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Investors Highlight Wilmington's Potential Ahead Of Local Startup Event

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Mar 28, 2024
An audience listens to a presentation at a Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington event. (Photo by Jack Fleming)
Investors traveling to Wilmington always create a buzz in the coastal entrepreneur community.

It’s not only helpful for entrepreneurs to get in front of investors, but it's also an opportunity for people like Mahati Sridhar, a principal on the investment team at Revolution Capital’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, to gauge the health of smaller markets she might be unfamiliar with. Sridhar, a North Carolina native, will travel from New York City to Wilmington to speak with local founders and fellow investors on April 4 at Investor Buzz-In at the Beach.

The investor event by the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) marks the second time a member of Rise of the Rest has visited Wilmington. In November, Managing Partner David Hall visited for a similar entrepreneur event hosted by NEW.

“Events like this are incredible for folks like me that might not be locally in the ecosystem,” Sridhar said. “Hearing from other investors and stakeholders, ‘What is going well? What is not going well? What does the ecosystem really need?’ And see if that is something that us as a fund can be a value-add partner in.”

Traveling outside of traditional technology hubs like New York, Boston and Silicon Valley to invest in lesser-known markets is the Rise of the Rest’s mission.  Traveling to markets like Wilmington lets Sridhar “connect the dots” across the country and help bolster small ecosystems. Support can come in the form of more investors in the region, connecting talent to startup founders or helping regional investors grow their firm, she said.

Establishing a tech company in a “non-hub” market can be an asset. Founders in Wilmington need to tie their identity to the town, Sridhar said. Connecting the success of a company to the success of a community can boost the business reputation of the region. Sridhar pointed to Wilmington-headquartered Live Oak Bank and its spinoff company nCino as examples of startups that brought positive attention to the area as they grew into public companies.

“nCino and Live Oak are the hometown favorites,” she said. “They’re nationwide and international brands. Everyone knows who they are in the fintech and the finance space, but they've also been able to put Wilmington on the map.”

Sridhar said this is a common pattern. A tent-pole company is established in an unconventional area and boosts surrounding economic activity. One example is Groupon’s effect on the Chicago region.

Rise of the Rest is currently investing out of its 2019 fund, Fund Two, which totals $150 million. Its first fund was also $150 million, making Rise of the Rest’s total assets under management $300 million. The firm typically makes 80 to 100 investments per fund.

In North Carolina, Bull City Ventures is deploying its $53 million fund, the firm’s fourth, raised in 2022, said David Jones, Bull City Ventures’ co-founder and general partner.

Jones is also coming to Wilmington for the Investor Buzz-In event. Jones is from Wilmington, and Jim Roberts, the founder and leader of NEW, is an avid advocate for the coast’s tech entrepreneurship ecosystem. They share a common interest in seeing more business activity in Wilmington, Jones said.

Wilmington has all the right ingredients for a successful startup ecosystem, Jones said, including good quality of life and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Jones also mentioned Live Oak and nCino being a beacon for the region.

“The Live Oak/nCino thing, that's exactly what Wilmington needed and as you get that, and then that goes public, and mints a handful of people that now have some new money, they go off and start their next company,” Jones said. “So, you're seeing that cycle that in San Francisco is happening really fast, and Wilmington, it's starting to get some good steam.”

The NEW event will pull from that catalyst group of companies connected to Live Oak Bank with a panel of professionals involved in “success stories in Wilmington.” The group includes Michael Burns, an investor at Canapi Ventures and Chris Cox, chief operating officer of Apiture, and Nathan Snell, who now runs startup Raleon. Snell also co-founded nCino and will speak about the family of companies.

“I don't think anyone's had, in a public event, nCino and Apiture and Canapi Ventures on the same stage,” Roberts, the event's organizer, said. “And I've been here 10 years.”

A private reverse-pitch session by investors will kick off the event, where investors from Tennessee, Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Charlotte, and Washington D.C. will pitch their firms to an audience of startups.

Six local startup founders, including those from Wisely, Boreas Monitoring Solutions and Nuream will then have the opportunity to present their companies to investors. The doors will open at 3 p.m. to the public after private conversations between startups and investors.

A panel on attracting and engaging local capital in Wilmington with speakers from more venture capital funds, including Jones and Sridhar, will close the event.
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