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Posts Tagged ‘LaunchBox Digital’

Triangle Startup Factory names inaugural class

Monday, March 19th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

There really is no such thing as overnight success in the startup universe.

Just as it’s been a long road for Triangle Startup Factory, going back to the conversations I first had with Chris Heivly some three years ago, when the idea of an accelerator in the Triangle seemed so crazy that it just might work, it’s been a haul for the five companies that make up its inaugural class.

ExactByte makes Archive Social, a software-as-a-service solution for automatically keeping business-compliant records of an organization’s social communication (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). I first started following CEO Anil Chawla’s entrepreneurial exploits while he was still with IBM a couple years ago, and finally wound up covering him, ExactByte, and Archive Social when he presented at Launch Days back in January.

As I mention in that column, Anil has been on the startup scene for years, he’s been a fixture at ExitEvent since the first one (he even let me beat him at ping pong back in December), and he was at Startup Happy Hour Wednesday night looking all smiley and what not.

Ruzuku has been at it just as long if not longer. They allow creation of online courses and learning communities for instructors – anyone from bloggers to coaches to speakers who want to put structured instructional material online. I first met Rick Cecil over a decade ago when he was building UX for clients at (almost before anyone knew what web UX was). Abe Crystal first told me about Ruzuku early in 2010, and they also presented at Launch Days in May of that year.

Making athletic training more productive

RxAnalytics uses machine learning algorithms and data analysis to make athletic training more productive, resulting in maximized performance. When I last saw Deepak Gopalakrishna, it was via Skype in February when he pitched to the Carolina Challenge from a coffee shop somewhere in DC. He was in DC because he had been pitching in person earlier that day. RxAnalytics was also a Startup Stampede company in mid-2011.

Arcametrics has created a data engine that allows financial and healthcare marketing professionals to pool relevant customer data across from multiple sources without compromising privacy. Admittedly, this is the company I know the least about and there is little information online, but I found some stuff on them dating back to 2008, which is exactly two forevers ago in startup time.

Berst is an app that lets you communicate with groups of people at specific locations where you share a common context. Matthew Ramsden and Caleb Foster developed the app as a side project and then took it to Chicago’s bi-monthly Technori Pitch event in October where they demoed the app to 500 people.

Yes, they are the youngest company of the bunch, but remember, this is an accelerator, not an exit.

I caught up with Heivly on Wednesday (surprisingly, not at any of the three startup events that took place that night) and he was genuinely excited about the class. It also means good things for the region, with TSF having pulled a much greater pool of applicants from the area, 55% local as opposed to 25% local during the late 2010 LaunchBox Digital application process.

The class is mostly local too, and it’s that way on merit, with absolutely no preconceived desire to pull local startups into the accelerator.

It bodes well.

 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


In the RTP: Why Aren’t You an Entrepreneur?

Friday, January 27th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

In my last installment of this 2011 review of the RTP startup ecosystem, I went back over some of the companies I hung out with last year. Some. Just a few. Mostly the ones who did big, huge, extraordinary things. But of course that leaves out the hundreds (and yes, there are hundreds) of equally likeable and viable companies who did not do big, huge, extraordinary things last year.

I hung out with them too, just in groups and a lot of times with drinks.

And there were groups everywhere.  If 2011 was the year the RTP startup ecosystem organized, it got most of that organization done at meetups, events, users groups, conferences, and galas. If it seemed like there was something startup-related going on every single week that’s because there was, and 2012 looks to be no different, just better.

There’s been no better time to be an entrepreneur in the RTP. Here’s why:

Foot on the Accelerator

2011 started off and ended with announcements from two completely different accelerators.

American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

LaunchBox Digital graduated its first class to come out of Durham in January 2011, with a big event at Bay 7 at American Tobacco ( (where it’s falsely rumored that I keep a secret sleeping quarters – I actually just sleep in Square 1 Bank’s conference room… don’t tell them).  Seven companies held court for eight minutes apiece in front of brave ice-conquering crowd of hundreds.

