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Local Website Shares Network Marketing Opportunities

I am a strong believer that empowering business owners and entrepreneurs to succeed creates a stronger local economy. I myself provide digital services that lubricate the gears of startups and help founders find financial independence. Inasmuch I like to support tools that further that agenda.

Alexandra Lysik, a local business woman in Wilmington, NC, has a special talent for networking. She is energetic, outgoing, and creates strong relationships based on reciprocating referrals. It stands to reason she often gets asked about where networking events in town and surrounding areas are, when they are, and who she connects to. Of course, a busy woman only has so much time to address these questions, but naturally she wants to help. She decided to shed light on her secrets by letting the Sunshine in.

Mike Hunter and Alexander Lysik
Mike Hunter and Alexander Lysik at the My Sunshine Adventures launch event

On Tuesday January 12th, Alexandra hosted a website launch party co-sponsored by Mike Hunter of Pivot Launch Coaching. She launched a new site focused on providing tools for network marketing individuals in the Coastal area. It’s called My Sunshine Adventures, branded after her personal mascot Little Miss Sunshine, and provides useful tools and resources for any local business person or entrepreneur looking to spread their reach.

Features on the My Sunshine Adventures site include a “spotlight business of the week” section which provides a detailed overview of local companies and a blog updated with powerful information for anyone in the network marketing field. Perhaps one of the most valuable features, however, may be the calendar that lists nearly all networking events in the county. Seriously, go to the site and add those events to your calendar. You’ll keep yourself busy.

My Sunshine Adventures encompasses the entrepreneurial spirit without the bleeding edge technology normally associated with it. She identified a series of problems, then, once she did, she solved them and made the solution digitally available.

I would like the community of NHC [New Hanover County] and Brunswick County to be able to use the website as a resource in planning their next sales strategy. Grow in networking partners, learn new networking skills and nurture their grass roots approach to sales. — Alexandra Lysik

Lysik’s vision is to strengthen the potency of the ecosystem by providing success tools to its members. Her website provides exactly that service. You can support Alexandra as she supports the community by asking her about insurance services at

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Excerpts of ‘Technology Trends for 2016’

Advancements in technology play a significant role in how companies set their direction. Successful growth strategies, cost efficiencies and securing data all hinge on making the right technology decisions for your business. Five local technology executives offer their insights on recent technology developments and perspective on what to expect in the new year.

What questions should business people ask to ensure their technology investments yield maximum returns and help them grow their businesses?

Devon Scott: The first question should always be “will this technology help take my business where I want it to go?” It’s easy to get swept up in current trends and buzzwords and think things like “my business must be in the cloud now to stay relevant.” However, before spending several thousand dollars on a new tech investment, ask your provider or IT team some qualifying questions:

1. Does this technology help our business do our job better?

2. Does it solve a problem that we have already identified?

3. Will it allow us to take measurable advantage of an existing opportunity?

4. Will it help future-proof us against an identifiable threat to our business?

Essentially, run the potential investment through a SWOT to find out if it is really helping you. It might seem really cool to deploy a mobile app for employee collaboration until you realize that no technology, no matter how hot it seems (apps, clouds, automation, etc.), is a magic bullet. There might be no worse investment than doing the right thing in the wrong way.

What are the most common mistakes companies make in setting up their technology systems?

Scott: Trying to be too hands on with their technology. It can be a curse how available technological tools are. Many businesses will try to implement and configure tools themselves to save costs, but will generally add time to the turn around for implementation and leave many errors and vulnerabilities as a result.

You probably wouldn’t tell your office building contractor, “Just give me the blueprint, and we’ll install the electrical circuitry.” The dangers aren’t quite as obvious for technology until you are facing a PCI audit, or your services disconnect 15 times a day, and you can’t explain why. My advice is to hire someone to do the technical work so that your company can continue doing what it does best for its bottom line.

What should companies think about when exploring options to back up data and disaster recovery plans?

Scott: Ask yourself, “If our data were lost or otherwise compromised, how long would it take to get operations back up and running from a back up?” Simply grabbing and dumping all of your data onto some back up media only thinks about the “disaster” but not the “recovery” aspect.

