Eric Spengler is an attorney at Spengler & Agans PLLC, a law firm that works with local startups and small businesses (and, full disclosure, is a proud sponsor of PitchBreakfast).
For those of you who aren’t familiar, think ABC’s Shark Tank — but replace Mark Cuban and the other investor “sharks” with a mostly friendly panel of judges and a live studio audience.
This month’s event followed an elevator-pitch format. Each of four local entrepreneurs was given two minutes to make their pitch (no slides!), followed by 15 minutes for Q&As with the panelists and audience. The judges were Lister Delgado, managing partner at Idea Fund Partners, and Greg Brown, principal of Cardinal Finance.
The four startups came from QC Fintech, an incubator for entrepreneurs in the financial technology (“fin tech”) services sector. Startups in this space are the epitome of what Charlotte has to offer with its banking prowess.
If you couldn’t make it this time, here are four local startups that might be the next big thing:
The name of this startup may sound like the latest Hollywood release starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And Interloop just may be as disruptive to B2B sales as the time machine in Inception.
Interloop relies on IBM’s Watson, one of the most powerful computers in the world (featured in those Bob Dylan commercials), to provide “digital sales coach” services to companies with complex sales models. The founders of Interloop developed the company as part of IBM’s prestigious startup ecosystem academy for Watson.
Here’s how it works: Interloop feeds Watson emails and other data from a potential sales target. Watson then uses that data to provide insights into the personality and behavioral traits of the sales target—insights the salesperson can use to communicate more effectively with the potential customer or client.
This may seem like some sci-fi version of The Office, but it could be a huge value-add in B2B industries where sales contracts can be worth thousands, if not millions of dollars.
Jill Bossi, Founder and CEO
Jill Bossi was the first Chief Procurement Officer (that’s CPO) of the Red Cross, a $3.1 billion non-profit. That means she’s an expert on Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs), entities that help realize savings and efficiencies by aggregating purchasing volume and using that leverage to negotiate discounts with vendors.
With her startup Thrive GPO, this former CPO is building a new GPO just for charitable organizations.
The idea is to increase the purchasing power of nonprofits with everyday expenses. Its members (like the Make-a-Wish Foundation) can purchase office supplies through Thrive’s web portal at a steep discount through Staples Advantage (as opposed to your brick-and-mortar Staples store).
GPOs are not a new idea. There are currently around 800 GPOs in the United States, many serving the profitable healthcare industry. (One GPO was acquired last year for $2.7 billion.) What makes Thrive GPO special is the startup’s understanding of the unique challenges facing charitable organizations. Suppliers who participate in the GPO must be willing to give one, low price to all of the participating non-profits, without stratifying the market based on the size of the charity.
With Thrive GPO, suppliers get a dedicated sales chain, non-profits stretch their donations, and Thrive makes a profit while doing good work.
Brandon Cavalier, Founder
This fin tech startup is an honest broker. It seeks to do exactly what it says—provide services for car payments and loans.
Car Payment Services, Inc. is positioning itself to disrupt a market in desperate need of innovation: the “Buy Here, Pay Here” auto dealers. You know, the used car dealer with the commercials going on about no credit needed?
As an attorney, I know what it’s like to stand in as the punch line in jokes at cocktail parties. My dad recently visited Charlotte and not-so-surreptitiously left a well-worn copy of Lawyers and Other Reptiles in my bathroom. (Thanks, Dad?)
Turns out, used car salesmen (also) are much more than meets the eye. As panelist Greg Brown remarked, “These aren’t car companies. They’re finance companies.”
In other words, when interest rates on dealer-financed loans are in the 20-30% range, the sale of the car is an afterthought—the car is just collateral on a high-interest loan. Once these loans mature over 6 to 9 months, the dealers can package and sell them to banks through a secondary market dominated by private brokers.
The whole system is riddled with inefficiencies. Car buyers often pay cash. And there is no existing secondary marketplace for the transparent resale of the loans.
Car Payment Services, Inc. will cut out the middleman and create an online marketplace for the sale of repackaged loans. Brandon’s company also will offer a web-based platform for customers to make car payments.
Mark Gulley, Founder
If you don’t like making your car payment, then you probably don’t like paying for a dentist to pry at your teeth, either. Chances are your employer actually may be the one to foot the bill for your dental coverage, and RediPay seeks to change how that market works.
As with Car Payment Services, Inc., the focus is on cutting out the middle man—in this case, the insurance company that sells dental coverage. According to RediPay, removing the insurance company could save employers up to 30%.
The key to RediPay’s business model is shifting the risk or liability of paying for dental services from the insurance company directly to the employer. Why pay an insurance company a (guaranteed?) profit for dental coverage when you can keep that money in your company’s pocket?
This business model could be perilous for the health insurance market, generally (where the risk of financially crippling medical bills is high). But the unique nature of dental services—where most routine costs can be planned for—makes the direct reimbursement model an attractive one.
Direct reimbursement currently occupies only 0.4% of the dental market. RediPay is staffed by an impressive team, with experience in the dentistry and investment banking fields. Their goal will be to lead the charge in transforming the industry.
You can catch the next PitchBreakfast the second Wednesday of next month (May 11). Even if you’re not pitching a company yourself, the event is a great opportunity for business-minded Charlotteans to network with professionals and find inspiration from other entrepreneurs.
Keep an eye out for me if you make it next month—I’ll be the guy rolling in around 8:15 a.m.