Then in November, rumor turned into reality when Capitol Broadcasting and NC IDEA announced that new accelerator Groundwork Labs would be taking applications, well, now (

Groundwork will be run by John Austin, and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s also running Joystick Labs, the gaming accelerator ( They held their first successful session in the summer of 2011, and will be ramping up again in 2012.

And it should be noted that while LaunchBox closed up shop in 2011, out of the ashes rose the homegrown Triangle Startup Factory ( Also taking applications. Also now.

That means there are three “new” programs in the RTP for aspiring entrepreneurs to get their product from concept to reality with more help than should be legal. If you don’t apply to at least one of them, you have no one to blame.

Out of the Garage

Beyond the proliferation of accelerators in the area (and honestly, how often do you get to read a sentence like that), there were literally dozens of events in 2011 that highlighted, supported, or celebrated startups. And if you know me, you know I’m all about the grass roots.

In March, I wrote about Startup Madness, the second in a series of homegrown events from Scott Kelly that announce and market the launch of local tech startups (  Kelly just held another Launch Days very early this year, and has two startup events on the calendar for Spring and Summer that focus on high school and college entrepreneurs.

In June, Triangle Startup Weekend ( made a welcome return to the area with over 100 entrepreneurs spending three straight, sleepless days and nights building a company from scratch. TSW makes a repeat engagement in April this year, and will be very interesting as some of those folks ran with their companies and likely still haven’t slept.

Not to be outdone, the gamers put on their own party, Raleigh Game On ( packed 150 game developers and gaming enthusiasts into the Hive in downtown Raleigh in August. I, for one, have always felt like the gamers should and could be more visible in the RTP startup ecosystem. Between Joystick, Game On, and other recurring events like the TGI Social, 2011 was a big step in the right direction.

Even if you didn’t have a startup or even an idea in 2011, Tech Jobs Under the Big Top ( provided a real opportunity for getting in on the ground floor of a startup just by going to work for one.

And let’s just pretend I already talked about ExitEvent.

Oh, Yeah, There are VCs Too

I’ve always been amazed at how accessible the local VCs are and how few startups and wanna-be startups take advantage of that accessibility. Here are two ends of the spectrum I talked about in 2011.

Jason Caplain

Jason Caplain

Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures is involved with a lot of events, meetings, get-togethers, and so on, probably more so than any single local investor.

In January, we sat down and talked about one of the more intriguing (at least to me) things he does. Once a month (maybe every other month when he’s busy), Jason hosts breakfast for any entrepreneur who wants to get or give advice (

But maybe one-on-one isn’t your thing.

In April, I wrote about the, get this, 28th annual CED Venture Conference (, where for a small price (in terms of value), you can catch up with a keg of VCs, angels, and dozens of funded and unfunded startups. Watching and learning from the public pitches alone is worth the price of admission.

And by the way, that was on the heels of the SouthEast Venture Conference and the East Coast Game Conference, both of which are coming up again in 2012.

If anything, 2012 is going to build on this strong support structure that sprung up in 2011. So if you ever, ever thought about ditching it all and starting a company, well, my friend, this is your year. Apply, attend, meet-up, discuss, engage and party. Of course, there’s all that hard work and risk, but at least you’ll have hundreds of others slogging it out with you.

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


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





Launchbox pausing accelerator program, Triangle Startup Factory reboots

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011
Chris Heivly

Chris Heivly

RESEARCH TRIANGLE, NC – The early stage tech company accelerator LaunchBox Digital is pausing its accelerator program in 2011 to move its investment strategy upstream somewhat. Former LaunchBox Executive Director Chris Heivly has returned to The Triangle Startup Factory, where he is raising funds and hopes to put together a new accelerator program by spring 2012.