If an important document were corrupted, can you retrieve a copy of just that one file from your backups, or would you need to reinstate an entire machine to that last good state? How many other files might be lost for the sake of this one file? If you do need to bring up an entire machine or all of your sales records, how many hours are you waiting until it’s back where it needs to be?

What preventative measures can companies take to avoid cyber attacks, viruses and other threats?

Scott: Good security is mostly good policy. Even a bad thief knows to check under the welcome mat for a spare key. That being said, most of your attacks come in through the front door, so to speak.

Your office security can be locked down completely, but if an employee uses the same password for his Facebook as he does to login to your billing software, your business doesn’t even need to be breached for them to get credentials to your finances. A good password policy and auditing plan can help this, and it’s best to have someone in charge of this. Keep it scheduled and enforce changing passwords, or implement two-step authentication.

If your business runs under a Bring your own Device (BYOD) structure, creating a strategy can be a real pain, but even a simple plan can help avoid huge threats. Catalog each device that an employee may bring that connects to your network. That means phones, tablets, laptops, and even USB sticks. This will give you a real idea of what threats you might be bringing into your network from the outside and will let you know what type of BYOD policies you truly need.

How can companies combat ransomware? This is where victims have their data held hostage and must make an online payment to get it back.

Scott: Ransomware is scary because the sudden realization is that someone has been slowly hiding away your data for probably months, and you won’t find out until they’ve managed to lock it up. Unless you have your data somewhere else or on another machine you can work on, then you’re stuck paying a hacker what they ask or having to abandon that data altogether.

That being said, the best way to think about it is this: How would you manage if your phone or laptop were stolen? That is usually the answer to ransomware. The hacker is relying on you not having a plan B.

Backup your data and scan your machines for malware often. Keep in mind, you want to make sure your backups are also clean from the ransomware infection. It does no good to find out that your backed up data is already encrypted and unusable, or that recovering your data also recovers the ransomware and starts the process all over again.

What are the most productive ways that companies are using cloud services?

Scott: Cloud based services are the ultimate off-site backup. Employees can look up or update data from their home or on the road. This means an enormous increase in business agility. It also means that, when upgrading computer hardware, the time to install and configure services is greatly reduced. This goes especially for cloud based software and cloud based storage solutions that sync your data and activity across machines automatically.

Another great aspect of many cloud based services is the pay-for-use model, which allows you pay for how much you use certain services or how many users you give access to it. This means that you hold a huge amount of financial control and can trim fat methodically to really manage your costs.

Should companies have security concerns about cloud computing?

Scott: The cloud is generally more secure than your own datacenter. On one hand, you have the security of “owning” your systems when you have in-house technology, at least in a geographic sense. However that means all responsibility for those systems falls on you. A reliable third-party cloud company dedicated to the storage, management and encryption of your systems and data will manage the infrastructure while you manage your business.

Which online collaboration tools are most effective for businesses?

Scott: Regarding communication, HipChat has gained a lot of support. You can bring people into project conversations and control who gets alerted to what you need. Being an Atlassian product, it naturally plugs into several of their other tech tools if you ever find yourself growing in those directions.

Slack is a great collaboration tool that acts as an internal chat system for your teams. While it isn’t my favorite interface, it is very effective at what it does. In projects with several points of contact and many communications mediums (email, Dropbox, chat, text message, etc) it can be next to impossible to keep track of every asset, contract, and call to action. One search in Slack can look through all of these different sources to bring all of those conversations into one place.

I could recommend any number of project and task management tools, but none of them are one size fits all. Trello hits the mark by being broad enough to visualize what most businesses would have going on using Kanban boards and tagging features that have a fairly smooth learning curve. Google Drive is also still a very effective tool for collaboration. It provide cross platform multi-user editing, fairly simple but powerful sharing, security mechanisms, and powerful document and spreadsheet interfaces.

What should companies think about when selecting an Internet plan?

Scott: You want to know the strongest infrastructure in your area. If you are near your service provider, DSL or fiber optic can be preferable. If your cable provider’s isn’t saturated with competing users, you might win there. If your location is remote from the main town, you might want or be stuck with satellite. Also ask any existing customers in your area how well the service has been for them.

