After spending years serving our country all over the world, five Veterans-turned-startup-Founders met at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte last Thursday to pitch their businesses for a chance to win $50,000.
Over 100 regional investors, influencers and veteran founders were hand-selected to attend Task Force X Capital’s Charlotte 2nd Annual Veteran Startup Showcase on Oct. 18. Brandon Shelton, Managing Partner at Task Force X Capital, explained that the purpose of the event was threefold.
“We want to focus on the five founders. Whether they win or not, they will receive feedback and meet potential investors,” Shelton said. “We also want to galvanize the network and showcase the potential in the city of Charlotte. People assume Charlotte is just a banking town, but we are much more; we are growing and changing every day.”
Attendees from as far as San Diego flew into the Queen City to learn about the five companies, which included:
- EX-IQ (Fayetteville, NC) is an application that uses artificial intelligence to assist students and professionals by converting audio to text. The founder, Chris Donohoe, retired from the Army in 2016.
- Menud (Nashville, TN) helps you build your weekly meal plan from celebrity-curated recipes. Neil Whitney, who served in the Army, co-founded the food-focused startup in 2015.
- SecurityGate (Houston, TX) manages the entire risk assessment process for organizations. Co-founder and CEO Ted Gutierrez served in the Army and has 15 years of risk management experience.
- Tomahawk Robotics (Melbourne, FL) makes robotic systems easier to use for enterprises in the service economy by optimizing for high levels of speed and precision. The co-founder and president, Brad Truesdell, was a Navy SEAL.
- Xchange Post (Charlotte, NC) is a community rental app that allows users to lend items to neighbors. Co-founder and President John Alexander is an active U.S. Navy officer. His co-founder, William Jackson, also served in the Navy.
An Army veteran himself, Shelton noted many of the investors he invited recognize the superior leadership skills instilled by the military and want to support veteran-founded startups.
“Your origins shouldn’t define your outcomes. Just because you start in the military, investors shouldn’t just say ‘thank you for your service’ and then give zero credit for that experience,” Shelton said. “If you’re looking to invest in your community, supporting the type of startups showcased today will help the community 10 times over.”
Manoj Govindan, who moved away from Charlotte a few years ago, returned to attend the showcase and support the efforts of Task Force X Capital. Govindan spent 15 years helping organizations such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America with their innovation initiatives.
“There is a strong correlation between veteran-led startups and growing success,” Govindan said. “These founders have a specific skill set of pushing through obstacles and taking risks, usually making decisions with half of the information. These are insanely hard skills to learn and essential to see in a startup leader.”
The founders had five minutes to pitch their concepts, then answer questions from the four judges: Karl Hightower, Chief Data Officer at Novant Health; Paul Grim, General Partner at SunBridge Capital; Kyle Teamey, an investor from Breakthrough Energy Ventures; and John Cambier, Managing Partner at IDEA Fund Partners.
It was local startup Xchange Post that impressed the judges the most, winning $25,000 cash and $25,000 in inKind services to push the venture forward.
“I hope events like this are the catalyst to ignite the fire of entrepreneurship in Charlotte,” said Alexander, holding the showcase trophy side-by-side with his team.
This was the second Charlotte Startup Veteran showcase hosted by Task Force X Capital. Shelton said he hopes events like this can inspire investors in the region to consider different types of startups.
“There are plenty of accredited investors in Charlotte and the Southeast, but most look to cash-flow businesses they are familiar with,” Shelton said. “It’s difficult to convince someone to invest five to seven years with a high probablility of failure but also with the opportunity for a much higher return. The risk profiles are different. But if you highlight the potential of these startups, ones led by high performing military Veterans, then they may begin to recognize the possible rewards can outweigh the risks.”
Sam Smith is the founder and CEO of Vishion, a mobile application that allows shoppers to search by color for décor. She created Collective Hustle with two other female founders, Mary Johnso, and Aru Anavekar. The group brings investors and founders together to improve the Charlotte ecosystem.