Wilmington-based startup Wisely will participate in a pitching competition on Wednesday for a grand prize of $1 million as North Carolina’s sole representation at the event.
Rachelle McCray, CEO of Wisely, created the company out of her kitchen in 2016, frustrated with how much food she threw away every week due to excess leftovers. After years of on-again off-again development, McCray officially created her company in 2021 and was selected this year as one of 20 finalists for Grow NY, a food innovation and agriculture technology business challenge.
Wisely’s smart food storage containers have detachable, rechargeable discs that collect data on food leftovers. The patent-pending device can remind the user through a smartphone app to eat the leftovers before they go bad by calculating time, temperature and humidity levels, McCray said.
Through Cornell University’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Certificate program, McCray was given the opportunity to apply and show off her prototype for a hardware manufacturing accelerator through REV Ithaca Startup Works. She was accepted and spent a year learning and training with the organization, which introduced her to the Grow NY competition. Wisely applied for the competition last year but was not accepted. This year, things were different.
After 323 applicants applied from 49 countries and 32 states in the U.S., McCray was announced as the only finalist from North Carolina. She spent the past three months working one-on-one with a mentor to create a pitch that will be presented live on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to a panel of 7 judges.
“We're ready to let the world know that we're here and we exist and we're going to be opening pre-orders soon,” McCray said. “This is really just an opportunity for us to validate the things that we've been doing, there are a lot of nerves going into it.”
Other 2023 finalists include SomaDetect, a Canada-based software system for farmers, and India-based FaunaTech, which measures biomarkers in meat, grains and poultry.
Finalists were chosen based on their potential for job creation and growth potential in the Grow NY region, specifically upstate New York, according to Grow NY.
"The successes of our portfolio of winning companies attracted participation from startups innovating throughout the agrifood supply chain, across the globe," said Grow NY's Program Director Jenn Smith in a release, "addressing main street economic health, the climate crisis, and how we feed our growing population.”
The event will take place over two days on Nov. 14 and 15 in Binghamton, New York. The first-place winner of the pitch challenge will receive $1 million. Two second-place winners will receive $500,000 prizes, and four third-place winners will receive $250,000. There is also a Wegmans Audience Award, which can be voted on by the public. The company that receives the most votes wins $10,000.
McCray said she hopes people from Wilmington and North Carolina vote for Wisely regardless of whether they watch the pitching livestream through Grow NY’s website.
“If for some reason we don't walk away with the money," she said, "it would be great to be able to say that we came home as the fan favorite."