Also, estimate how much data you are actually sending and receiving and talk to your IT team about the bundles the provider is offering. Some providers offer phone lines, antivirus and spyware monitoring, and several other features.

How does the subscription model for software like Office 365 change the way companies buy and use software?

Scott: Instead of paying $1,500 for a software suite, subscription-based payment models like the ones you see for Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud allow you to pay an almost negligible monthly fee for it. This means that the investment for implementing, configuring, and learning the software is much lower, and it looks really good for a company’s cash flow. It’s like getting a debt-free loan towards an expensive piece of software.

What is the most efficient and safest way to give employees remote access to company information?

Scott: Whether you have travel concerns, telecommuting, or contractors, remote access is an important thing to consider ahead of time. I avoid Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) like the kind used by Windows Remote Desktop. The reason is not because of RDP itself, although there have been historic vulnerabilities with it.

The most important concern is securing your endpoints, which would be each device that connects to your business network remotely. Depending on how your employees really need to access data and how often, a simple browser based SSL VPN pass-through can connect your organization’s members to the network with some simple rules. If you have more complicated needs, however, such as fully remote employees as well as some contractors who only need limited data, a combination of IPsec and SSL VPN access would give more control.

What factors should businesses consider before using Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Square and other mobile payment systems?

Scott: Most of these services have comparable features and fees, though some have slight advantages over the others. How do your customers pay you? If they pay via debit or through an app related to the payment service, they may or may not see the same fees as other customers. Also, what devices will your customers have? You don’t want to alienate your customers because a mobile payment system isn’t supported by their smart phone of choice.

Luckily there are services to mitigate this, such as Braintree, which processes most mobile payment systems including Bitcoin. If your customer is adventurous enough to experiment with the mobile payment system you are looking at, you can look forward to the improved security attached to each of these systems, including real time fraud protection, remote device deactivation, PIN requirements, and biome.

What is the most important technology issue that businesses should be focused on for 2016?

Scott: Monitoring is a fairly big deal. Very often technology is put in place and never looked at again, or at least not looked at properly. Monitoring can mean the difference between being hacked and identifying a hack attempt, or almost more alluring, predicting a customer behavior that might signal your next flagship product or service.

Proper monitoring is also the first step for preparing for the Big Data world. Data can be very valuable and very marketable, but you will never know it is if you never collect it. Scanning, tracking, and monitoring your financial data, customer interactions, or web traffic is like choosing to make an investment in something you already have but have been throwing away.

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Four Wilmington Startups Emerge from Seahawk Innovation Incubator

Mimijumi, LifeGait, CRA360, and SeekerDNA announce plans to raise funds after Wilmington incubator program.

A year of incubation from Seahawk Innovation helped four young Wilmington startups survive “the valley of death,” that early startup phase of negative cash flow but positive momentum. At a December 16th “coming out party”, the founders of the companies—a baby bottle brand, health analytics startup, SaaS for clinical research and synthetic DNA producer—shared plans for 2016 and celebrated with the community at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNCW, where Seahawk, an investment and advisory firm, is a tenant.

Seahawk started soon after the CIE opened near the UNCW campus. The firm partnered with the university to provide mentorship to companies in the CIE at the same time as it worked to raise a fund and incubated its own portfolio companies. There’s no news of the fund so far but read on to learn about four companies who’ve received help from Seahawk. 
The businesses are Mimijumi, LifeGait, Inc, CRA360, and SeekerDNA. During the event, each company revealed plans to raise at least $500,000 to further grow their companies in 2016.


Brendan Collins, CEO of Mimijumi, introduced his company, which developed a baby bottle that mimics a natural breast and is meant to improve first-year nutrition for infants. It is formed from a nylon and silicon skin over a polyester membrane and is cast using the same precision machinery used to create ultra precise silicon components for Porsche vehicles. This unique skin-like experience helps to avoid nipple confusion and is also unique in that it allows the baby, rather than the bottle, to control milk flow. 