LaunchBox Digital named among 15 top accelerator programs in the United States by Tech Cocktail. Four of the seven startup firms in its first Triangle class received funding within 3.5 months, Heivly tells us. “The industry average for companies coming out of these accelerators is that 50 percent get funding within six months,” he says.

One of the five LauchBox partners, Matthew Jacobson, tells TechJournal South that when the LaunchBox program started, “There were only a few accelerator programs out there.” Now he says, Duke University and The University of North Carolina are both starting their own accelerator programs and others have started. So we’re evaluating how the accelerator program fits into our overall program.”

Other regional early-stage focused programs and accelerators include a new one launched by Georgia Tech and Cary, NC-based TechStarts Plus and NC IDEA.

LaunchBox is still actively investing in companies and continues to support early stage firms, he says, although it is looking at a slightly later stage, such as firms that have already completed an accelerator program but haven’t received a venture round.

Havily says that he disagreed with LauchBox’s decision to pause the accelerator. “So, I went back to where I was originally, the Triangle Startup Factory,” he says.

“I’m in the midst of putting together funding, which I’d like to wrap up by early fall. By mid-fall, we’ll be ready to roll.” He wants to start the first class of new startups by March 2012.

“We’re excited about it,” he says. “In my role at LaunchBox and prior work I arranged for programming, mentors,  and events. I’d like to tweak it all a bit and make it run even better.”

Durham-based LaunchBox Digital 4th on ranking of US Startup accelerators

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
American Underground

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

DURHAM, NC – Durham’s LaunchBox Digital is the only Southeast firm, unless you count two in Texas, to make a list of the top 15 U.S. Startup Accelerators by Tech Cocktail.

The list, compiled as part of filed work for the Kauffman Fellows program by Aziz Gilani in partnership with Tech Cocktail and Kellogg School of Management, weighed financing events, the success of companies funded after completing the program, and program characteristics to establish the rankings.

TechStars Boulder edged out Y Combinator for the top position, while Chicago’s Excelerate Labs and LaunchBox Digital were very close as the third and fourth top programs.

Others, in order, are: TechStars Boston, Kicklabs, San Francisco, TechStars Seattle, Tech Wildcatter, Dallas, DreamIt Ventures, Philadelphia, The Brandery, Cincinnati, OH, Capital Factory, Austin, NYC SeedStart, Betaspring, Providence, RI, BoomStartup, Salt Lake City, UT, and AlphaLab, Pittsburgh, PA.

We recently reported on LaunchBox startup Spring Metrics, which landed seed funding and moved to larger offices in downtown Durham not long after joining the program. Spring Metrics CEO Doug Kaufman recently told us the accerlerator, located in the American Underground in the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, was essential to its quick start and ability to get seed funding.

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Startup Stampede picks 11 companies for 60-day Durham event

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Durham StampedeDURHAM, NC – The Bull City Startrup Stampede has selected 11 companies from 78 applications for 60 days of free furnished space in downtown Durham April 1 thorugh May 31. The companies will also receive expert help and opportunities to network with founders of successful Durham startups.

“We were overwhelmed and thrilled by the response to the Stampede,” said Adam Klein, the Chamber’s Director of Strategic Initiatives. “The applications were wide-ranging and inspiring. It made the selection process difficult, but we are thrilled to bring these 11 startup companies and 30 employees downtown.”

The companies that were not selected for the Stampede have already been connected to the many business resources available in Durham such as Bull City Forward, NC Institute for Minority Economic Development, Durham Technical Community College Small Business Center, CED, LaunchBox Digital, Joystick Labs and the Small Business and Technical Development Center.

“We want to make sure all the companies that showed interest in the Stampede are engaged in Durham and the business opportunities here,” Klein said. “We have a wealth of resources and partners who can help these companies start and grow in Durham.”

For background on the event see our previous story: Startup Stampede, launch a company in 60 days

The Bull City Startup Stampede participants:

AcuMedSoft – revolutionizing healthcare delivery with secure cloud based web applications.

