Are Charlotte startups too shy when it comes to seeking funding?

(Note: This is a monthly startup series authored by Charlotte investor Greg Brown, the administrator of the Charlotte Angel Fund, where he will discuss the current batch of startups presenting to the fund’s membership as well as topics that may be of interest to those who care about Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community.)

Much has been written on the topic of angel and venture capital availability for Charlotte-based startups.

I think that it’s fair to summarize the situation as follows:

Glass half-empty: Charlotte doesn’t have any resident venture capital firms. Further, there are relatively few active angel investors as compared to other cities of our size.

Glass half-full: We are now home to two startups with > $1 billion valuations in Red Ventures and AvidXchange.

Clearly it is possible for Charlotte startups to raise capital and build an extremely successful business. Additionally, energy and enthusiasm within the Charlotte startup community is at an all-time high.

Startups often think that they should start with angel investors. Using an example of a software company, what they will often hear is that angel investors judge them to be “too early” if they don’t have product released and a handful of paying customers. If having product released is required to attract angel investment and it takes $50,000 to build the first version of the product, where can that capital be found?

A source of early capital

NC IDEA is a private foundation with various programs intended to support entrepreneurial activity within North Carolina.

Its most well-known program is the seed grant program where startups can receive up to $50,000 in non-dilutive funding. Charlotte startups are generally aware of NC IDEA and the seed grant program.

I recently accepted an invitation to join the NC IDEA board of directors. It is something that I’m excited about doing as a way to champion the cause of Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community.

Charlotte’s relationship with NC IDEA

During the board interview process, I was asked about my impressions of the NC IDEA organization. Recognizing an opportunity to mount my soapbox, I didn’t hesitate to proclaim that NC IDEA needed to be less Triangle-centric.

Specifically, I stated that they need to be less Triangle-centric in their seed grant awards.

With 119 grants having been awarded since the program’s inception in 2006, surely the fact that only nine of the grant recipients have been from the Charlotte area is an indication of anti-Charlotte bias.

Then, they hit me with it.

“Greg, do you know how many of the over 150 applications from the most recent grant cycle were from Charlotte area companies?”

(Awkward silence)

“Two, and one of those was awarded a grant.”

(Note – WedClique was that recipient)

Two? Only two Charlotte startups put forth the effort to apply for the best known seed grant program in NC?

What needs to happen

Charlotte startups need to get into the game.

Winning an NC IDEA seed grant is one of the best ways that a company can receive non-dilutive funding and create visibility for themselves among North Carolina’s angel and venture capital investors.

In the case of Charlotte Angel Fund, we’ve invited sixteen NC IDEA seed grant winners to present to our members over the past three years and funded three of those companies. Even if you don’t win a grant, the opportunity to receive feedback from and gain visibility with NC IDEA’s grant application reviewers is invaluable.

Yet only two Charlotte companies applied.

Maybe some companies didn’t apply because they have heard that NC IDEA is biased against Charlotte companies.

Are you really going to let that stop you?

Maybe some didn’t apply because they applied in a prior year and didn’t win.

Are you not going to show more persistence than that?

Yes, it will be great when there are a greater number of active early stage investors in Charlotte. Yes, it will be awesome when more VCs are coming to Charlotte to meet with our startups in search of the next AvidXchange or Red Ventures.

Until then, be persistent. Get into the game. Utilize the resources that are available. Apply for an NC IDEA grant. Investigate whether or not Charlotte Venture Challenge is a good fit for you. Find a way to get on stage at the CED Tech Venture, 36/86, and Dig South conferences.

Kick down the door rather than waiting for someone to open it for you.

Who presented to Charlotte Angel Fund in July?

Catapult

This Charlotte-based company has developed a web-based application to streamline the RFP submission and response process. Their initial target market are retirement plan sponsors who periodically issue RFPs as a means of ensuring that their plan fees and returns are market competitive.

Clinical Sensors

Clinical Sensors is developing sensing technologies for use in hospital point of care devices. The RTP-based company is initially targeting early detection of sepsis infections with its technology.

The Waggle Company

This Charlotte-based company delivers on-demand dog walking services with same-day scheduling. They hope to expand their service offering to include managed dog park services for apartment complexes.