Brendan Collins is CEO of Mimijumi, a Wilmington-based baby bottle brand. 

With 250,000 Mimijumi bottles sold and a reported 97% favorability by infants, its approximate $30 price tag seems to be validated in a market where parents must go through three or more cheaper bottle brands before finding one that works for their child. Using data-driven content marketing to target mothers online and selling in specialty boutiques rather than retail centers their mobile-minded target customers are unlikely to enter, Mimijumi has earned $1 million since inception. The company earned a celebrity endorsement from actress Blake Lively this year, along with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year award. It projects 300% sales growth in 2016 thanks to international expansion and new product development, like the introduction of various skin tones for bottle nipples and other products that don’t involve feeding. Mimijumi will raise capital to accomplish these goals.

LifeGait, Inc

A motion tracking technology developed by geriatrician Dr. Mark Williams, LifeGait puts sensors on a person’s ankles, wrists and sacrum and then analyzes the walking gait to look for symptoms or changes in health.The team led by CEO Chris Newton tracks a biokinetigraph (BKG), which is a summary of motion, symmetry and energy and is essentially a graphical signature of disease or wellness. This non-invasive and easily applied technology is protected by four patents.

Chris Newton is CEO of LifeGait, a motion sensor technology for detecting concussion or other disorders. 

There are at least three market applications, and LifeGait has unique products for each: SportGait, SeniorGait, and MedGait. SportGait, the primary application at present, is focused on youth sports, specifically soccer, and represents a $3 billion market. SportGait hopes to unravel the analytics of detection and diagnosis of sports-related head trauma. There is currently no easy way to measure a person’s vulnerability toward concussions or the effect a concussion might have. The product does not replace traditional concussion detection methods but provides an immediate indication that something is wrong and may be related to concussion or trauma, and using sensory data humans don’t notice or can’t confirm. About 2,400 data points are collected during a 10-foot walk, a turn and a walk back to the starting point. The subtle details recorded in the resulting BKG can be compared to a baseline performance test recorded prior to a concussion. A SportGait app will allow users to crowdsource this data to build a corpus of information. 

LifeGait plans to market to youth teams, reaching new ones when they play existing customers. This process can help reach the 13,400 youth soccer players in the state of NC, and eventually three million players in the US. Partnering with the UNCW research facilities, LifeGait, Inc is raising funding for biokinetigraph research and the development of mobile apps. 


CRA360, co-founded by CEO Matt Orr, provides a cloud-based SaaS solution for the clinical research field. There are about 8,000 projects in clinical research a year, Orr reports, and they cost a total of $50-100 million. It costs about $2.6 billion to bring a new drug to market. 30% of these costs are related to the site monitoring and management, the tasks of a clinical research associate or CRA. CRA360 provides a solution for hiring and managing these associates by digitizing their trials’ audit, verifying accuracy of applicant data, ensuring all activities are compliant to protocol, and ensuring the associates meet the necessary standards. You can consider it a digital resume for a CRA, and one that is validated by evidence of past work.

Matt Orr is CEO of CRA360, a Wilmington startup with a cloud-based SaaS solution for clinical research.

The CRA is the most critical human resource in the clinical trial chain, but their process today requires mostly paper documents and Excel spreadsheets. CRA360 offers the first niche product specifically for them, which is likely to mean increased efficiency and reduced costs for trials. Orr and his team represent over 70 collective years of experience in the industry. CRA360 will use any funds raised on SG&A expenses and continued development of the application.


Not originally part of the Seahawk Innovation portfolio, SeekerDNA was revealed as a surprise presentation. Founders Erin Porter and Rob Baratta have exclusive North American distribution rights for products and technologies from a U.K. company called TraceTag, which developed a synthetic DNA that can be sprayed or otherwise applied for the purpose of tracing the origin of stolen or lost items, or even tagging and identifying criminals from the scene of a crime.

Erin Porter is a founder of SeekerDNA, a Seahawk Innovation portfolio company. 

