Seed the South: Bridging the gap between startups and investors

On Jan. 9, Charlotte saw an event unlike any ever hosted in the city. Seed the South, put on by diversity-centered SoGal and Collective Hustle, was an all-day event dedicated to highlighting early-stage startups and connecting them with investors.

The event brought leading investors face-to-face with founders through a symposium and pitch competition.

Sam Smith, organizer of Seed the South and founder of Collective Hustle – the Charlotte-based coalition focused on expanding diversity within the startup community – and CEO of Vishion (a Seed the South attendee), executed the event around remaining inclusive in order to amplify diverse voices and ideas.

“It’s not just about having women in the room, and having non-white people in the room, that’s great, but that’s not enough,” Smith said. “It’s the idea that when I step into the room, that I have to prove that I deserve to be there, and if you’re doing inclusion the correct way, folks won’t feel like that.”

She challenged people to be conscious about diversity within the startup community, and said the point is to provide an outlet. At Seed the South, 80% of the main stage pitches had at least one underrepresented founder, 65% of the quick-pitches had at least one underrepresented founder, 50% were non-white, and 30% had female co-founders.

She started the event based not only on the need for diversity, but the need for an event that connects businesses and investors in a conducive way.

“Why I find this important is this is a snapshot of Charlotte,” Smith said. “Our goal was to bring investors as well as startups together, because without each other we can’t do it, so we wanted to create an opportunity to allow individuals to meet.”

At the event, startups set up booths, and the day began with a quick opportunity for spectators and investors to chat and hear “quick pitches” from the founders. While this county-fair style symposium went on in one room, various influential and leading investors took part in panels in the next, giving important advice and information for entrepreneurs and reflecting on the startup atmosphere in Charlotte.

The unique and conducive atmosphere Charlotte possesses for startups ended up being a common talking point, but panel topics ranged from legal advice, to fundraising advice, to the benefits of investing in a pre-seed startup. Each panel was followed by a helpful word from the sponsors that made the event possible, like Lowes Ventures, Packard Place, Reconciled, NC Idea and Carolina Fintech Hub.

Attendees agreed that they were impressed by what they saw at Seed the South.

“As a new Charlotte comer, I met a lot of really good, really friendly people, a lot of really great ideas going around,” said spectator Ryan Dunlap.

Desmond Wiggan, the CEO of the startup BatteryXchange, said this event gave him an opportunity he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“I thought it was amazing. I literally had over 20 conversations with potential investors,” he said. “You don’t get those interactions, and it takes a lot to get to those stages, especially in Charlotte, so to be able to get that right now is really, really cool.”

RELATED STORY: Seed the South: Quick-pitch winners