Entrepreneurial endeavors in the technology industry did not slow down this year, and the Wilmington region saw notable companies growing and making their names known throughout the region and the country.
Possibly the most noteworthy tech news of the year was the successful IPO for local fintech company nCino.
In July, the company went public with stocks soaring 200% on IPO day valuing the company at about $7 billion.
While nCino certainly set an example of what local companies can accomplish, tech firms established milestones of their own when it comes to raising money and expanding.
Apiture, another company that like nCino can trace its roots to Live Oak Bank, received $20 million in a 2020 round of fundraising. The company, which supports the digital banking services of various banks and credit unions, used the money to accelerate the development of banking technologies.
Fintech companies in 2020 became more influential due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing banks to enhance their online banking capabilities.
This year Canapi, a local venture capital firm, invested in startups advancing banking technologies where “onboarding and servicing of new customers through digital channels has become critical on every bank’s roadmap,” Neil Underwood, partner at Canapi, said previously.
The firm received $545 million from Canapi Alliance, composed of more than 35 banks and strategic investors. In October, Canapi funded five financial technology companies: Moov, Blend, Alloy, Laika and Greenlight.
Meanwhile, other companies also completed fundraising this year.
They include LifeGait, the parent company of SportGait and other entities, which raised $370,000 in 2020 that company officials at the time said would be used for corporate use, licensing and intellectual property.
SportGait is a startup that has developed technology and an app to monitor concussion signs and symptoms in athletes.
In January, CloudWyze, offering internet and business technology services, raised $650,000 to aid in company growth.
CloudWyze was also part of a local move to expand internet access in rural areas and locally to aid with the increased internet use at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August, CloudWyze was awarded a contract with New Hanover County allowing it to update the county’s technology network to increase internet access.
This project would aid in the distribution of public Wi-Fi and is part of other works by the company to expand internet service to other areas of the state.
Over the past couple of years, CloudWyze has received government contracts in Nash and Halifax counties to deliver wireless internet to unserved and underserved areas. In 2020, the company completed phase two of the Nash County project.
Another local communications company, ATMC, also aims to bring high-speed internet to the region through a $21.6 million federal grant.
The grant aims to provide internet access to more than 7,000 addresses in rural Pender County.
As part of ATMC’s “Faster Pender” project, the communications company will contribute $7.2 million in funds, bringing the total investment to $28.9 million.
Those that will receive internet access include residences, businesses, educational facilities, health care facilities, critical community facilities and agricultural operations.
For two Wilmington companies, this year brought important achievements through exits.
Wilmington-based NextGlass, the parent company of Untappd, received an undisclosed investment from Providence Strategic Growth, an equity firm from Boston.
With this exit also came the departure of Kurt Taylor from his role as CEO with Trace Smith now filling that role.
This year, the company also completed three acquisitions: Oznr, assets of BeerAdvocate and most recently, the acquisition of Hop Culture, a digital magazine and event company catering to craft beer enthusiasts.
PlayerSpace is another company that had a successful exit this year with Daxko purchasing the sports management software firm for an undisclosed amount.
In addition, Wilmington-based LogicBay was acquired by Canadian firm Pluribus Technologies Inc. The local firm provides technology and service solutions that enable manufacturers.
This year, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic also brought changes to local startup incubator tekMountain, which closed its physical space for the foreseeable future. The space transitioned into a virtual one and started a committee to ensure members stay connected and supported.
While one business incubator closed its physical space, another opened. Genesis Block, founded by Tracey and Girard Newkirk, held its grand opening this year at its building in downtown Wilmington.
Genesis Block aims to support entrepreneurs, including minority-and women-owned businesses in the region with the goal of creating 400 jobs and adding $13 million in investment in the area.
2020 also saw a shift in Cucalorus Connect, an annual conference that explored the intersection of technology and startups with social justice and humanity. This year’s conference focused on conversations around pressing social issues, leaving behind the technology and startup traditional aspect of the conference.
Despite this, there is a possible separate event in the coming spring to bring back two events of the Connect conference, the 10x10 Challenge, which paired startups with filmmakers who were challenged to create a promotional video, and Rocket Pitches, which introduced innovative startups to an audience.
Efforts to support life science innovation and startups also ramped up this year with the creation of the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge by N.C. Biotechnology Center Southeastern Office and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs and companies from the region competed in the inaugural challenge with Isosceles Pharmaceuticals Inc. taking the top award. Separately, health tech company Electronic Lab Logs won an NC IDEA SEED grant this year.
Besides grants to support startups, NC IDEA also awarded a local organization a grant to support local entrepreneurs. Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington received an ecosystem grant that will help fund Preaccelerator, a new program to help entrepreneurs and startups prepare for grant and funding opportunities.