The application manages to bring a distinctly digital aspect to ownership to the real world—that of metadata. By registering a completely unique synthetic DNA identifier to your name and applying this substance as a spray, grease or glue to your physical property, these items can be traced using genetic tests to tie their synthetic sequence back to you, their registered owner. SeekerDNA’s synthetic sequences have no relation to biological DNA and are attached to a person only by digital registration.
In 2014, property crimes on the UNCW campus outnumbered those elsewhere in the city of Wilmington. Items that were stolen most often included laptops, bicycles, and consumer electronics. SeekerDNA was incubated within the campus ecosystem and will first target university staffers, students, parents, teachers, and nearby pawn shops. This will allow students to track and recover stolen items. The company is raising funding for the development of an associated web application. 

In Summary

Seahawk co-founder and general partner Tobin Geatz took the floor after the presentations to say how proud he is of the progress these businesses have made. They stand as an example of how startups can and should be operated, he said. First, they identify a real problem. Second, the founders focus time and talent on solving the problem, and finally, they discover the treasure after successfully applying the solution. 
Though all of these companies are raising money, in the end, he emphasizes that it’s not about the money, but the people. 
“You can’t money your way to the top of Mt. Everest,” he said, “You can’t pay to get carried there, and no helicopter can get you there.” 
He sees good mentoring and leadership as the sherpas of the ambitious founder and emphasized the role of passion and human capital in getting entrepreneurs to the top of the proverbial mountain.

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The Vs, Is and Ps of Startup Entrepreneurship

Four VC, startup and finance experts spoke to entrepreneurs in Wilmington last week to share tips and tricks on building and funding startups.

Last week, a Networking for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) event featured four roundtable speakers who each offered tips for bringing a startup from seed to exit. The four speakers were David Jones of Bull City Venture Partners, Doug Ellis of M&A advisory Decision Point International, Sean O’Leary, former CEO of the recently acquired StrikeIron and the interim director of NC IDEA, and Peter Meath of the venture bank Square 1 Bank. Each speaker’s particular role in the business-building process offered a unique and valuable perspective.
The event was titled VIP4 and covered a total of nine topics each beginning with the letters V, I and P (the four signifies the four speakers). 

The Vs: Valuation, Venture Banking, and Validation of Market Need

Jim Roberts, David Jones, Doug Ellis, Sean O’Leary, Peter Meath
Jim Roberts runs the NEW guest panel


Tech investor David Jones took on valuation, explaining that the process of valuing a business occurs at three main points: when raising funding, offering options and upon exit. While he emphasizes that many aspects of the valuation process are “more art than it is science,” he makes it clear that there are techniques to the process. 

There are certain qualities of a business that can be evaluated for the sake of valuation. For instance, David mentions that the entity’s cash flow is a good, real world indicator of traction. Its comparables— qualities or aspects that compare to a similar and already valuated entity—also plays a part. How does your business compare to another in the same industry or to a company that provides the same service?

If what you offer seems obviously more valuable than the competition, that plays well toward valuation. Another common measure used in determining the valuation of a company is the experience of the team. Bringing in a strong individual who’s already worked with a successful startup or is a leader in the industry is a powerful indicator of your business’ value, but more on this later.

The valuation becomes highly important when considering dilution, particularly to the owners and founders of a business. On average, about 15-25% of a business is sold during each round of funding or investment. This becomes more important to consider when calculating your business’s option pool, which itself will be about 15-25% of your business.

David warns prospective entrepreneurs not to get too tied up in the valuation process, however. There are many techniques one could apply to attain high seed valuations above $3 or 5 million, but a high valuation is not the goal.

“The financing is not the win…The win is when you exit the business,” he said.

It’s also wise not to seek too high a valuation—an over-generous valuation can be dangerous. Investor-share preference—the policy that investors are the first in the ownership chain to be paid back if the exit is below the valuation of the company—can hurt startups if they set valuation too high. In such an event, the founders may never see positive capital gains. In short, build your business, get a fair valuation, then get back to work.


Serial entrepreneur Sean O’Leary spoke on validation of your business model—the key to determining it is separating fact from fiction. An investor looking at your startup will need to feel certain that your business can perform in the real marketplace. There are several aspects of your business used to determine this. 