Appuware – provides a cloud-based suite of tools and services that enable mobile publishers to offer trial and subscription based pricing within various app marketplaces.

Blink Coupons - customer loyalty cards for small businesses. Blink aims to become the Google of the collegiate market and their ultimate goal is to make the collegiate experience more enjoyable for college students, professors and advertisers, alike.

Bound Custom Journals - delivers uniquely customizable journals for travel, sketching, writing, planning, anything–because only you can create the perfect journal.

Clinical Ambassador – a cultural attaché that connects science and minority communities to advanced medical discovery and reduces disparities through cultural competence, research literacy, outreach strategy, community-driven, creative marketing and patient recruitment in clinical trials.

Finger Puppet Games, Inc. - develops 3D games with cutting-edge technology that are social, tactile, and collectible; built for mobile devices and monetized through microtransactions.

Fitsistant - a service of on-call physical training coaches & scheduling assistants combined with personally tailored fitness software.

Haiti Hub - a for-profit social enterprise dedicated to providing the highest quality Haitian Creole e-language learning solutions to native English speakers invested in Haiti’s future.

LearnVC – (operated by LearnVC) simplifies raising capital by modeling investment scenarios to educate entrepreneurs and collaborate with potential investors.

Little Green Software - develops apps for smart devices including smartphones, tablets, game systems, and the web.

Rippple – an online platform that empowers communities to support entrepreneurs in building successful businesses.


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90 Days Work in Eight Minutes: LaunchBox Digital 2010 Demo Day

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio
Joe Procopio

RTP was a dark place for startups in the late 2000s.

When Chris Heivly first told me about his ideas for an accelerator program in the RTP, it sounded like an impossible task, but his passion was evident. At the time, I was just beginning to toy with the idea of ExitEvent, my own take on a digital startup community with accelerator style tools, and Chris and I shared the same frustrations.

But I knew if anyone had the skills to pull off an actual real-live incubator here, it was Chris.

RTP is #1 on the  “Places Where We’re Headquartered” List

RTP is an awesome place to live, with so much quality of life that you can actually wake up to the sound of chirping birds and the distinct scent of vanilla wafting into your bedroom.

The area has more talent than you can shake a geek at, and it has most of the foundational tools in place for entrepreneurial success: A fair number of startups, helpful organizations like CED, NC IDEA, etc., and enough behemoth techie companies to bring in even more new talent and also invariably barf out decent crops of early-stage entrepreneurs.

So where were all the big success stories?

That question was the basis of several coffees (well, coffee for me, Chris doesn’t touch it, which is mind-boggling considering the demands of his chosen occupation), to discuss not so much the why, but the why not. Something was going to happen, that was inevitable. It was just a matter of when, how, and, of course, could it be sustainable.

Enter Lunchbox

When LaunchBox decided to move here a little more than a year ago, the stars aligned, mountains got moved, and everything started happening at breakneck speed.

That culminated at the first LaunchBox RTP Demo Day. It’s the third overall, if you’re keeping score, with the first two taking place in DC and producing, out of 17 companies accelerated, a ridiculous nine follow-on rounds and three exits.

People, those are good odds.

Ice… pocalypse?

The funny thing is it almost wasn’t. A freak wave of ice (well, if you’ve lived here long enough, it less “freak” and more “twice yearly”) put the Demo Day show in serious jeopardy. In fact, as I write this from the safety of my palatial offices (or “rumpus room”), I am NOT currently at this evening’s follow-on reception. But that’s cool. I’m all about the information, I’m not in it for the free drinks.

I’m sorry. I stopped for a minute to laugh.

Anyway, as I was on my way to American Tobacco for the show with the radio blaring warnings like “ZOMG! DO NOT GO OUT OF THE HOUSE! IT’S CHAOS! STAY AT HOME AND EAT YOUR FRENCH TOAST!” I expected the worst. Turns out, it was very well attended. And when I thought about it, I realized that I shouldn’t have been surprised. LaunchBox isn’t the only force behind the event, or even their own program. Far from it.

