Cabarrus Center Provides a “Spark” Through New Grant Program
Meet the Recipients at the Cabarrus Center Spark Grant Celebration on May 6
The Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship may have just opened in March, but the first big “spark” of activity has already been underway for several months as aspiring entrepreneurs worked to secure grants through a new program, funded by the Flywheel Foundation and Truist Bank.
Back in December, the Cabarrus Center launched the first cycle of its Spark Grants program. Entrepreneurs located in or adding jobs in Cabarrus County and surrounding communities worked to win grants valued at up to $5,000 to help them test ideas that can be commercialized successfully. Entrepreneurs receiving grants were also offered use of the coworking space in the Cabarrus Center at no charge for 6 months.
In total, 21 applications were received for the Spark Grants with approximately half coming directly from Concord and Kannapolis and the rest from the Charlotte Mecklenburg region. The Cabarrus Center expanded the grant pool to surrounding counties to attract entrepreneurs to grow their ideas right here in our community.
The grant program targeted entrepreneurs who have an idea that solves a problem and makes an impact in the community or market served. If applicants were an existing company, they had to be in pre-revenue or early stage.
Additionally, applicants were required to enroll in a free six-week, instructor-led course called “Applied Lean Startup Practices Course” facilitated through Flywheel Coworking. Through the course, applicants learned how to move ideas to repeatable revenue models as quickly as possible. The focus is on developing a minimum viable product and getting it in front of customers to test problem/solution fit and market viability.
Once businesses completed the class, they had the opportunity to work with Flywheel through one-on-one coaching sessions to prepare for their presentations to the grant judging committee composed of leaders of the Cabarrus startup ecosystem.
From there, eight companies were selected as finalists and pitched their ideas to Cabarrus Center judges on March 30, after which a total of four grantees and two runner ups were selected.
Selection criteria for the Spark Grant was based on:
- Creativity and innovation of the idea
- Ability to distinguish this entrepreneur’s idea from others on the market
- The overall strength and quality of team
- Knowledge of market
- Clarity of problem statement
- Market fit of the proposed solution
- A rating of the viability of the idea (product/service/technology)
- Total viable market and estimated market share of target market
- Commercialization plan and business model
- Potential revenue, capitalization requirements, and financing plans
- Overall assessment of the opportunity
Meet the 2021 Grant Winners
You will have the opportunity to meet the four finalists who have been selected to win the first round of $5,000 Spark Grants and watch them pitch their ideas during the virtual Cabarrus Center Spark Grant Celebration on Thursday, May 6 from 4:30-6:00pm. For more information about the celebration and how to attend, visit cabarruscenter.com/spark-grants.
The following companies have been selected for the 2021 Spark Grant:
Battery Xchange has designed an eco-friendly charging kiosk that acts as a rental-on-demand charger station. Patrons can check out the portable charger for their mobile electronic devices so they can utilize on the go convenience using their mobile application. Their solution also allows businesses to interact and engage with their customers using digital screens.
“For us, the Spark Grant was much more than just funds needed as an early-stage company. The value we found was in the community support. Being able to land warehouse space was extremely important at this point because our business is beginning to ramp up with more and more new kiosk placements. Community is extremely important to us. Having an opportunity to bring our kiosk to the Cabarrus/Kannapolis community is a great way for us to share our value in helping people Live Life Charged!”
– Desmond Wiggan, Battery Xchange Co-Founder
Cellular Farms is developing a bio manufacturing vertical farm to produce plant extracts for the food and beverage industry at the NC Food Innovation Lab, located at the North Carolina Research Campus, and will be headquartered at the Cabarrus Center.
“We are excited to be part of the fantastic changes that are happening at the North Carolina Research Campus. The Spark Grant will provide funding enabling Cellular Farms to work more closely with others on the campus to make an impact on health and nutrition throughout the world.”
– Steven Lewis, Co-Founder of Cellular Farms
Groopwork is building a platform for cohort-based study groups for professional development certification. The GroopED program places like-minded people into study accountability cohorts of 3-5 people, provides them with a study plan, workbooks, and virtual learning community to group study with one another and hold each other accountable for a unique learning experience.
“The Spark Grant Program is not only refreshing for Cabarrus County but it’s helping build a community of entrepreneurs that would normally look to the Charlotte business community for similar programs and support. Programs like this will drive innovation and jobs into our community in a way we haven’t seen before. I’m proud to be part of the inaugural class from Concord. I look forward to building a strong collaborative relationship with the Cabarrus Center and appreciate their support as I work to grow my business.”
– Adrian Marable, Groopwork
SERV is an incubator shared space concept for entrepreneurs wanting to enter the stylist industry. She wants to begin to scale her successful concept in Charlotte to Cabarrus County. Her focus is on educating the Youth in the Black/BIPPOC community on how to conduct themselves in business by providing the tools to become business owners through coaching, shadowing, seminars, hands-on learning and exposure to proven systems; touring successful business/work environments. Seminars and classes promote positive mindset, encouraging good daily habits and life skills, finances/budgeting, respect and decorum, goal setting and focused learning for successful outcomes.
“This has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. I am thankful for the Udacity Course, Flywheel CoWorking and The Cabarrus Spark Grant! My business partner Connie and I (Often referred to as the Dynamic Duo) are looking forward to celebrating the grand opening of SERV Salon Suites and Career Coaching in this area! We are Surely a step closer to setting a New Economic Standard in Cabarrus County.”
– LaTika Mercer, Lucky You Salon and Suites
Additional Grant to Be Awarded
Flywheel is continuing to work with two companies for the final grant opportunity. These companies tied for the fifth grant. The funds will either be split and an award of $2,500 will go to each recipient or one of the two companies will be selected for the full $5,000 grant.
- Living Your Learning: A digital and analog platform for effective professional development CEUs for K-12 public school teachers.
- Magpies: Concession Kiosk/Food Trailer offering multiple flavors of freshly baked, savory and sweet pocket pies (hand pies).
All 21 applicants will continue to be supported by the Cabarrus Center in the form of free tuition, office hours and access to our mentor network once it is finished being established. The grant winners are also offered a free six-month residency at the Cabarrus Center and are required to enter into an agreement on use of funds, which must go to the development of their company with specific terms and conditions.
Stimulating a Startup Ecosystem in Cabarrus County
Truist Bank is supporting the Cabarrus Center as a title sponsor and providing funds for these spark grants. Truist was formed after merging BB&T and SunTrust banks with a shared purpose—to inspire and build better lives and communities. By investing in this grant process, they are already accomplishing that goal!
Flywheel has seen success with this type of grant program before in their other locations and they plan to offer additional grants in the future. In addition, Flywheel provides equity-based investment through its New Ventures program and accelerator which will be made available to select early-stage, scalable companies in the region.
New Ventures is an application-based program that invests an average of $50,000 in inception-stage startups that are pre-revenue. While the program intentionally seeks out in-state startups, it also invests throughout the Southeast and beyond, with investments in 21 companies so far. If you are interested in applying for the New Ventures accelerator program and investment funds, visit: newventuresnc.com.
For more information about the Cabarrus Center and the Spark Grant Community Celebration on May 6, visit cabarruscenter.com.