Launch Chapel Hill Levels Up With Exits, Expansions & New Space

Six are women, one a high school senior and three are professors at UNC-Chapel Hill. They’re working on startups with big ideas like ending racism, employing young people in meaningful work, providing access to radiation cancer treatment in the developing world and enabling precision medicine.

The eighth cohort at Launch Chapel Hill is representative of the diversity the accelerator program attracts in its twice annual programs supporting entrepreneurs at UNC and in the town of Chapel Hill and Orange County. The latest group of entrepreneurs is also significant because its the first to occupy Launch’s expansion space on Franklin Street.

The four-year-old accelerator doubled in size this summer to meet growing demand for co-working in downtown Chapel Hill, and to provide dedicated space for its nationally recognized program. The startups at Launch have raised $20 million in venture capital, employed 1,100 people—250 in Orange County—and earned $8 million in revenue.


Launch Chapel Hill added 3,500 square feet to its existing footprint in downtown Chapel Hill. Credit: York Wilson Photography
Two have had significant exits since participating in the program and several others occupy office space in downtown Chapel Hill—a chief goal of the program is to spur more economic activity in town.

Says Dina Rousset, who directs Launch Chapel Hill as senior associate director at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Kenan-Flagler: “We are now able to bring in nine new teams in a space that facilitates connections and events more effectively, and take the space we have and let teams grow in Chapel Hill.”

BUILDING A LOCAL COMMUNITY OF ENTREPRENEURS WITH GLOBAL AWARENESS
At an event two weeks ago in the new space, Rousset recognized the accelerator’s achievements while hinting at what’s to come with the 3,500-square-foot expansion.

Among the highlights were two recent exits: Impulsonic, a 3D audio technology startup based on UNC intellectual property and nine patents, and UConnection, a dining and nightlife deals app for college students on 500 U.S. campuses. Impulsonic was acquired earlier this year by a top gaming company called Valve Software, which moved the team to Bellevue, WA.

UConnection was sold in January 2016 to a private equity firm in Chapel Hill. The founders have since started Hyperspace Ventures to invest in and help build more technology companies in the region.

On the expansion side, Rousset spotlighted Jury-X, which employs a dozen people in the old Daily Tar Heel building on Rosemary Street. The cohort six company founded by former multimedia journalist Tiffany Devereux uses big data to analyze the biases of jurors prior to trials for lawyers (on behalf of clients).

Academic Benchmarking Consortium of cohort three provides benchmarking data through its ABC Insights platform to finance leaders at 19 higher education institutions. Three years since launch, it employs more than a dozen people in downtown Chapel Hill.

And Quantworks, a fifth cohort company, has over 20 employees in Chapel Hill since launching in 2015 to help startups and large companies with analytics projects and data monetization.

The founders of WalletFi are looking for local space after completing a globally-recognized FinTech accelerator over the summer.


Rousset believes these accomplishments are helping tell a story with global reach about the strength of the entrepreneurial community in and around Chapel Hill. Two years ago, the prestigious UVI Global ranked the incubator fourth among all university-affiliated programs in North America for its performance.

Rousset has submitted information for the biennial rankings coming in November. In the meantime, she will join the U.S. Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program in Russia this fall to talk about how Launch Chapel Hill supports innovation in the community, and specifically, how it boosts female entrepreneurs.

MEET COHORT EIGHT
With six female founders, cohort eight will bolster her talk.

Two of those women have day jobs as professors at UNC. Physics Research Professor Sha Chang is applying her work in radiation therapy to a social enterprise aimed to provide cancer treatment in developing countries without access today. EmpowerRT is developing software, hardware and hands-on training to provide affordable and safe radiation therapy to cancer clinics around the globe.


Professor Sha Chang is founder of EmpowerRT. Spanish professor Lucia Binotti, meanwhile, has designed a GPS-enabled mobile and web platform that provides expert content, multimedia, collaboration tools, assessment and other educational materials to teachers and students while they’re teaching/learning outside the classroom. Called RoadAmico, it’s similar in concept to The Walking Classroom, a nonprofit organization launched by a fifth grade teacher from Chapel Hill in 2010 with the aim to get students learning while moving.


Spanish professor Lucia Binotti is founder of RoadAmico. Another female-led EdTech startup is We Are, with the important mission of extending anti-racist education to classrooms across the U.S. The program designed by UNC-Chapel Hill Ph.D candidate Ronda Taylor Bullock is meant to address and end systemic racism starting with children, educators and parents. Bullock, a former English teacher at Hillside High School in Durham, is focusing her doctoral work on whiteness and how white elementary students perceive their identity and that of their colleagues.

She won a CUBE Social Innovation grant last summer to launch We Are’s first summer camp and educator conference. She held the second iterations this July, while kicking off her work at Launch Chapel Hill.

 

Clothing company Brilliant You is getting ready for a September 30 launch of its e-commerce site. The custom denim startup is led by electrical engineer Terry Davis, who uses a patented material along the seams of her products to improve the way denim conforms to the body. She will produce jeans, leggings and other items in a facility in downtown Chapel Hill.


Terry Davis is founder of Brilliant You. Another consumer product play is Boro Beverage, a handcrafted non-alcoholic beverage company with draft kombucha, craft sodas and drinking vinegars made of local ingredients and sold at farmer’s markets and craft breweries. Founder Carly Erickson uses only in-season local ingredients and has a mission to support farmers in North Carolina.


Boro Beverages are sold at farmer’s markets in Orange County. Ridesharing isn’t a new concept, but GoKart is the first service aimed at kids. Founder Stacy Shannon describes it as a merger of Uber and Care.com, where drivers with at least five years of child care experience are hired to transport kids age 6 to 17 to soccer practice, school or a friend’s house.  So far, it’s available in Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Charlotte (and featured in our recent list of parent-friendly startups).


Stacy Shannon is founder of GoKart. Jobalo Jobs is the brainchild of East Chapel Hill High School senior Max Alway-Townsend. Launched a year ago, Jobalo aggregates internships, contract work, volunteer roles and part-time jobs open to high school students to help kids his age find meaningful work.

So far, he’s had about 1,000 app downloads and 70 companies in Chapel Hill and Durham using the platform. He’s raised $70,000 from friends and family and hopes to expand to between five and seven large cities with the help of a larger seed round.


Max Alway-Townsend is a high school student and founder of Jobalo Jobs. Path BioAnalytics has developed a cell culture technology that enables the drug development and drug testing work required to advance precision medicine. The company received a $1.6 million Small Business Innovation Grant in July to focus its work on determining the most effective treatments for cystic fibrosis.


John Mellnik is CEO of Path BioAnalytics. Mike Fried has turned best practices learned from two decades of experience with data analytics into Clarametrics, an analytics dashboard that combines a variety of tools in one place to give businesses a fuller picture of marketing effectiveness, e-commerce sales and other business trends. He’s already got a team of five working for the business.