More Important Than Money

The biggest strength of LaunchBox is, without a doubt, the 100+ investors, mentors, and advisors on board to help the program and the companies within. Chris told me this. The startups themselves told me this. “More important than the money,” echoed one of the founders.

The second biggest strength is the outpouring from the community, mostly local, but even from folks like David Cohen from Boulder’s TechStars, who, along with TechStars co-founder Brad Feld, held an event here back in November that included spending a day with the LaunchBox startups.

Ice? That problem already has a solution. It’s called “gloves.”

So the investors, mentors, advisors, supporters, various community members, and I think I saw the Solid Gold dancers, all gathered in Bay 7 along with a covetous roster of investors from here as well as Boston, NY, even the West Coast, to watch these seven startups compress 90 days of sheer labor into eight minutes.

So Who Won?

Speaking of David Cohen, he gave Chris some advice early on – every week someone will ask you which company is the winner and every week you’ll have a different answer. Turns out this was indeed the case. Each company had and has its own strengths and shortcomings.

I’ve had several chances to drop by LaunchBox and talk to some of the startups, including one final visit last week before all the commotion. Here’s a take, as English as I can make it, on each one.

HealtheMe tackles obesity via a personalized learning “behavioral DNA” algorithm delivered via web and mobile. Before LaunchBox, they’d already been operating for three months with 40-50 subscribers.

Leaguescape allows for legal online betting on the data around fantasy sports. Yes. Legal online betting around fantasy sports. Aaron Houghton wondered aloud to me why they would need money in the first place. I answered: “Full page ads that say ‘Yes. This is legal.” Then degenerate sports and numbers freaks like me will knock their doors down.

Slipstream produces a Twitter plugin that reduces noise in the timeline by selectively hiding tweets based on information you give it.

Keona Health started life as a product development and research company but now they have software with a decision engine that optimizes primary care physician admissions, suggesting whether to come in and how to triage. UNC’s Campus Health is on board, and that’s their target market.

Fiscal Pie is online personalized financial planning and advice using social networking  and peer group comparisons. They thrashed quite a bit during the semester, probably the most of any of the companies.

CityPockets converts daily deal (think Groupon) customers into return customers with CRM & targeted follow-up deals. Think retail hacking with a loyalty program.

Spring Metrics came away with the most buzz, which is odd when you consider they came to LaunchBox with “an idea on a napkin” but not at all odd when you consider the team, which is fantastic. Their software collects web analytics data and provides intelligence that connects directly to sales and customers.

Yeah, But Who Won?

We did. Was the event successful? I’d say hell yes. There were more people in Bay 7 on an icy, ugly, frozen morning than there probably were in all the schools and most of the hospitals.

And back to the lack of success stories and the why not? This is a great start. The when is obviously  NOW (think big flashing neon letters) and as for the sustainability, well, that remains to be seen. After all, LaunchBox didn’t get that track record overnight.

But they’ll do it all over again with the application process in April.

Joe Procopio heads up product engineering for sports media startup StatSheet ( He also retains ownership in consulting firm Intrepid Company ( and creative network Intrepid Media ( Maybe his problem is all the coffee. He can be reached via twitter @jproco.

Five new startups locate at Durham’s American Underground

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
American Underground

Artist's rendering of the American Underground space

DURHAM, NC – Two months after opening its doors as a new hub for entrepreneurs and start-ups, the Underground — located at the American Tobacco Campus – welcomes five new companies: Acorn Innovestments,  Adzerk, Jaargon Ltd., Preation and Two Toasters.

The American Underground is providing the type of space many early stage companies always wished existed in the Research Triangle Park. It has restaurants and other amenities within walking distance and an atmosphere that promotes interaction.

