CED’s Tech Venture Summit in Rear View

I’ve been convinced for a few years now that our greatest hope for the future largely lies in our ability to do two things:

  1. Educate our children to be critically-conscious, creative, collaborative individuals who are constantly striving to be their greatest selves.
  2. Support intrepid entrepreneurs who will build tremendous products and services that will leverage new technologies and understandings to improve quality of life.

Though I’m familiar with efforts to achieve the former goal after spending nearly a decade in that space, more recently I’ve been playing catch-up with respect to the latter. This journey has taken me across the internet (e.g. a16z podcasts, #techinclusion15), San Francisco for a grad school visit, and most recently, CED’s Tech Venture Conference in Raleigh.

Billed as “the premier tech event in the Southeast,” the Tech Venture Conference is a showcase for companies large and small and a major networking opportunity for founders, investors, public sector officials, and everyone in between. (I got the impression that the conference can make a serious claim to that mantle, though I imagine organizers at DIG South, 36|86, and NOEW may have something to say about that.)

So why did I take two days off of work to attend the Tech Venture Conference?

I’m eager to support companies led by women and people of color, and I wanted to meet more people doing/actively supporting that work.

I can say that what I was not looking for was evidence to determine whether or not tech diversity remains a significant issue. There are plenty of smart people already outlining the scope of the problem and providing insight into how to change it. (Plus, any glance at the Fortune 500 list or nearly any board will tell you all you need to know about diversity in business leadership, period.) Not only is addressing structural disparities the right thing to do, it’s good for business; and I’m eager to be a part of that.

So who did I meet? Here are three great founders I met and a bit about their products/services.

Meg Ragland of Plum Print

Plum Print is a way for parents and family to turn childhood artwork into permanent archives. They mail you a large box, you fill the box with artwork, they scan the materials and contact you with an electronic draft, and they build the book. It seemed like a way to keep the artwork tsunami from disappearing into the trash or a box in the attic. I was impressed with the simplicity of the process, the company’s decision to leverage moms to build their brand and drive referrals, and the determination to grow the business — most recently through on-site scans at local schools.

Kendrall Felder of ChopTix

ChopTix connects event attendees in urgent need of tickets with vetted ticket resellers (scalpers). Though reselling sites like StubHub have helped normalize the secondary ticket market over the past decade and improved technology has reduced the chance of ticket fraud, scalpers, attendees, artists, and venue owners all have a vested interest in ensuring that every seat is filled. The app itself looks a bit like a basic ride-sharing app, but you’re able to see the rating of the person you’re purchasing from before agreeing to hand over your money. Whether potential attendees who are on the fence experience the reputation element as a key element in their decision to attend AND use the product will determine success here.

Jon Spinney of Malartu Funds

Malartu is a platform for accredited investors (see: high net-worth individuals) to invest in an individual startup or portfolios of startups. I was initially intrigued by this company because the equity space is massive — there’s tremendous potential to drive more currently inactive money into the market, especially given the potential removal of certain regulatory barriers — but I think there’s more to this idea. Though Jon is unabashedly Irish-American (and therefore not within my initial scope), I see in their portfolio approach an opportunity to mitigate unconscious bias against founders who don’t fit the young/white/male archetype. There’s also risk that such an approach may inadvertently lead to underrepresented founders getting glossed over, but I think this offering will ultimately be a value add for the market.

Though the ideas mentioned above are, of course, only as good as their execution, these founders and the many others who pitched at TVC proved that this is an exciting time to be in North Carolina. You can learn more about #CEDTVC15 on Twitter.

What are your reflections on the Tech Venture Conference, or on the state of tech in the Southeast? Let me know!

And check out the editable North Carolina startup ecosystem map while you’re at it.