The amount of traction: This refers to your startup’s relative momentum. A startup that already shows positive signs of growth will obviously be more attractive to an investor, as it comes with an argument towards its own validation already. 

Sales: For startups that are already in the market, the amount of revenue earned and the rate at which it was earned can help provide testable evidence to rationalize an investment. 

Users/customers: A business’s users or customers are another measurable indicator of its traction. Having reached an existing audience or gathered a fan base willing to do business with you indicates validation proven against at least some fraction of the market. 

These factors, Sean says, absolutely have to be measurable and truthful. Collect actual data on your business, such as your key performance indicators or KPIs, and convert these into facts to put toward your valuation.

From this, we can read that the stops on the road to presenting a validation the startup is to bootstrap, then gain audience traction, earn revenue, and get a fair valuation.

While the above are affected largely by past and present activities of your business, there are validation factors that involve future activities as well. An example is the plan your business has for its capital, including the equity from its valuation. 

What expenditures will this capital go into? Equipment? Team members? Marketing? Why? Ask what these expenses add to your product or service. Again Sean urges the business owner to make certain that these expectations, and the rationalization behind them, are based in measurable and truthful reality.

Startup banker Peter Meath reminds us that one of our primary jobs is to convince others that you know what you’re doing. Certainly, Sean’s advice on real and measurable facts can go a long way toward this effort. Either way, you should be able to present a case for what creates your business’s value. Further, when creating the answer to this question, consider what an investor might think of that answer.

Venture Banking 

Peter delivered an interesting anecdote regarding his own Square 1 Bank. During its startup phase, leaders had to present the case for starting a venture bank, that is, a bank that loans money in one of the riskiest investment arenas that exist. 

There was two-fold value to his story. On one side, it explains how a successful and mainstream venture collected data and made plans in order to present a validated model. On the other, it reminds us that banks are granular to value building. Venture bank-backed value is a debt, which is all the more reason to have a valid business model since the debt will have to be repaid.

The Is: Introductions, IPOs and Exits, and Intellectual Property

IPOs and Exits 

M&A expert Doug Ellis opened with some advice for weighing IPOs, mergers, and acquisitions. He mentioned that it is important to start building your business with the end goal in mind. That is, do you want a lifestyle business or an exit with equity value? This end destination should largely determine how you run the business and which hoops you will jump through toward the goal that will ultimately satisfy you. 

Buyers will further want a predictable revenue stream that fits your business model, whether that’s subscription-managed services, licensing or rental. In short, your company would benefit from having some method or strategy to hold your customers captive. Your growth rate also factors in, Ellis mentions. There is somewhat of a revenue-to-valuation ratio. Sean also adds that you can think of acquirers as partners and vice versa; the partners you work with provide validation to your business.

Once you have determined and set your trajectory, you can consider who might want to potentially acquire your business. This exercise can help avoid many problems during an acquisition. Five to 10 years from now, your business and all if its activities will be scrutinized under a microscope, so make decisions, build a team and gain the traction that will be favorable to that event. A wildcard on your founders team, a nondisclosure breach, or a red flag in your books at the founding of your startup could become an obstacle to exit years after its occurrence. 

In the end, Doug says, the results of your exit are largely based on what the market is willing to pay.

Intellectual Property 

What the market is willing to pay, however, also depends on what you have to offer. Peter mentions that intellectual property has always been important in underwriting, but during the dotcom bubble the game changed quite a bit.

IP isn’t a magic pot of gold. You must ask yourself if your Intellectual property is actually defensible. In a semiconductor, high tech or biotech industry, it may likely be so, but otherwise, it may be best to focus on the market, Peter says. In other words, simply owning IP might not add to your business’s traction. You should focus on intrinsic uniqueness before securing patents. Doug notes that with a technology startup, you either need to begin with a unique technology or with an existing technology that is stacked into a denser product.


