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  • Lou Killeffer

A Truly Innovative Triangle

While management theory promotes any number of “innovation triangles” as the touchstone to new products, (think Simon Says in a polygon), my recent experience suggests success may have both a strategic basis and a geographic one - particularly one centered in the Piedmont of North Carolina...

Herewith a brief walk through a baker’s dozen of the extraordinary entrepreneurs and new enterprises making waves today on Tobacco Road.

1. One Better Ventures develops consumer brands that have “a positive impact on the world”. Formed by the partners who built Burt’s Bees and Seventh Generation, they advise, invest in, and incubate mission-driven ventures with stunningly sustainable business models, currently including both Leesa Sleep and Filter Easy.

2. An alternative that's just as effective as the leading energy drinks, Mati provides a no-jitters, no-crash, and no-sugar-added sparkling energy through the delicious craft-brewed union of guayusa, fruit juices, and natural flavors, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. Under new CEO Eric Masters, Mati’s rapidly expanding distribution and trial as the remarkable new source of healthy energy.

3. Led by Judith Cone, Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic

Development, Innovate Carolina is an alliance of UNC faculty, students and staff harnessing the collective expertise of more than 200 people and programs to help innovators put important ideas to work for the public good. As such, it promotes Chapel Hill’s culture and network of innovation as it helps the Carolina community realize novel ideas and their practical benefits.

4. Klearly is a prescriptive intelligence platform that transforms data into actionable insights to improve marketing and sales decisions. In delivering something quite close to the holy grail, Klearly identifies what’s working, with whom, and when - while prescribing the ideal combination of activities to influence winning new business. As CEO Alex Krawchick (cousin of my former client Sallie Krawcheck) says, “It’s like having Google Maps for your business.”

5. Fully acknowledging “the future always seems weird at first”, Tom Lotrecchiano’s Omigo has literally reinvented the toilet seat so “you never have to use toilet paper again”. Derived in part from well-established norms in Japan, Omigo’s the engineering marvel and the hi-tech toilet seat that promises to change everything. Heck, years from now, we’ll all look back “at wadding up dry tissue to clean ourselves” as weird!

6. Carpe Antiperspirant Lotion is the simple, effective, and comfortable antiperspirant for sweaty hands and feet, created by Carolina and Duke grads, David Spratte and Kasper Kubica who got fed up with their own sweaty palms. After a year of work and over sixty prototypes they’ve launched the world's first non-greasy, no-residue antiperspirant hand and foot lotionand have recently added national distribution through CVS to their online sales juggernaut.

7. Echo Health Ventures, and its COO, Michael Mankowski envision a future for health care that “revolves around people, not institutions”. Echo offers a refreshingly new, bi-coastal VC/PE team approach to corporate investment expressly focused on building the next-generation health care system.

8. American Underground serves a wide array of thinkers and doers, from solo-entrepreneurs, to remote employees, and thirty-person teams. One of only ten Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hubs in North America, AU was designed to accommodate any stage of a business’ life cycle with unique workspaces and events at its locations in Raleigh and Durham.

9. The first and only fully local organic distillery in the deep south, Top of The Hill Distillery, better known as TOPO, is dedicated to supporting local organic farming. Recognized by the NC Department of Agriculture for helping create the local market, the base of all of their spirits, excepting Rum, comes from organic, soft red winter wheat grown within 100 miles of the distillery. (Their Rum comes from the only organic cane field in the US, near West Palm Beach, Florida, while TOPO works to inspire cane growers in the Carolinas to go organic.)

10. CEO Kyle Chenet’s lead product at 410 Medical is LifeFlow which was born out of the barriers clinicians can face delivering fluids quickly and efficiently to critically ill patients. Timely fluid resuscitation is key to effective treatment of severe sepsis and shock but was an oft-neglected aspect of care due to difficulties with vascular access and the slow delivery techniques in common practice. LifeFlow changes all that.

11. Robert Williams and David Welsh run Three Waves Capital where they consult on private raises for companies primarily concerned with the evolving future of the CPG, technology, and food and beverage sectors. Three Waves works with start-ups, existing businesses, and institutional funds, investors, and partners on placements of $1MM to $20MM in any combination of equity and debt.

12. Founder Lucia Binotti’s, Amirabilia is the world's first adventure-based learning platform for experiential education building unparalleled geo-located learning adventures that bring real-world and digital objects, places, and people to life. Amirabilia engages students like never before through an active learning experience that challenges them in new ways to interact and experiment with their surroundings.

13. Blue Door Health, co-founded by CEO Michael Levy, provides a gateway to the future promise of digital health as it nurtures far-reaching alliances and innovation at the intersection of healthcare and technology. Blue Door knows it’s the relationship people have with themselves, with others, and the world around them that ultimately impacts their health, wellbeing, and happiness.

14. The Carolina Angel Network is a dedicated community of difference makers connecting UNC alumni and friends to UNC startups through a platform providing advice and investment to early stage UNC-affiliated companies. CAN provides Carolina’s entrepreneurs the welcome opportunity to grow their venture with equity funding and advice from their fellow Tar Heels.

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