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One week left to apply for NW Arkansas accelerator challenge

Monday, June 11th, 2012

By Allan Maurer

Northwest Arkansas probably does not come instantly to mind as a tech hub, admits Jeannette Balleza , director of The ARK Challenge Technology Accelerator.

But, NW Arkansas is cultivating its own startup ecosystem, building on its core strengths. The longstanding home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Northwest Arkansas is recognized worldwide for leadership and world-class expertise in the retail, food and logistics industries.

The ArkIn addition, Balleza points out, NW Arkasas has the easy networking climate and reasonable costs of a small town but big city amenities demanded by a young, tech savvy workforce.

Tech companies – which do not have to be from Arkasas – have one week left to apply for a spot in the 14-week ARK challenge program. It seeks firms that can build a mobile app or Internet product attractive to one of the above clusters – retail, logistics, food processing – in time to demonstrate it to potential customers and investors following the program.

Up to 15 selected companies will receive over $18K each in seed funding, promotion, invaluable networking with advisors and potential funders, as well as intensive mentoring from a group of community-based and national mentors during a 14-week entrepreneurial bootcamp starting August 2012.

Each of the selected companies also will benefit from services of Innovate Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Winrock International that encourages technology-based innovations and job creation in Arkansas. Two of the selected startups will be eligible for an additional $150,000 in funding.

The ARK Challenge’s 60+ mentors include:

Inspired by innovation across the heartland—Detroit, Austin, Raleigh and Silicon Prairie of the Midwest, Northwest Arkansas is cultivating its own startup ecosystem, building on its core strengths. The longstanding home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Northwest Arkansas is recognized worldwide for leadership and world-class expertise in the retail, food and logistics industries.

Additionally, The ARK Challenge has conducted interviews with representatives in each of these key industry clusters to identify the newest playgrounds for innovation for technology entrepreneurs. The resulting five-page technology assessment report is available for download here.

Bazella says ARK has received applications from seven countries and 11 states, some of them “exciting ideas in media social analytics.”

Visit http://arkchallenge.org for additional details and to apply, or contact The ARK Challenge Director Jeannette Balleza at jeannette@arkchallenge.org or 479.595.6063.

NC IDEA grant winners have big plans

Friday, June 8th, 2012

By Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

Last year, I wrote about the NC IDEA grant program for Startup America, noting it had surpassed $2 million in funds granted (not loaned or invested) in North Carolina startups. This is an awesome thing, and I was adamant about the fact that every startup in North Carolina should take full advantage of this program.

Turns out they listened to me and they’re doing exactly that. According to Dave Rizzo, NC IDEA President, the entrepreneurs are far more prepared for the application process than they’ve ever been, resulting in a massive number of applications, most with a much higher quality than they had ever seen.

Late last year, NC IDEA hooked up with Groundwork Labs to create something much closer to a true accelerator model.

A lot of companies have gone from zero to sixty thanks to NC IDEA – including the startup I work for, Automated Insights, as well as other names you know like Valencell, Oncoscope, Argyle Social, Spring Metrics, and BoostSuite.

Chances are you’ll soon know the names of this round of grant winners, if you don’t already. A lot of you are in the loop like that.

This is who they are and what they will build with the money and the connections received from NC IDEA.

ArchiveSocial

Anil Chawla and ArchiveSocial just busted out of Triangle Startup Factory yesterday with a brilliant and well-received pitch for his social media archiving solution for business compliance and legal protection.

Anil says, “we are primarily investing in marketing efforts to take ArchiveSocial to market in full force. This means spending on online advertising, creating industry targeted content for our website, and investing in some other creative efforts to generate awareness for ArchiveSocial. Our overarching goal is to create as many customer interactions as possible to get our brand out there and build an initial customer base.”

Motaavi

Alex Zhang, Nick Bhargava, Kaiting Chen and Melanie Plageman are co-founders of Motaavi, an integrated trading platform and exchange where anyone can invest in and trade shares of companies raising money through private offerings, including crowdfunding.

Alex says, “We will be using the money to apply for full patents on our unique market structure and register as a broker-dealer.

Gema Touch

Brent Fagg and Joanna Rogerson  are the co-founders of Gema Touch, which sells a patent-pending Near Field Communication (NFC) platform, enabling brands to create robust customer engagement interactions between mobile devices and physical surfaces.

Brent says, “The money will be used to finalize initial RFID tag design, build beta software concept, complete pilot scale manufacturing, and perform field test of product in relevant environment.”

Impulsonic

Impulsonic develops audio content creation tools for sound designers in the film, television and video games
industries. It was founded out of the UNC Department of Computer Science by Anish Chandak, Lakulish Antani, and professors Dinesh Manocha and Ming C. Lin.

Anish says, “The grant from NC IDEA will mostly go towards developing our initial prototypes and products in audio content creation space and strengthening our IP portfolio.”

DealCloud

Charlotte’s DealCloud provides a free, web-based platform where M&A professionals can manage and grow their network, execute sophisticated deal processes, and confidentially review and manage new investment opportunities., founded by Rob Cummings and Ed McMahan.

Rob says, “We are applying the grant funds in 3 areas. Marketing and business development, product development, and legal – we plan to file a patent on our industry matching algorithm.”

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

NC-based Joystick Labs funds Buckle Up Game Studios

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Joystick LabsDURHAM, NC – Joystick Labs has funded and accepted Buckle Up Game Studios (www.buckleupgamestudios.com) into their video game accelerator program.

Buckle Up was founded by Kory Sherman and Chris Snyder while studying in the game program at Wake Technical Community College.  As part of Joystick Labs, they will develop “Flipped”, a puzzle game for mobile devices that takes advantage of the accelerometer and physics to create a unique gameplay mechanic.  The game was originally conceived and prototyped as a class project at Wake Tech.

Joystick Labs, founded in 2010, provides startup video game entrepreneurs a unique mix of early-stage seed funding, mentorship, services, and networking.  Seven teams have been funded and the first games developed by Joystick teams will ship in Q4 2011.

“We had a great idea for our game, but did not have the resources to focus on full-time development or the business expertise to form a studio,” said Kory Sherman, Buckle Up Game Studios co- founder.   “The Joystick Labs program provides opportunities and resources that will accelerate the development of our studio and our first title.”

Joystick Labs next session will begin in Q1 2012 with an application deadline in December, 2011.   Joystick Labs looks for teams who possess an entrepreneurial spirit and an innovative game concept.

InfusedCommerce makes it easy to create a Facebook store

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

InfusedCommerceBy Allan Maurer

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

Michael Bender

Michael Bender

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

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

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

TechStarts Plus conference room

The entrepreneurial bug bit early

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

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

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

Start a Facebook store in minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

News feed product set for Q3

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

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

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

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

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

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