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A Wilmington tech startup with a scientific way to discover good beer and wine is North Carolina’s “emerging” company of the year, per a statewide award bestowed Thursday night in Durham.
Next Glass is developing a Pandora-like application that recommends adult beverages based on the varietals or brews the consumer enjoys–a process involving in-depth chemical analysis for precision–and its 25-year-old founder says the honor from the N.C. Technology Association (NCTA) is creating flattering but valuable awareness.
Kurt Taylor–who thought up the idea with his father after they bought an unenjoyable bottle of wine at dinner and wished they’d had a guide for a wiser selection–said the awards dinner Thursday brought out 800 industry people, including higher-ups from esteemed technology companies like Red Hat, Cree and Epic Games.
“It really helps us just further build awareness of Next Glass, and really Wilmington,” said Taylor, who grew up in the Port City. “Helping build up Wilmington is really important to us.”
Thickening the city’s technology culture is a goal numerous individuals and companies in the field have cited at events this year, including a NCTA tour stop in Wilmington in September. During an innovation-focused breakfast in October, the CEO of locally based employment screening firm Castle Branch said he planned to open up a business incubator–with cheap rent for great-idea companies–to advance the cause.
Already in service is the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), a business accelerator that offers low-cost work space to a number of growing Wilmington technology startups–those expected to outgrow the facility–including Next Glass.
CIE Executive Director Jim Roberts was in Durham on Thursday to see NCTA award the company. “When their company was described, when they won the award,” he said, “you could see people pull out their phones and look up the website, and there was a buzz almost more than any other award.”
“There were very powerful people in the room last night,” Roberts said.
The buzz about Next Glass–announced as a finalist for the NCTA “emerging” award well ahead of Thursday’s event–has allowed it to recruit some top-notch talent, said Taylor.
“We’ve had hundreds of people apply for our development positions,” he said. “The other day we had a spike in traffic. We had something like 50 or 60 apply in 48 hours, just leading up to [Thursday's awards] event. Probably another 15 more after the event last night.”
One possessed a Ph.D from MIT, Taylor said, but recruitment in the development corner by this point is solid. Next Glass presently employs nine people.
“We’re in a good spot to start product developing now and just crank it out,” Taylor said.
As for the roll-out, Next Glass has established a partnership with a large grocery chain, name not for disclosure yet, that will take on the app.
“We’re developing some tablet software–some kiosks, if you will–that will be in the wine and beer aisle,” Taylor explained, “So when you go into the store and you’re looking for a new wine or beer, you grab one that you have had in the past and you enjoy, you go up there and scan it, and our software will recommend you something else that you’d enjoy.”
Another opportunity is in restaurants that have prominent wine features–say, a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse sort, which ideally could boost its upselling by making $100 bottle purchases safer for the consumer per the Next Glass recommendation.
The company hopes for a software launch in April with availability through the Mac App Store and Android Market.
Next Glass wasn’t the only Wilmington tech presence at the NCTA event, billed as “North Carolina’s only statewide technology awards program, recognizing companies and individuals who have characterized excellence, innovation and leadership in 21 categories.”
The “Most Innovative Small Company” category included CloudWyze, a Wilmington-area outfit that provides Internet, phone, cloud and tech management services. (The award ultimately went to Power Analytics, a power-system design corporation with a Raleigh office.)
Roberts of CIE noted the three-headed representation–his group, Next Glass and CloudWyze each had a dinner table– and that attendees took notice. That can’t hurt Wilmington’s push to grow in terms of tech culture, he said.
Not only that, but some of the VIP types he spoke with own beach homes in this area, he noted. “So, they already want to be here. Maybe we can help them spend more time here.”