David Jones gives some advice about meeting and talking to investors. Generally, the question is not how to introduce yourself, but if you can get introduced. Often with small business and startups, it is in the best interest of your lawyers, bankers and other professional partners, to introduce you to potential investor opportunities. After all, if you make more money, so do they. Investors get hundreds of propositions a year and have to filter out startup noise. They want their connections to vet you. It is proof that you can be “scrappy” enough to work up the chain to them. 
Peter points out that investors can provide the most expensive but most valuable capital in a startup’s life. Since you are going to be considered against your entire ecosystem, you want to nurture it with strong partners. 
“How do your service providers measure up?” should remain a question you ask yourself. Do they add value to your business? Find the best ones to work with and grow into teams and partnerships that help lead to your success. 

The Ps: Profit, Persistence and People


We promised to get back to the subject of bringing strong people onto your team, and the actual role of people in building a business from startup to exit. David says that 80 percent of an investor’s decision is based on the people that surround a product or service. Sean adds that it is best to work with experienced people. Experience on your team is beneficial, not only because of the answers and foresight those team members bring to your company, but because of the perceived value they bring to your entire startup.

It isn’t your internal team alone that can influence the value and exit of your company. Doug says that your clients might become your buyers. Since it is better to be bought than to be sold, be compelling to those to whom you are providing service and a great business strategy and value. These clients already respect the value you provide, and, if you fill a whitespace in their business, they will likely utilize your product or service. That may be a good opportunity for a potential acquisition. 


When it comes to people, there is the question of whether talent or passion is more important. While the jury is officially out, talent generally wins. If you go to a pitch event or an entrepreneur event, no one will talk about the passion they have. Passion is assumed, but talent is what will differentiate the quality of your business. 

But it doesn’t have to be either or. It’s definitely best to exhibit both. Fill all the gaps. That said, persistence is a key factor in each facet. An investor is going to expect a successful founder to be able to surround her or himself with a powerful team and instill within them a persistence toward building a successful company.


So how does the team itself profit from an exit? Doug mentions that there is a dichotomy after an exit, in which some team members are more valuable than others to investors or acquirers. In a product industry, more valuable will be developers or engineers. But in a service industry, the C-suite members would be critical. Investors want to make sure your team gets a decent earn-out to incentivize them to stay on the team and be focused on success, even after the exit.

The journey from startup to exit is an exciting although risky one. There are many things to consider and many things to learn from different individuals that interact with your business at each point of its growth, from funding to selling.

The primary goal of a founder looking to take his idea to exit should be to gain momentum and never lose it. Create a compelling and obvious case for the value your company provides, and make it easy and desirable for others to get involved. In culmination, Sean reminds us that entrepreneurs are crazy to begin with. It’s important to stay grounded in reality—stay smart and self-aware.

As a good follow up to this event, Bull City Venture Partners is hosting a Venture Capital outlook panel in Raleigh on Jan 19, where investors will share what they’re looking forward to in the new year.

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New Wilmington Angel Network Launches, Makes First Investment in Pet IoT

Wilmington-based WALE invests in a Wilmington pet technology company, fills coastal North Carolina funding gap.

There are many hurdles and hardships for an entrepreneur trying to succeed. Among those is the ever constant need for capital, particularly from outside investors.

Coastal North Carolina areas don’t have the same density of startups as Raleigh/Durham or Charlotte, but several organizations have been working to change that by gathering and supporting startup business owners. And there have been some big successes with Next Glass and nCino raising large amounts of capital and grabbing national headlines.

Early stage investment dollars remained a clear need until recently when a new investment group was announced. Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE), a network formed by a handful of entrepreneurs in and around the region, provides opportunities for early-stage startups to secure what would be otherwise out-of-reach seed money along with mentorship. And it has already made its first investment in a pet technology company called Petrics, founded by the manager of the Elite Innovations makerspace in Wilmington.

It can be very hard for a new tech business in Wilmington to raise money. Factoring its traditionally conservative economic climate, some founders may find themselves pitching to investors who are uncomfortable with certain technologies, business models and propositions. This often leads to a dance of introduction after introduction before founders are matched to willing funding sources. This process is a lengthy gamble that does not suit the iteration and growth requirements for early startups in these industries.

