Tech Startups Take Stage at Wilmington Entrepreneurship Conference
Movie fans know Wilmington, NC, as the shooting location for many popular flicks. The pharmaceutical industry knows Wilmington as the home of contract research organization PPD. But few people realize the coastal city is also a breeding ground for entrepreneurs.
The Coastal Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference, hosted by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, drew about 350 people to an event Thursday showcasing startup activity in the city. Entrepreneurs talked about the challenges of raising capital, and investors shared their thoughts about how they evaluate companies. Four startups got stage time to explain their businesses, products, and technologies. Here is a recap of their presentations.
—Sivad Business Solutions. Elections can mean long lines for voters and long days for poll workers. Sivad Business Solutions is using technology to address both. The company, based at the UNC-W Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has developed Web-based and mobile software that automates the data entry, paperwork, scheduling, and reporting that poll workers must do during elections, says Sivad CEO Ron Davis.
Sivad’s software, called EasyVote, is now in use in 85 jurisdictions in the Southeast for city and county elections. Davis says that elections represent a significant opportunity for the company because it is a mature market that has not been addressed by new technology. The company is trying to expand its reach, and Davis says the company is talking with officials in Texas, California, and Utah.
—mimijumi. Parents know all too well the challenges of bottle-feeding a baby. Some babies won’t take bottles, preferring to breastfeed, says mimijumi CEO Brendan Collins. Others prefer bottles and won’t go back to breast. Parents have their issues with the bottles, too, complaining that bottles have too many parts and are hard to clean. The startup has designed a bottle that mimics the shape and feel of a woman’s breast. The bottle has just two parts, a cap made from silicone and a bottle made from nylon. Collins says the bottle is easy to open with one hand.
Mimijumi was launched in 2009 by two doctors who designed the bottle. The doctors found that customers welcomed the product, but as full-time practicing physicians, they were unable to keep up with the business. Collins and a new management team have taken over the Nashville, TN, company, which is relocating to Wilmington. The bottles, which sell for $30 each, are made in Austria. Most of the sales are online, though Collins says mimijumi has just closed a deal that will bring the company’s bottles to the second largest retailer in France. Collins expects to have a deal with a U.S. retailer soon.
—Face My Age. Karl Ricanek aims to bring efficiency and innovation to the insurance industry. The University of North Carolina Wilmington computer science professor has developed software that can analyze a person’s face and make a prediction about that person’s life span. The face holds keys to a person’s health history and life expectancy, Ricanek explains.
Ricanek established and directs the Face Aging Group Research Lab at UNC-W. The “Face My Age” software comes from Ricanek’s expertise in facial recognition software. The software works by comparing a person’s facial statistics with those of others in a database who have the same age and personal characteristics. While the software won’t give an exact lifespan prediction, the company claims it can reliably predict, on average, how long people who share the same facial characteristics will live.
Ricanek says the software would speed up the time and cut the expense it takes for an insurance company to underwrite life insurance policies. He pegs the market opportunity at $15 trillion. “There is no competition for what we’re doing,” Ricanek says, in terms of insurance applications. “There’s no one looking at the face. We are the pioneers.”
—Next Glass. Kurt Taylor wants to help consumers make better-educated wine and beer selections, and he says he’ll use science to do it. Taylor’s Wilmington company, Next Glass, is using mass spectrometers to analyze every bottle of wine and beer sold in the United States. The analysis identifying the compounds of each beverage will be housed in a database. Taylor says the Next Glass software learns your preferences by comparing the wines and beers that you have liked with the information in its database. At a store, Taylor says a consumer would only need to scan a bottle label with a smartphone. Based on the consumer’s previous preferences, the software can say whether you’ll like it and suggest others that might be a better choice.
The Next Glass software is not yet available, but Taylor says a launch is coming soon. “We’re getting close to answering the most important question people have when shopping, which is whether or not they will enjoy how this tastes.”