“We want to be in what we believe will be the hotbed for a new wave of  entrepreneurs and startups in the Triangle area,” said Rachit Shukla of the eight-person Two Toasters.

Aaron Houghton of Preation echoed the point, “There are 50 software start-ups in walking distance of the American Underground.  We want to be part of the Durham start-up scene.”

After ramping up in what might be record time, the Underground is now stocked with a slate of diverse and dynamic organizations, many with backing  from seasoned entrepreneurs like Houghton (co-founder of iContact).

“Being close to other start-ups and organizations supporting start-ups is incredibly valuable,” said Adzerk’s James Avery. “It gives us a chance to learn from each other and someone to enjoy a late night beer with before going back to work.”

The new team joins the Underground’s original line-up of Launchbox Digital, Joystick Labs and CED (Council for Entrepreneurial Development).

“Being close to Duke University and the airport makes the Underground great  for connections and travel,” said Keval Mehta of Jaargon Ltd, the company behind, among other ventures, GoToAid.  “The setup of the conference rooms and class rooms, and having other entrepreneurs to confer and network with is the best.”

The fast start took even the Underground’s founders by surprise.  “Yes,  Durham is a hive of entrepreneurs, and, yes, those entrepreneurs need a  stimulating, central place to work and make connections,” said Michael Goodmon, vice president of real estate for Capitol Broadcasting Company,which owns American Tobacco.  “We suspected there’d be interest, but it’s been exciting to see it come to life so fast.  And there’s still more ahead.”

But being a small start-up in Durham can have its drawbacks.  At Acorn Innovestments, one of the key players cottons to Duke while the other Walter Devins of Devins Law Firm — lines up with UNC-Chapel Hill.

Acorn’s Mike Noël said , “During certain local collegiate sporting events, the atmosphere within the partnership is at times a bit tense.”

The Underground’s new neighbors are chasing the following missions, in their own words:

Acorn Innovestments, Mike Noël : “Acorn Innovestments focuses it’s investments on start-ups and early stage companies with special attention to advanced materials, manufacturing, and environmental technology, in addition to other investments in which Acorn can contribute strong strategic value-add.  In 2011, we will grow our networks in the Triangle and state-wide start-up community, while being an integral part of its growth and promotion.”

Adzerk, James Avery: “Adzerk is building a next generation ad server, our goal is to make the bannerads and other advertisements you see on the web more effective, faster, and less intrusive.  In 2011, we are going to be launching our product to the public (we are currently in privatebeta). We will also be hiring our first full-time employees.”

Jaargon Ltd, Keval Mehta: “Jaargon Ltd is becoming a leader in delivering health care information  conveniently and on demand through mobile devices.  Our first project,  GotoAID, is the premiere first aid resource on the internet and on  mobile devices.  Our focus is on ‘Mobilizing Healthcare’ by taking the medical “jargon” out of health care and bringing it to a level a non-health care professional can understand.  We believe that by providing these tools we can empower people to take responsibility for their own health.”

Preation, Aaron Houghton:
“Preation helps small businesses acquire new customers from the search engines and social networks.  In 2011, we are launching version 2.0 of our Eden Platform product and will be hiring more software developers and user interface designers.”

Two Toasters, Rachit Shukla: “Two Toasters is a mobile agency; we focus on strategy, design and development of iPhone and Android applications. We are the mobile team behind a lot of successful venture-backed startups.  In 2011, we will hire exceptional individuals who understand that mobile is the future of computing, achieve national recognition as mobile experts and have fun  growing the business we started from scratch.”

AOL Gets Unblabed: Why This is a Big Deal

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

By Joe Procopio

It’s with the surest confidence in my own manhood that I admit to you that Eli Holder is sexy. This is the point I want to get across with this column and, as I believe I’ve now made crystal, I’m not afraid to pull out the stops on the provocative to get your attention.

Danger is my middle name.

