NC Start-Ups See Infusion Of Money

Sep 17, 2014

Corey Harris, Founder of 'Swaggr,' new online menswear personal shopping start-up.
Credit Leoneda Inge

A report released this week by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development shows start-up companies across North Carolina are raising bigger rounds of funding.

One company out of Greensboro, raised $1 million in its first seven months.

Many of these new companies are in Raleigh for the CED Tech Venture Conference.

Some 80 start-up companies were invited to this year’s CED Tech Venture Conference, spreading out their trinkets, candy and ink pens in two large demo rooms.

The companies fall under a few specific categories – including digital health, advanced materials and manufacturing and E-Commerce.  Corey Harris is Founder and CEO of "Swaggr," A Men’s Personal Shopping online service.  The company is only four months old.  

“I actually hate to shop which is why I came up with this start up.  I realized that there wasn’t a solution out there that was really geared towards the average guy,” said Harris.

Harris is trying to fill a void left by Chicago-based Trunk Club, the menswear online shopping service recently acquired by Nordstrom.  And Harris is optimistic.

“You know I’ve gotten some promising leads so I’ll probably be actively raising my first round in the spring,” said Harris.

During the first six months of last year, start-ups raised $202 million . This year, during the same period, fundraising spiked to $266 million.

The entrepreneurial mood in North Carolina feels a lot like springtime, when the weather is perfect, not too hot, not too cold.  And the numbers bear that out.

During the first six months of last year, start-ups raised $202 million .  This year, during the same period, fundraising spiked to $266 million.

Joan Siefert Rose is President of CED.  She says more money is being raised and more deals are getting done.

“It’s a new group of people coming in and they are really changing the landscape of North Carolina entrepreneurship,” said Rose.

A report released by CED shows most of the money is not being raised by your traditional Venture Capitalists, but instead by Angel Investors, usually wealthy individuals willing to take a risk.

Ryan Pratt, is the Founder and CEO of an 18-month-old semi-conductor company based in Greensboro. It’s called "Guerrilla RF."  (The "RF" stands for Radio Frequency.)

“And so when I think of guerrilla warfare, I think of you know, striking the enemy behind the lines, going after softer targets.  That’s kind of the idea," said Pratt.  "We’re really an unconventional small company.  We’re going up against some very big competitors.”

That’s probably why everybody told him it would be very difficult to raise money.  But in its first seven months, "Guerrilla RF" raised $1 million from Angel Investors, and was also the recipient of a major grant from the non-profit, NC IDEA.  But Pratt says in order to move on, he will need venture funding from larger firms.

“And that’s kind of why I’m here. That’s why we’re here to try and share our story as we look to the next round. We’re looking to do a few million dollars to take our products to market,” said Pratt.

Good for Pratt, there were plenty of Venture Capitalists walking the carpeted halls of the Raleigh Convention Center yesterday. 

Will Dunbar is Managing Director and Co-Founder of Core Capital Partners of Washington, DC.  Dunbar has made almost all of the CED Tech Venture conferences.

“We’ve invested in quite a few North Carolina companies and several of them have been successful," said Dunbar.  "Now we’re seeing a really critical mass of companies in this region, particularly in the software space.”

And Dunbar says he likes what he sees, an increase in the number and quality of early stage companies to consider.