecy. I’m not sure why they were so worried. I’m not that kind of journalist. I’m the other kind. The lazy kind.

Official word broke yesterday afternoon, which happened to be just hours before the monthly ExitEvent social I host for area entrepreneurs, which happened to coincide with the TechJournal Deck Party, in Raleigh, which happened to fall on the eve of Internet Summit 2011 at the Raleigh Convention Center, resulting in a Catalina Wine Mixer of startup tech marketing investor type people in one place. So I had access to a lot of opinion. Others I got to via emails. Disclaimer: There was no free beer involved in the solicitation of opinion.

And overall the opinion is very, very hopeful.

What Do You Think?

“Love it,” says iContact’s Aaron Houghton, “Durham deserves it and many passionate entrepreneurs will benefit from it.”

“Launchbox proved that having a local incubator is important to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights. “It really helps raise the profile of all startups in the area.”

James Avery, founder of Adzerk and a very passionate voice when Launchbox closed up shop is, well, excited again. “I am thrilled to see that Durham will once again host an accelerator. I love that John Austin is involved as I think he has done a great job with Joystick so far.”

John Who?

John Austin, Director of Joystick Labs, will also head the Groundwork effort. Before any of the gamers freak out, nothing is going to happen to Joystick. It will continue to operate independently, though it does get a boost in efficiency of shared resources. Joystick will get its next semester underway this summer, and the two efforts will continue to operate in leapfrog fashion.

I got a chance to sit down with John again yesterday. We hadn’t really caught up since he took the helm of Joystick right before this year’s East Coast Game Conference.

The two players in Groundwork Labs, Capitol Broadcasting  and NC IDEA  are very excited about it, according to Austin. There will be synergy between the entities with resources obviously coming from the Underground, as well as the possibility that some of the startups chosen for Groundwork will come from NC IDEA – even though there will be separation in the process, with two separate application programs, etc.

NC IDEA, the grant program that has a symbiotic relationship with VC firm Idea Fund Partners, and another organization I got to dig down into recently, is another positive. Beyond being the region’s best kept secret for early stage entrepreneurs, they’re entire mission is to aid the area in terms of building up a successful, thriving, early-stage ecosystem.

“I think this is an important piece of the puzzle for building a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in North Carolina,” says Lister Delgado, Founder and General Partner at Idea Fund Partners.

“It is another way to help attract entrepreneurial talent to the state, and to keep the resident talent here. Besides the money and the assistance that an accelerator can provide to the entrepreneurs participating, an accelerator is a great marketing tool for the community. That is why we are excited to be involved.”

Two Types of Investment

Austin backs this up, and notes that NC IDEA and Capitol Broadcasting, who owns and operates the American Tobacco Campus, have split the infrastructure costs from the investment in the companies. This model is much like how Joystick operates. The investors see the investment in the infrastructure of Joystick as an investment in the entrepreneurial community. Not a donation, per se, but with an expectation for a different kind of return.

This is the critical factor in the potential success of Groundwork. Capitol Broadcasting has a business interest in seeing it succeed, through the American Underground and several other initiatives they have operating in the startup ecosystem. As for NC IDEA, early-stage success here is what their mission is built upon. Groundwork is almost like an expansion of their program, a runway off of the grant money, or even just the runway when the money isn’t a critical factor.

This vested interest, skin in the game, if you will, from the funding parties, is designed to give Groundwork enough time to decide whether or not the accelerator will work. That, of course, is up to the companies selected, and in some sense the rest of here in the area already hard at work at making the region stick as an entrepreneurial hub.

So in that sense, Groundwork Labs is another good sign. Second chances are hard to come by, so you’ve got to jump on the opportunity when they do.

Zack Mansfield, VP at Square 1 Bank and manager of their startup assistance program Square Roots, sums it up nicely. “It’s exciting to see a new accelerator for a lot of reasons but the most significant is that if this region is serious about becoming a top hub for startups, we need more of just about everything – more capital, more entrepreneurs, and more people in the ecosystem supporting new ventures to help them grow.”

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for tech media startup Automated Insights (formerly StatSheet). He also owns consulting firm Intrepid Company  and creative network Intrepid Media and runs the startup social ExitEvent. Joe can be reached via Twitter @jprocoand read at