Local business leaders, members of the Chapel Hill Town Council, county commissioners, and entrepreneurs from across the region gathered at a dinner this week to celebrate as startup accelerator Launch Chapel Hill introduced its new cohort of teams. Seven startups were picked from a competitive field by a panel of judges to participate in the five-month program, and as of January 6th joined 7 resident companies who are currently working in the program.
The acceptance of new teams also marks the graduation of three startups, who are moving into Launch’s newly-acquired co-working space at University Square. For Keona Health, Impulsonic, and Turnsmith (formerly Datacraft) it’s crucial for them to have access to low-cost office space during this critical phase in their business life cycle.
All three companies have successfully completed their term at Launch by meeting funding and growth benchmarks set working with their Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR), raising $1M combined in early stage funding to date. But, according to Launch Chapel Hill Program Manager Dina Mills, the three teams will benefit from an additional six to twelve months of in-kind support. “When we looked at these three companies it was clear to our Steering Committee that we want to be able to continue to offer support in any way we can at this critical phase of their growth” says Mills. Mills also expects that having these more experienced entrepreneurs close to the program will help the incoming teams.
According to Launch Executive Committee member Judith Cone, planning to support companies after graduating has been an ongoing part of Launch’s work. In her role as UNC’s Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Cone has been working closely with Town of Chapel Hill officials to help identify affordable space so young companies can stay local.
“It’s important that we keep building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Chapel Hill by making sure that startups can afford to grow their business in our community,” says Cone. “When they finish with the Launch program, or come out of the other campus and community support services available to startups, we want them to find an affordable place with access to a network of support where they can continue to thrive.”
For the seven teams entering the Launch Chapel Hill this week, the program offers an opportunity for intensive business plan development, combined with the mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs provided by the Launch EIRs, and access to an extended network of support provided by community partners
Ryan Bregier, co-founder and CEO of the tech startup Hypestarter which is now in a soft beta launch, is most interested in the hands-on mentorship and networking opportunities the program offers. “LAUNCH provides direct access to the top mentors in our area and allows us to work alongside the best entrepreneurial talent in Chapel Hill,” says Bregier. “We’re looking forward to working within the LAUNCH culture – with passionate founders who set ambitious goals and hold each other accountable.”
For companies like NanoOncology, a biotech startup dedicated to delivering and developing more effective cancer treatments with fewer adverse events, the benefit of going through the Launch program is the promise of exposing their technology to potential industry and academic partners through the accelerators deep ties to UNC and other research universities in the region.
Looking ahead to its Spring cohort of companies, Mills says she’s most excited about the breadth of industries that they represent, as well as the depth of the teams. “One thing that really stood out in the selection process was the quality of the teams that were applying,” says Mills. “It’s a mark of a more mature startup community when you see companies putting together solid teams to move their idea forward.”
Of the teams selected to join the program this spring, four are associated with UNC Chapel Hill. Launch is a unique collaboration between the Town of Chapel Hill, UNC Chapel Hill, Orange County, and a private donor. For more information about the companies and the program visit www.launchchapelhill.com.