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VOL. 128 | NO. 128 | Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Energy, Diversity Highlight Memphis NewME PopUp

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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Brit Fitzpatrick stood in front of a small crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs as she rapidly clicked through slides that outlined the business model for Mentor Me, a technology program that helps match mentees with mentors.

Local entrepreneurs listen to pitches at the NewME Accelerator PopUp event June 30 at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

(Daily News/Jennifer Johnson Backer)

Every 26 seconds in the U.S., a student drops out of high school. For students from low-income families, the dropout rate is about 4.5 times higher than for students from higher-income families, Fitzpatrick explained to the group. While mentoring is proven to help boost graduation rates, but it can be difficult to match the right mentors and mentees. Fitzpatrick’s social media matching technology helps provide a better way of matching and managing mentoring relationships.

Fitzpatrick’s two-minute pitch Sunday, June 30, at the FedEx Institute of Technology on the University of Memphis campus was the culmination of a three-day NewME Accelerator PopUp event designed to spur growth in technology businesses that are led by African-Americans, Latinos and women. On Sunday’s Demo Day, entrepreneurs networked with key players in the Memphis and Silicon Valley technology industry as they pitched their ideas to a panel of judges.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Angela Benton, the CEO and founder of NewME, is in the midst of taking a condensed version of her Silicon Valley-based 12-week technology accelerator program on the road to Atlanta; Durham, N.C.; Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; and Oakland, Calif. Already the NewME Accelerator PopUp tour has been held in Miami; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; and now Memphis.

The pop-up accelerators give aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive one-on-one coaching from experts and to participate in a two-day workshop on the art of pitching everyone from future employees and community partners to bankers.

“When you go outside of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and you go to these different cities you see that entrepreneurs are working on solving problems from a more global perspective,” said X’Zavierr Garland, who is overseeing the NewME Accelerator PopUp tour. “People can easily get caught up and live in a bubble out in San Francisco and not be in touch with the real world.”

Garland said he loved seeing the energy and the diversity of the startup ideas at the Memphis NewME Accelerator PopUp. Already, he is planning a trip back to Memphis to continue building relationships with the Memphis startup community.

At the end of the evening, Benton announced the first-, second- and third-place winners, as well as several honorable mentions.

Charleson S. Bell, the president, CEO and co-founder of BioNanovations Corp. won the competition and prizes valued at $45,000. He also won the opportunity to participate in the 12-week NewME Accelerator in Silicon Valley.

BioNanovations is a Memphis-based biotechnology company that has developed a test that detects staph infections in 30 minutes, rather than several days. The test helps doctors identify whether patients are infected and the level of infection – so that doctors can better identify the best treatment course. Bell says he hopes widespread adoption of the staph detection test will help reduce amputations, complications and deaths associated with staph infections.

“They are creating technology that will help save lives,” Garland said. “You rarely see that kind of problem getting much attention in San Francisco. It makes us excited to see people working on different types of problems than what we typically see in San Francisco.”

Bell, who is a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University and has a background in nanotechnology, says BioNanovations has spent the last year advancing the research and empirical evidence that shows the staph detection test is accurate and effective.

“If you go to most doctors and you tell them that you have the technology to diagnose these types of infections in 30 minutes, they’ll laugh at you and tell you that this is science fiction,” he said.

Bell says the weekend NewME Accelerator PopUp helped him understand what it takes to craft a story when making a pitch to investors.

“That way they are invested in you and your story,” he said. “That makes conveying your company and what it is all about much easier.”

Richard Billings, the founder of Memphis-based Screwpulp, was awarded second place. Screwpulp is an e-book self-publishing platform that enables authors to retain more control of their work and 75 percent of their revenue. The venture launched with just four books, and has now grown to over 50.

Fitzpatrick’s Mentor Me startup took third place.

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