WALE Founder Jim Roberts, an experienced organizer of entrepreneurial investment groups and committees, envisions WALE as a network comprised of investors who have played the role of startup entrepreneur themselves and can not only provide financial support but mentorship. With a little handholding and some small bets on these more nascent companies, the investors can prepare businesses to stand before larger investors and VCs.

Roberts expects to help train his investors on how to best support entrepreneurs. He has experience doing just that at various statewide organizations, most recently the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

WALE does not intend to compete with existing investing entities such as the Wilmington Investor Network (WIN) or IMAF Cape Fear but instead invest at much earlier stages of a business. And in fact, Roberts hopes to work with entrepreneurs to make them ready for investment by other local groups. In addition, a partnership between WALE and 12 additional angel groups could provide more capital to qualified founders. If the sum invested by WALE members into a Wilmington startup is at least $50,000, the deal will be considered by other groups in the network. Given enough well-suited opportunities, WALE hopes to make between four to six investments a year.

WALE will mostly invest in tech and life science—its investors hail from those fields and most new Wilmington startups operate in those industries. Roberts’ experience with organizations such as the Center of Innovation for NanoBiotechnology (COIN) positions him well for these industries too.
Petrics will be the network’s guinea pig. The company has created a device and software that helps pet owners ensure their pets are eating the right amount of food at the right time. The system promises to be affordable and to accurately portion pet food, avoiding many avoidable and costly pet illnesses caused by overeating.

Roberts hopes to source additional deals through his other initiative, Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington or NEW. For the last six months, he’s held startup events and (often Triangle-based) speakers at Ironclad Brewery in downtown Wilmington in hopes of better connecting Raleigh and Durham entrepreneurs with those in his town. NEW formalizes that event series. The next one, coming December 10, focuses on the topic of venture capital and includes several Triangle investors.

This relationship is one Roberts refers to as the “Coastal Corridor,” and with NEW as a focal point, he forms a gateway between the small business economies from the coast and the regions deeper into the state. Roberts hopes to give coastal entrepreneurs an advantage by introducing them to leaders from the Triangle—they’ll have a warm introduction when they network in Raleigh or Durham and won’t feel like they have to move inland to make those connections. Roberts hopes Wilmington entrepreneurs can act as ambassadors for their town, presenting themselves as part of an active and thriving entrepreneurial community. And that inspires others to start companies, and to pitch to WALE to invest.

WALE could be a catalyst for more investors to get involved in Wilmington. It promises to help close a difficult-to-jump gap in the growth process of most startups. This, along with developing connections between growing business communities across the state, can create a firm foundation for both existing and soon-to-be-founded Wilmington businesses.

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The Thing About Many Hats

If you’re anything like me, your mornings generally begin as a sprint. Bookkeeping followed by a general assessment of business strategy. Several email and phone conversations to make sure any teams or projects you are involved with are in order. Document drafting in order to close some deals either in the bid or proposal stages. If you’re further anything like me, you are probably not a CPA & MBA with a double major in sales and marketing.

While we generally still respect the “renaissance man” image, it’s widely accepted that the “multi-tasker” and the “jack-of-all-trades” are well meaning ways to be highly ineffective. It remains the case, however, that many small business owners and entrepreneurs recognize the title CEO as meaning “wearer of many hats,” and this is particularly true among founders. This is certainly true for me as owner of Blue Fission, a software and technology agency. Whether or not this is a necessity or inevitability, I won’t debate. I simply want to touch on one important but easy to forget point: any number of hats all have to go on the same head.

I’m not saying to write a list of every secondary task you do and hire out for it. There is a true value to staying lean, and a very real cost to scouting, training, and on-boarding. I do, however, believe in the power of starting strategic business partnerships early on in business. This is particularly useful when a vital task in your business can best benefit from a specialist.

This means no one person on my team needs to be a content writing specialist because we’ve formed local alliances that allow us to share resources. These business partnerships prove useful when you have the option to pay for a training seminar to integrate your new invoicing solution to your eCommerce site – or pay a fraction of that to a company like ours to complete the task correctly.

Great strategic partners allow Blue Fission to stay focused on being a great technology agency, not a mediocre anything else. Form these in your business so you can get your head out of those hats and into the game.