Wilmington startups that participated in the 2014 Tech Venture Conference Sept. 16-17 in Durham found that the event gave them exposure to additional investors from around the Southeast U.S. and an opportunity to meet like-minded entrepreneurs.
Brothers Ron and Charles Davis, founders of SIVAD, demonstrated their elections software to multiple potential investors, sparking additional meetings with investors from around the region, Charles Davis said.
“We then presented the next day to a pretty well known investor group in Raleigh,” he said. “The conference was a very good platform for us. We walked away with multiple contacts.”
The brothers founded SIVAD in 2009 to identify and fix work processes that waste time, lower productivity and weaken a company’s bottom line. The company’s primary product is EasyVote, software that manages election-related arrangements and makes state and local elections cheaper to run and the results faster to analyze.
Currently, EasyVote is used by 85 election districts in Georgia and South Carolina, Davis said. As he and his brother Ron prepare to expand into North Carolina and are looking for capital to support that move, the Tech Venture Conference – hosted by the Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) – provided a way to connect with potential investors as well as find fellow entrepreneurs with similar interests, Charles Davis said.
“Jim Roberts at the CIE [Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship] encouraged us to apply, and we’re glad the CED selected us to demonstrate our product,” he added.
Founders of another demonstrating company from Wilmington were enthusiastic as well. Steven Dowd and Neal Whittington, who recently launched residential cleaning service Indigru, received “numerous confirmations that we have a good idea and technology that addresses real problems,” Whittington said in an email. “We are excited to have follow-up meetings scheduled to talk with investors.”
Indigru uses software developed by Dowd to allow clients to schedule their cleaning, specify what they want done, agree to a price and then rate their cleaners.
Wilmington-based Waterplay USA, a website that lets people research, select and book water-related recreational activities around the country, was the third demo company at the conference.
Two other Wilmington companies, nCino and Next Glass, were at the conference as showcase companies, meaning they had an opportunity to give their pitch to the entire conference crowd - a record-setting 711 attendees, according to conference officials.
nCino, a spinoff of Live Oak Bank, has sold its bank operating systems to a number of community banks and credit unions; Next Glass is preparing to launch its proprietary wine and beer recommendation software.
“We connected with a number of leading venture capital groups that will be helpful down the road,” Kurt Taylor, Next Glass CEO, said in an email. “I would also say that the event helped us gain some exposure around the Southeast, so that was great.”
nCino’s marketing director Jonathan Rowe (gesturing, at left) said the conference provided an opportunity to extend brand awareness.
“For nCino it was great to be selected as a showcase company by CED to present, and be a high growth North Carolina technology company representative for the state,” he said in an email. “Although we are not actively looking for investment, it was great to establish relationships with investors and private equity firms as well as have one of our customers, Square 1 Bank, be a sponsor of the event.”
“Our [Wilmington] companies were great on stage, with NextGlass premiering their video to explain their augmented reality for the phone technology within grocery stores and social media,” CIE’s Roberts said. “And nCino gave a very bold, confident presentation that raised some eyebrows among the experienced CED attendees.”
Wilmington-area companies were clearly in evidence at this year's conference, said CED president Joan Siefert Rose, in an email.
"This year’s conference was a great example of how North Carolina entrepreneurs, and particularly Wilmington’s growing entrepreneurial community, are on the rise," she said. "The energy and activity were fantastic, and we’ve already had feedback from a number of companies and investors who believe connections they made will lead to new funding or new investment."
The flagship Tech Venture conference, which used to be called the Venture conference, has been running for 30 years, according to CED spokesman Steve Hinkson.
"There have been a good number of companies that can draw a straight line from presenting at the conference to obtaining funding; Appia being one of the more recent examples," he said.