The first stage in the world’s largest startup pitch competition marks the Port City’s tech maturation

Remember that diner scene from Jon Favreau’s 1996 breakout film Swingers in which Trent (Vince Vaughn) keeps shouting, “Our little boy is all grows up tonight,” while doing a victory dance on the table? That’s the feeling you get when you consider where Wilmington, NC, the upstart tech-hub of the coastal Southeast, is today. The proof?

Wilmington’s participation in the upcoming IBM SmartCamp 2016, the famed global pitch competition for early-stage startups.

Sure sign that this baby’s getting all grows up.

SmartCamp is what the 2015 pitch-competition winner, Jessika Lora, has called “the American Idol for startups.” From Amsterdam, Austin, Boston and Bangkok to Dallas, Dubai, Seoul and Singapore, plus 21 other major world citiesthis is now the Port City’s playing field. Pretty incredible — and not just because those cities can’t compete with Wilmington’s surfing. Does your brain have the bandwidth to grok that?

The partnership launched with SmartCamp Wilmington is with the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program, an IBM effort to connect startups with its global innovation ecosystem. This partnership will grant tekMountain startups up to $120,000 of credit to build their solutions on IBM Cloud. Credits can be used for cloud infrastructure in any of IBM’s global cloud data centers, or startups can opt to use Bluemix, IBM’s cloud platform, to rapidly build, deploy and manage their cloud applications. Startups will also be privy to worldwide network of solutions architects, as well as extensive mentoring from high-level, seasoned entrepreneurs.

For the hungry, ambitious, early-stage startup, SmartCamp is red meat.

How does SmartCamp work?

  1. Six applicants will be selected from each city to advance to a half-day startup bootcamp followed by a live pitch competition. SmartCamp Wilmington takes place Nov 11 at tekMountain.
  2. 10 semifinalists will then be selected from the entire group of city winners by the end of the year.
  3. The SmartCamp Global Finals takes place at the LAUNCH Festival, the world’s largest startup event, in spring 2017. There, founders get to pitch their startups to over 500 investors, competing for $25K in investment funds from internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis.
  4. Three finalists will win a spot to pitch on stage and an interview with Calacanis on his podcast, This Week in Startups. One winner will land a spot in the LAUNCH Incubator, which includes a $25,000 investment on a capped convertible note from the LAUNCH Fund.

Not only is SmartCamp one of the world’s most prestigious pitch competitions, the LAUNCH Festival accompanying the SmartCamp Global Finals also offers more than 45 talks on scaling by some of the boldest investors, founders and growth experts now walking the planet. If your ears tingle at the names Greylock, Homebrew, SaaStr, Redfin, Bento, Ring, and Slack, to name a few, you know SmartCamp means business.

Wilmington’s participation in SmartCamp 2016 is hard evidence of a startup ecosystem growing into maturity. tekMountain and other catalysts within the techscape, such as UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, have been critically important in bringing this moment about. Founders applying to participate as contestants are the last, essential component needing to fall into place.

Local Judges

The competition at tekMountain will be judged by three heavy hitters:


William Alessi is founder & CEO of Alpha Modus Corp. and founding member & manager member of Alpha Modus Research, LLC. Alessi began his career in the financial markets as a proprietary trader in 1997 with his focus on algorithmic modeling. His forward-thinking entrepreneurial leadership skills helped shape one of the fastest growing prop trading firms that pioneered the electronic day trading era that subsequently sold in 2003 for more than $140M.


In 2000, Alessi formed Hybrid Titan Management, LLC, which has since served the private equity and wealth management community. Hybrid Titan Management continues to seek out investments in early-stage technology startups and data-driven ventures. It was through Hybrid Titan Management that Alessi formed Alpha Modus in 2014 and became its initial seed investor and founder.


Michael Cain is the founder, investor, and managing partner of Wilmington Investor Network, LLC, an angel-investment fund he formed in 2004. He is a founder and managing partner of Guardant Partners, LLC, an investment-management partnership, and also a managing partner of their special-situations fund, both located in Greensboro, NC. He is an investor and manager of Emergent Growth Fund II in Gainesville, FL. His angel funds have invested in over 50 early-stage startup companies totaling angel investments in excess of $25M. Prior to becoming a full-time angel investor in 1995, Cain started, operated, and successfully exited a variety of businesses ranging from computer-software sales and service, to drying equipment, to the paper industry. Cain received his juris doctor degree from Syracuse University School of Law and his bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Vermont. Prior to becoming a full-time entrepreneur, he practiced commercial law and was a state’s attorney prosecutor in Vermont.

Dan Tynan has been writing about technology since Steve Ballmer had hair. He has published literally thousands of stories, most of which neither he nor anyone else can remember. Most recently, Tynan was editor-in-chief of Yahoo Tech, David Pogue’s technology news site. Prior to that Tynan was a contributing editor for Family Circle magazine, where he wrote about the intersection of parenting and technology. He was a contributing editor at PCWorld and InfoWorld, authored the Thank You For Not Sharing privacy blog for ITWorld. Tynan is a two-time finalist for a National Magazine Award whose work has appeared in more than 70 publications including Wired, Popular Science, Women’s Health, Parade, Consumer’s Digest, NewsweekPlayboy.com. Follow Tynan on Twitter: @tynanwrites and connect with him elsewhere via his About.me page.

Up Close: CarForce

Winner of the 2015 IBM SmartCamp Pitch Competition

You might think that, with only four minutes to communicate, before a live audience, the brilliance of your startup, that the average person would freak. Jessika Lora is no average founder. A graduate of Stanford and a former management consultant, Lora had led eBay’s Vehicle C2C business to double-digit growth and spearheaded eBay’s automotive strategy and corporate partnerships. She perceived the need for better use of on-board diagnostics for automobiles, a largely unexploited feature that has been common in cars since the ’90s. But handling data since then has become easier, and CarForce was born to leverage it. CarForce is a cloud-based SaaS solution for dealerships to increase customer retention using connected car data, and with it, Lora became the 2015 winner of the SmartCamp pitch competition.


There’s still time to apply to SmartCamp Wilmington. Don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Let tekMountain show you the way toward doing your very own victory dance.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda Sipes, Zach Cioffi, Mike Patton, and Rod Whisner with lead writer Bill DiNome 


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