Guest Columnist

Column: NC help leads to TechStars startup accelerator

May 6, 2013 

Laura Baverman, guest columnist

Coleman Greene is moving to Chicago this summer to join the nation’s most prestigious business accelerator program, the place where risky startup ideas have the best chance of attracting investors and customers or where they’re quickly quashed and reformulated into something better.

The Chapel Hill resident believes he’s the first in the state to be accepted to TechStars, the Boulder-based network with six locations of startup accelerators. Thousands have applied; 900 for the summer in Chicago alone.

The business that got him in is Sqord, a fitness wristband for kids that tracks activity and gives online rewards to motivate competition with classmates.

TechStars is an important step for the 31-year-old, who has poured two years into the business since completing an MBA at the University of North Carolina. Greene admits he couldn’t have made it without the resources and help he’s had in the state.

There’s his education from UNC-Chapel Hill, where a school project with a digital fitness company incited his passion for combating childhood obesity. A network of local families helped him craft the perfect product. Triangle-area entrepreneurs served as his mentors.

A team of software developers came together through UNC connections and Durham’s IDEA Fund Partners led Greene to a hardware designer in Wilmington.

A Winston-Salem manufacturer agreed to make the Sqord bands.

The YMCA of Chapel Hill and Carrboro tested the bands with children last summer. Child Obesity 180 and BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina (this page’s sponsor) provided grants for more pilots. The Blue Cross relationship then led to Sqord’s biggest opportunity, a six-digit contract and beta test with 10,000 Seattle fifth-graders this fall.

“We’ve made a lot of great progress here,” Greene said. “North Carolina has a healthy technology ecosystem. There are a ton of successful people in this area and all of them were very generous with their time.”

But when it came to building a consumer-oriented business national in scale, he needed the connections and dollars of TechStars, which has accelerated more than 200 businesses since its start in 2007.

Companies enter with any number of needs; financial, marketing, business model formation, technology development. TechStars provides $20,000 in return for a 6 percent stake, along with help from a national network of mentors.

Another $100,000 is offered at program’s end. But TechStars companies on average raise $1.6 million from outside investors. More than 80 percent are still in business today and 10 percent have been acquired.

“TechStars has a great brand, a top tier network of early stage investors and thought leaders in the technology startup space,” Greene said.

Greene expects to return home in September a smarter businessman and with a plan to take Sqord into schools and organizations around the nation. The catalyst may be TechStars, but the foundation comes from North Carolina.

Laura Baverman is a journalist who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh.

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