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Entrepreneurs gear up to pitch at Charlotte-based startup competitions

It’s the time of year for pitch competitions, and one of the largest in the Southeast, the Charlotte Venture Challenge, will culminate May 1, when startup founders will make their case in front of a crowd of 300 that includes angel investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and students.

The 13th annual competition – run through UNC Charlotte’s nonprofit business incubator Ventureprise and the Charlotte Research Institute – has been a jumping off point for many startups that go on to secure millions in investments and corporate partnerships.

The 2012 winner, CanDiag Inc., which developed a blood test for early detection of breast cancer, has now raised more than $3 million from investors, says Devin Collins, assistant director of business and entrepreneurial development for the Charlotte Research Institution.

The 2013 winner, Bio-Adhesive Alliance Inc., which attracted international attention when it developed a way to turn pig waste into liquid asphalt, is opening a pilot plant at North Carolina A&T State University.

And this year’s daylong finals will feature companies touting everything from an online, secure exam proctoring service ( ProctorFree based in Huntersville) to a technology that manufactures natural antioxidants from animal blood ( VRM Labs based at Clemson University).

The annual Charlotte Venture Challenge has changed dramatically since its inception as “Five Ventures.”

“It had that name because back when it started, they had five companies and only enough mentors for those five companies that entered,” Collins said.

More than 100 companies applied for this year’s competition, hailing from across the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. After four rounds of business development, competitive pitching and education workshops, the field has been whittled to 38 finalists, many of which already have customers and are generating revenue.

On Thursday, the companies will compete in one of six categories: health information technology and biotechnology; IT and informatics; new energy and high technology; consumer products and services; graduate student ventures; and undergraduate student ventures.

At the end of the day, the winner from each category will get a cash prize of at least $10,000, Collins said.

The judges are divided into two sets: angel investors and venture capitalists who are looking for scalable businesses that will generate a return on their investment within three to five years; and corporate representatives from companies such as BMW, Belk, Ingersoll Rand and SPX, which are looking for potential strategic partners.

Also underway is the Charlotte Chamber’s 2014 Power Up Chapter Challenge, a monthslong competition between small businesses from each chapter footprint that have $1 million or less in total revenue and provide innovative products or services to Charlotte’s economy.

The winner from each chapter will compete at the grand finale on Nov. 20 for a $25,000 business grant from Duke Energy and a support package from chamber members and event sponsors. Businesses can still enter the competition in six of the chamber’s seven chapters.

And in honor of National Small Business Week May 12-16, Charlotte-based Pride Public Relations is offering its own “Perfect Pitch Competition” between three local businesses on May 12. Registration for the event, which includes lunch, is free. The grand prize is a “small business success package” worth more than $5,000.

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