Even among high-flying entrepreneurs with a fetish for the next big thing, sometimes the most practical idea wins out.
Eight local entrepreneurs found that out Tuesday when they competed for a $100,000 prize from one of this country’s original technology entrepreneurs: Steve Case, founder of America Online and retired chairman of AOL Time Warner.
The winner was ArchiveSocial, a 3-year-old Durham company that grabs and archives social media messages sent by state and local government agencies. ArchiveSocial, with 11 employees, already has more than 300 customers, including most major cities and counties in North Carolina.
After the event, Case described ArchiveSocial as “an interesting vertical.” The company is essentially a digital filing service.
“It’s a real need,” Case said. “They seem to have a good product and good traction.”
Founder and CEO Anil Chawla, 32, explained that social media content sent out by state and local employees is subject to public records laws, but government officials have no access to their own posts because the data lives on someone else’s servers. He noted that one ArchiveSocial customer, the state of North Carolina, was the first in the country to launch an open archive where the public can troll agency-generated social media.
ArchiveSocial’s customers have been subject to dozens of records requests already, Chawla said, including one from the National Rifle Association after Santa Barbara, Calif., implemented a gun buy-back program.
He said the company will use the $100,000 to boost its sales force.
The contest is part of the Rise of the Rest tour. Case has pledged to invest a total of $500,000 in local startups that win presentations in their towns.
For Tuesday’s event, the Carolina Theater was nearly full with the audience roaring its approval for start-ups that pitched cavity-preventing candy, online games for school kids, a platform for exchanging medical records, and various applications that track customers’ physical locations and shopping habits.
Barry Cohen, 67, a retired software programmer, said he found some of the software impressive, even though they are not stand-alone services but piggy-back on other products.
“They’re not the backbone; they’re add-ons,” he said, “They give another company value.”