Digital domain

 In 2015-05

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When Business North Carolina reported on the state’s technology industry in 2000, there were about 4,700 tech-related businesses here, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. But 15 years later, more than 10,000 tech companies call the Tar Heel state home, the North Carolina Technology Association says. The figure swells to more than 16,000 when including energy and environmental technology and life-sciences firms. “Technology employment has led the way in new hiring, particularly in the larger metros,” Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo and Co., said in a February report on the state’s economy. Employment in tech-related jobs in the Raleigh-Cary metro area increased 13.6% last year, while Charlotte added 1,300 jobs in the sector, a 2.7% increase, according to the report.

A more vibrant, diversified tech industry has emerged, even as employment at many larger companies has declined. It’s estimated IBM Corp. employs about half of the 16,000 it reported in 2000. One exception among big companies is Cary-based analytics-software vendor SAS Institute Inc., which has added more than 2,000 workers over the last 15 years. While most of the industry’s growth is happening in the Triangle, North Carolina’s undisputed tech hub, other regions are also experiencing gains. AvidXchange Inc., an accounting-software firm, announced in September it will add 600 jobs and invest $21 million to expand its headquarters in Charlotte. LLC, an Asheville-based startup that connects patients with health care providers, sold last year for $65 million to New York-based digital-media company Everyday Health Inc. in what’s considered the biggest tech deal in western N.C. history. In Wilmington, banking-software company nCino Inc. this year raised more than $29 million in venture funding, and CEO Pierre Naudé projects the 3-year-old company will reach annual sales of $50 million by 2018 (“Code Green,” December).

While the industry appears robust, there’s work to be done to compete for jobs and funding with established technology states such as California and Massachusetts and emerging ones such as Colorado, Texas and Virginia. Venture-capital funding lags other states with strong tech sectors, as does funding for research and development, according to a 2015 NCTA report. Silicon Valley, the New York metro area and New England accounted for 69% of all VC funding in the U.S. in 2014, while less than 4% of investment dollars went to companies in the Southeast, based on PricewaterhouseCoopers 2014 MoneyTree Report, which tracks VC investments. Still, North Carolina tech companies raised $278 million in 2014, a 138% increase over 2013, according to the Durham-based Council for Economic Development’s 2014 Innovators Report.
Here are snapshots of eight North Carolina companies — some early-stage startups, others undertaking brisk expansion — that are developing innovative technologies and gaining financial backing from some sophisticated investors.

Clinical Ink Inc., Winston-Salem
Founded in 2007, Clinical Ink provides an electronic platform for pharmaceutical companies to collect and process data used in clinical trials. The company announced in March it was merging with Boston-based CentrosHealth following a $17 million investment led by Boston-based MPM Capital. Centros’ nine employees will join Clinical Ink’s 65 in Winston-Salem and Philadelphia. A partnership with Basel, Switzerland-based drug developer Novartis AG, also announced in March, will give it a foothold in “paperless” clinical trials.

Valencell Inc., Raleigh
LG Electronics Inc. and Intel Corp. are among companies using Valencell’s technology in wearable fitness devices including earbuds, headsets and armbands. It has raised more than $16 million in venture funding and grants since it was started in 2006, including $7 million in 2014, and it holds more than 20 patents. The company last year hired Michael Dering, former CEO of two Durham-based Bell and Howell LLC divisions, as its chief executive officer and chairman and has expanded the use of its biometric-sensor technology into gaming, military and other applications.

Windsor Circle Inc., Durham
Founded in 2011 by former employees of Durham-based marketing company Bronto Software Inc., Windsor Circle makes customer-retention software for retailers. The company has raised more than $9.3 million, including a $5.25 million financing in 2014 led by cable giant Comcast’s venture division. Board members include CEOs of two Morrisville-based tech companies: ChannelAdvisor Corp.’s Scot Wingo and SciQuest Inc.’s Stephen Wiehe. Last year, Windsor Circle presented the winning pitch at Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day at the tech giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., earning a $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Royalty Exchange Inc., Morrisville  
Royalty Exchange provides an online marketplace for songwriters, producers, and other intellectual-property owners to sell their royalty streams to investors, who then get a cut of future profits. Investors must have annual income of more than $200,000 or a net worth exceeding $1 million. The company has auctioned rights to songs performed by artists including Kenny Chesney and Jennifer Lopez, with sales averaging $3,000 to $50,000. In March, Royalty Exchange launched a new division focused on high-end auctions — large catalogs of songs, performed by various iconic artists, that are valued in the millions. Annual revenue reached $4.4 million in 2014, and the company, which has offices in Nashville and Los Angeles, has raised $3.7 million since it started in 2011. Investors include Vienna, Va.-based Grotech Ventures. Though most auctions have dealt with music royalty streams, investors are showing increased interest in renewable energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal. Landowners can use Royalty Exchange to auction renewable-energy assets, including royalties from land-lease agreements and tax credits.

Automated Insights Inc., Durham
Founded by former Cisco engineer Robbie Allen in 2007 as StatSheet Inc., the company provides a software platform for robot writing — turning data into news stories without human intervention — that can automate 2,000 stories per second. In 2012, the company changed its name and began providing fantasy football recaps for Yahoo. Samsung and The Associated Press were among investors in a $5.5 million financing completed last June. The company last year began automating corporate earnings stories for the AP. Stats LLC, a company owned by private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners that provides data for sports broadcasters and teams, acquired it in February for $80 million, according to Business Insider. Ai hasn’t confirmed the amount.

Dude Solutions Inc., Cary
New York-based private-equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC said last year it will invest up to $100 million in this cloud-based software provider. It was the largest amount of venture capital raised by any North Carolina-based entrepreneurial company in 2014, based on data compiled by the CED. The company’s products help schools, government agencies and health care organizations manage maintenance and housekeeping operations, energy usage and inventory levels. Dude Solutions expanded into the retirement-community market through its March acquisition of Toronto-based Windmill Software Inc., whose applications are used in more than 650 senior living communities in the U.S.

T1Visions Inc., Charlotte
Former UNC Charlotte professor Mike Feldman co-founded Digital Optics Corp., a computer-optics design firm, in 1991 and sold it seven years later for about $60 million. In 2008, Feldman started T1Visions, which makes large-format touchscreen products for retailers, restaurants and corporate meeting rooms. The company announced in January a partnership with Dallas-based retailer Neiman Marcus to provide touchscreen tables at three stores, enabling customers to browse inventory. Its screens are also found at UNC Charlotte and The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar’s locations in Charlotte, Raleigh and Orlando. T1’s annual revenue grew by more than tenfold to $2.4 million between 2010 and 2013, according to Inc. magazine, which ranked the company No. 456 on its 2014 list of fastest-growing companies.

Cloudbilt Inc., Charlotte
This software company had $4.1 million in sales in 2013, about 20 times its 2010 turnover, earning it the No. 227 spot on the 2014 Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies. Founded in 2009 as Saber Business Solutions Inc., Cloudbilt got its new name in 2013 when it shifted focus from consulting services to software development. It sells business applications for users of Salesforce Inc. cloud-computing software. The MapAnything app helps sales and marketing professionals locate leads, update records from mobile devices and create marketing campaigns based on geography.

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