Launch Chapel Hill wraps cohort 15, expands economic impact

Startup accelerator Launch Chapel Hill has supported 153 companies that have generated more than $69 million in total revenue – bringing hundreds of jobs to Chapel Hill, Orange County and North Carolina.

May 3, 2021
By Shellie Edge, Innovate Carolina

At any given time, startups at Launch Chapel Hill’s accelerator in downtown Chapel Hill are collaborating to solve some of the community’s most pressing challenges. From offering affordable, inclusive housing options for adults with developmental disabilities, to helping small businesses create and manage an online presence, to simplifying personal finance, the ventures that participated in Launch Chapel Hill Cohort 15 tackle a range of commercial and business problems. 

Launch Chapel Hill (Launch), an international award-winning startup accelerator and co-working space, was created in 2013 through a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County and a private donor. In less than ten years, Launch companies have generated more than $69 million dollars in revenue and raised $38.4 million in total funding. Its ventures employ 802 people, including 684 in North Carolina and 435 in Orange County. In late April, the accelerator released its annual report and held its demo day event, spotlighting the 10 companies that recently completed its latest cohort through a series of brief pitches.  

“Our mission at Launch is to help accelerate business owners and entrepreneurship in the local area,” says Velvet Nelson, director of Launch Chapel Hill. “Through each Cohort, we aim to give individuals business skills, mentorship and the network they need in order to grow their businesses.” 

Managed by Innovate Carolina, the accelerator focuses on mentorship and educational programming and offers tech resources, office space and amenities to innovators and entrepreneurs who need a steady foundation to grow their startups. Company founders immediately get plugged into the Triangle and University entrepreneurial community network through programming that includes lunch-and-learns as well as workshops with experts in various fields such as marketing, legal services and accounting.


“Launch was a dream we had and is an exciting aspect of economic development in Chapel Hill,” says Dwight Bassett, economic development director at the Town of Chapel Hill. “We’ve seen 153 companies accelerated since 2013 and 98 companies are still active. It’s important to grow and continue this work. Combined with the great work done by Innovate Carolina, we have a bright future.”

Each cohort cultivates and guides startup companies over 13 weeks. And startups that participate are founded by entrepreneurs in the local community as well as those with connections to UNC-Chapel Hill. In Cohort 15, teams affiliated with Duke University and North Carolina State University also participated. As the latest cohort of companies wrapped up their time in the accelerator, Launch’s annual report highlighted successes of previous alumni companies, including Eats2Seats, EmpowerRT, Get Spiffy, KeonaHealth, Seal the Seasons, and others.

“This experience has been above and beyond anything I could have expected it would be,” says Ginny Dropkin, co-founder of Hope NC, a nonprofit from cohort 15 that offers affordable, inclusive housing options for adults with developmental disabilities. “Thanks to all the mentors and members of our cohort for so much help and support.”

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“We love this partnership and love being part of this community,” says Michelle Bolas, associate vice chancellor for innovation strategy and programs at Innovate Carolina. “As an innovation and economic prosperity designated campus, we are using our research, knowledge and expertise that we create here at UNC to make a difference and have an impact in our community. Innovate Carolina is committed to doing everything we can to continue to support entrepreneurship and future collaborations with the town and the county.”

The accelerate program typically occurs twice each year — from January to May and from August to December. But due to the generosity of a donation in 2018, Launch will again offer a summer cohort, which will run on an accelerated ten-week timeframe, kicking off in June. The summer accelerator focuses exclusively on student-founded ventures and offers founders a $5,000 stipend, plus workspace, mentorship, events and other programming available through the Launch community. 

“Innovate Carolina is committed to growing the startup community and vibrancy of Chapel Hill by connecting the resources of UNC’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to the talent that needs support,” says Bolas. “Launch is a key asset in that effort.”

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“Our mission at Launch is to help accelerate business owners and entrepreneurship in the local area. Through each Cohort, we aim to give individuals business skills, mentorship and the network they need in order to grow their businesses.”
Velvet Nelson, director of Launch Chapel Hill.

Launch Cohort 15 companies to watch
Want to get involved with a Launch company? As each startup from cohort 15 grows, they have their own needs – from mentorship to board leadership to funding. Learn more about each venture to find out how you can help. 

AdaptBionic SmartSleeve
AdaptBionic offers smart prosthetics and sports wearables. An adaptive sports company that harnesses the power of 3D-printing, AdaptBionic helps athletes get back in the game. Currently seeking seed funding and a full-time CTO to assist on technical aspects of products, medical advisors and mentorship. Contact Chas Feuss.

ANTE provides small business owners with a data analytics dashboard that helps them manage all of their different business accounts. ANTE also assists small businesses with creating and managing an online presence. Currently seeking a small business that could potentially use ANTE’s services so the company can confirm its niche. Contact Tyrell Carter.

Butternut Pals Forever 
Butternut Pals Forever creates lovable, washable, durable plush toys that nurture children’s ability to learn, play and grow. Butternut is the teddy bear redesigned, a hospital pillow that includes a removable, washable plush cover with a disinfectable, waterproof inner pillow. Currently seeking mentors/coaches, foundation partners and pre-sale customers. Contact Shivani Sud.

Copper Seed 
Copper Seed helps simplify personal finance through education, planning and coaching. The company helps with clients with individual planning and coaching as well as with group education. Currently seeking clients – both individual for financial coaching as well as organizations to purchase group-based financial education services. Contact Vaishali Shah.

Divided is a one-stop playlist convertor and platform, offering a solution for users that want to convert playlists between Apple music and Spotify, the two largest and market dominating services. Currently seeking guidance and mentorship to scale the business. Contact Rahil Sharma. 

Hope is a nonprofit working to create an intentional community for people with and without disabilities in the Triangle area. The organization offers affordable, inclusive housing options for adults with developmental disabilities. Currently seeking opportunities to build its network, an alliance with a housing developer for real estate opportunities and a partnership to identify development opportunities in the Town of Chapel Hill. Contact Hope.

Moving Windmills
Moving Windmills offers innovative solutions to African problems by bringing students together to allow for the next generation of creative general creative problem solvers. Inspired by the work of William Kamkwamba, whose curiosity and inventiveness helped save his family in Malawi from famine, Moving Windmills Project builds community and empowers problem solvers. Currently seeking funding for programming. Contact Olivia Kamkwamba.

Piedmont Pennies
Piedmont Pennies is a North Carolina handcrafted cheese snack with a Carolina kick that is a modern take on the classic southern cheese straw.
Currently seeking a co-packer to outsource production as well as a contract with a local distributor. Also seeking sales and marketing help. Contact Becca Jordan Wright

Plantnrgy handcrafts nutrient-rich plant-based protein and superfood mixes with minimal ingredients. Currently seeking support for building its eCommerce channel. Contact Sumita Kumar.

SilverQuicken offers imaginative enrichment courses for curious middle-schoolers. Currently seeking partners, investors and advisors. Contact Chris RyanLeslie Kerner.

If you would like to participate in a Launch Cohort as a startup or as a sponsor, please visit the Launch website.