Eli Holder is the founder of Unblab, which he co-started back in 2008 while a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It quickly went from project to product to company and, while the software hadn’t quite evolved into what would become Unblab’s Gtriage automated email prioritization product, it wasn’t long before it became enough to drive a quest to get into the now-defunct TechCrunch 50.

Mission Accomplished?

No, but they got close.

Eli Holder

Eli HOlder

Soon after that, Eli turned down a job for a video game company, landed ten grand from an investor, and spent a laughable amount of time at Carrboro Creative Coworking before being accepted into the 2009 LaunchBox class (ironically, up in DC).

So there’s your local flavor, your first fail, and your first win.

Hang On. Story Gets Better.

While Unblab got everything ready for the end-of-semester Demo Day, they decided to switch gears with 24 hours to go. What they presented was a prototype of what ended up being Gtriage. It went over well.

In January 2010, Unblab closed on a little bit more money and went through a founder breakup. Eli got over this, pushed forward, and started lining up customers and contacts. This is where I met him, in May at the inaugural RTP New Tech Meetup where he presented Gtriage and took questions and suggestions.

Things ramped up, and by August 29th, Eli had everything in place to take the product to the next level.

So now you’ve got your pivot, your adversity, and your momentum.

Then on September 1st, Google released GMail Priority Inbox.

There’s Your Falling Sky

It’s funny, he says, because he remembers hearing all the talk on Day 1 of his LaunchBox semester about how there would be huge ups and awful downs along the way, and that’s one of the first things he flashed on when the biggest and baddest advertising firm in the free world basically trumped his now completely launchable product with a little bit of fanfare and a press release.

Eli woke up to a full inbox (and I forgot to ask if Gtriage just flipped out on the priority scores for that inundation, like “ZOMG! EVERY EMAIL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT EMAIL YOU WILL EVER READ!”) and a big headache. But dude did not just shut down or run away.

May I Speak to Mr. AOL?

He started working the phones.

Within a few days after the Google bomb, Eli decided that he could leverage the explosion. He made a list of companies that might also be interested in the functionality, then got on the phone and started working contacts to get to contacts and then, within another three days, starting making his pitch.

This is what struck me as the coolest part about the story. Too many entrepreneurs don’t understand that your network is basically YOUR network, and there is no magic bullet to reduce the degrees of separation between you and the right investor, the right major customer, or the right buyer.

Boards can be helpful, investors can be helpful, advisors can be helpful, but these relationships have to be cultivated.

So Eli started with his list, a very defined ask, and the brass to keep asking who knew who on his way to getting to the right people.


Maybe. It’s one of hell of a story, for sure. But you know what isn’t sexy?


Or is it? The marriage is a good one, because AOL, in a way much like the namesake of Project Phoenix which Eli will be working on, has been rising from the ashes into investor and even a little bit of consumer good graces.

One of the nice by-products of a comeback is that AOL can take chances, including the decision to adopt technology like Gtriage, and including how that technology gets integrated. That creates an environment within a corporate entity where an entrepreneur like Eli can thrive.

And imagine the fun and the challenge of restoring AOL from where it was in the early 2000s to something cool and cutting edge.

You’d do it.

Unblab is not Facebook

Like I said, this is a great story, but no movie will be made from it. Unblab was not a nine-figure company before AOL came into the picture, and Eli is a nice, centered, and actually pretty funny and humble guy.

But this is exactly the kind of story we should be singing the praises of. On a local note, this is the kind of success we need – and we need several, if not dozens — before rolling the big dice on grooming the East Coast Twitter.

If the startup ecosystem is going to evolve, it’s going to be built on the backs of companies like Unblab. Eli built his company here, for the most part, and still praises the area for the excitement and offers of help that came from every corner. I say that’s the primary strength of the RTP and the one that will ultimately outweigh all the negatives.

Shameless Plug? Or Uncanny Coincidence.

