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Four Local Startups Led By Women Selected For NC IDEA Program

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Apr 24, 2018
Four Wilmington-area women-led startup companies have been selected by NC IDEA for a mentorship program.

NC IDEA, a private foundation supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic advancement in the state, has selected eight female-led startups from for its 2018 NC IDEA SOAR cohort, according to a news release from the organization.

The eight female-led startup businesses were chosen from 25 applications from throughout North Carolina, officials said. Four of them were from the Wilmington area: Anahata Swimwear, myBeeHyve, Skilly-do and Vavaroom.

“We’re super excited and very honored to be a part of the program,” said Ahna Hendrix, CEO and founder of Anahata Swimwear.

Hendrix said company officials met in Durham last week for the kickoff of the program, adding “it’s an incredible group of women and it's exciting that many of the businesses are from Wilmington,” she said.

“I knew three of the other business owners," Hendrix said of the meeting last week. "We run in small circles here in Wilmington … and it’s very exciting to see each other and to know we’re are all going to be receiving the mentoring that will help further our businesses and help cheer each other along, as well.”

NC IDEA SOAR addresses the "proven funding gap facing female founders" and provides strategic mentorship to women-led companies planning to pursue equity-backed funding to scale, officials said in the release.

Founders will follow highly individualized plans and meet with dedicated mentors every other week. The group will gather for intensive sessions every six weeks, with opportunities for further collaboration on a regular basis.

The teams will also gain access and introductions to NC IDEA’s network of advisors, partners and investors, according to the release.

Hendrix said SOAR is going to be "an incredible help in terms of mentoring for Anahata, with our focus on business development, our future plans and how we are going to make all that happen."

Hendrix said she looks forward to being introduced to other professionals and experienced people who can help elevate the business with "the ultimate goal of gaining investment,” she said. The company is also working toward that effort through an upcoming Kickstarter campaign. 

The business, which sells made-to-fit swimsuits for women online or by appointment for fittings, got its start back in September, and currently has four employees, Hendrix said. The team is all female.

“All of our swimwear is made here in Wilmington by our team. It's made in the U.S., by women, for women,” she said of the products, adding that the company will soon add cover-ups to its retail line.

myBeeHyve CEO Jennifer Turnage and COO Megan Sumrell are co-founders of the contact management application, which began in January 2017. myBeeHyve is a software-as-a-service company that automates workflow and serves as a virtual assistant for network marketing sales teams, according to the company.

myBeeHyve has created a cloud-based SaaS system of the same name that automates workflow for network marketing sales teams, officials said in a previous news release about the company. The app offers virtual assistant capabilities including daily task scheduling, automated reminders, advanced goal tracking, custom fields with advanced search capabilities, message templates, bulk email with attachments and customer support for both mobile and desktop access. 

"We’re excited to be a part of the NC IDEA SOAR program, as well as a finalist for the NC IDEA SEED grant program," Turnage said in an email Tuesday. The company currently has four employees, Turnage said.

“It really does show some level of mass … that we are all living here, living in the same area,” Claire Holroyd, CEO and co-founder of Skilly-do, said Tuesday about local companies in the program. “Wilmington is inspiring, at some level, for ladies who want to do their own thing and make a difference." 

Skilly-do was co-founded in December 2016 by Holroyd and Mary Mayesky Holroyd, chief educational officer. The company has a mission is to provide families with simple ways to discover and invest in their children’s growing creativity.

Claire Holroyd said she wouldn't have known there were so many female-led startup businesses in the area if it wasn't SOAR. 

“Well it really is learning how to scale and building something that saleable and that means really … getting down to the bone,” Holroyd said of SOAR. “You have got to really focus and get the data … and prove that there is a problem you are going to solve.”

She added that each of the companies are all very different types of businesses. For Silly-do, its primary markets now is in Africa, mainly Ghana.

Wilmington-based Vavaroom was founded in 2016 by Cathy Maready, owner of Elephant Ears, a high-end interior design firm, and Elephant Ears designer Megan Smith. The company has five employees.

Maready, founder and design director, said the company looks forward to being part of the SOAR program because “they help foster economic development and they do that by supporting entrepreneurs in all aspects of business growth. And this creates jobs builds wealth, ect. … and that’s what we are after. We want to grow.”

Maready credited Diane Durance, director of the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), for a meeting at the end of January that encouraged women-owned businesses to apply for the NC IDEA SOAR program, she said.

“We are encouraged to work alongside this group of female-led startups that are poised to quickly grow and position themselves to raise funding in the next year or so,” said Thom Ruhe, president and CEO of NC IDEA, in the release. “These promising ventures were selected from a competitive applicant pool reflecting the geographic diversity we have been seeing in other Foundation programs.”
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