And since his former incubator, LaunchBox, has just completed its inaugural RTP semester and will be holding the Demo Day on January 11th in Bay 7, I’ll suggest that this is an event that should not be missed by anyone in the startup community.

Oh, and good luck, Eli. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Joe Procopio owns consulting firm Intrepid Company (, creative network Intrepid Media (, and heads up product engineering for startup StatSheet ( Trick Question: It’s a shameless plug AND an uncanny coincidence. He can be reached via twitter @jproco.

Jobs: Five LaunchBox startup companies seek help

Monday, September 20th, 2010

LaunchBoxDURHAM, NC – The LaunchBox Digital startup program says a number of its early stage firms need help.

Those seeking employees include Spring Metrics, which is building “next generation web analytics.” The team includes experienced entrepreneurs from Google, Motricity, and Blackboard and is looking for a part-time contract to work on the user-facing side of its application.

Work would begin ASAP. Send resumes and any relevant URLs to Cover letter not necessary.

Leaguescape, which plans to become “the one-stop destination for fantasy sports betting,” is looking for an intern or web designer with UX talent and design skills. Contact for your interest/questions.

HealtheME, a mobile health and web-based obseity mangement platform is loking ofr a developer for front end web work and content experts in nutrition, excercise physiology, and behaviorists/psychologists. Contact: if you are interested.

CityPockets Inc. is looking for a web developer with good back end development experience.

CityPockets is an online voucher management platform for group-buying sites such as Groupon, Living Social, BuyWithMe, etc. It helps users store and organize all their pre-paid online vouchers from over 130 group-buying sites in the US.  Users can set custom reminders, share purchases with friends, see merchant locations on one map, and more.

See if you are interested.

Keona Health is empowering patients with personalized recommendations on whether to see a doctor and when, leading to improved safety, efficiency, and lower costs.  It has partnered with top researchers at UNC and Duke to develop this system.  We are looking for Java and .NET developers who have experience working with databases, XML, web services, and web applications.

Send email to to if interested.


CED, LaunchBox Digital, Joystick Labs moving to new ATC digs

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
American Underground

Artist's rendition of the American Underground

DURHAM, NC – The North Carolina CED (formerly Council for Entrepreneurial Development), the start up accelerators LaunchBox Digital, and electronic game focused Joystick Labs are moving to a new space in October called the American Underground at the American Tobacco Campus (ATC) near the Durham Bulls Baseball stadium in Durham.

The new ATC space is geared toward startup companies and organizations such as CED, which is focused on helping entrepreneurs succeed.

“Innovation drives our economy and it’s what drove our decision to create The American Underground,” said Jim Goodmon, president and CEO of American Tobacco’s owner, Capitol Broadcasting Company.  “We want to be the place where entrepreneurs thrive and ideas soar.  Where we stand today, once the site of tobacco production, is now the epicenter of innovation.”

Designed to foster creativity and collaboration, the Underground will occupy the lower levels of American Tobacco’s historic Strickland and Crowe Buildings.  Features being readied include: individual tenant suites and single offices of flexible sizes, a large classroom, multiple shared ‘conference cabanas’, a common break room and a vintage arcade.

The ATC includes numerous restaurants, a Disney-designed waterfall, historic Tobacco warehouse surroundings,  and is home to WUNC-FM’s studios, Bronto Mail and Intersouth Partners, among other tenants.

It hosts numerous special events, which have included some of the CED’s.

Other firms are expected to move into the new space as well.

The CED is moving from its current space at the Research Triangle Park Alexandria Technology Center where it has been for the last four years. It will occupy 2,400 square feet of space.

Joystick Labs, which recently launched with $500,000 in funding, will use 2,000 square feet in the new space. Joystick plans to accelerate the development of new digital games.

LaunchBox Digital plans to seed fund startups in its program with about $25,000 and provide mentoring.

Previously on TechJournal South.

Game Development Accelerator Joystick Labs funded, seeks teams

Triangle Startup Factory, LaunchBox Digital Merge