By Brie Handgraaf, The Wilson Times

Two Wilson businesses, including a new downtown shop, will be among the seven startups participating in the inaugural cohort for the RIoT Accelerator Program launching later this month.

“We were thrilled with the quality and enthusiasm of applicants we received to the RAP Wilson cohort,” said Rachael Meleney, RIoT Accelerator program director. “Startups from all over N.C., and across the country, applied to participate in Wilson’s growing technology ecosystem.”

The first cohort includes Wilson-based startups Samora Naturals and SuperCat Solutions, Greenville-based companies Shyft Auto and WebHearing, Raleigh-based businesses Newsco and TraKid as well as California-based WorldTrack.

“In general, we’re geographically agnostic,” Meleney said. “RIoT cares about job creation and company growth. Of course we have central operations in North Carolina and care deeply about North Carolina growing, but at the end of the day, wherever a company grows is a success for us.”

Meleney said the duo who run the company to help retailers with interactive advertising will relocate to Wilson for the 12-week program.

“They are willing and excited to come to this region to grow their technology company, which is a huge proof point for the region,” she said. “They are bringing fresh ideas and new business concepts into the area, which will only help seed greater collaboration, and I think they are excited to benefit from the entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists in Wilson.”

Since 2014, RIoT has supported roughly 50 startups that have collectively raised more than $350 million and created more than 500 jobs. Primarily RIoT works with technology or service providers. Meleney said she’s excited to work with Shawna Moses of Samora Naturals, a natural beauty product manufacturer and shop on Tarboro Street.

“She has demonstrated success with her e-commerce business, but her storefront with back-of-house manufacturing allows us to help her understand the data about customers she already has and develop a greater business intelligence to reach customers in new ways,” she said. “She’s been making all the product herself, and that is a cool part of her story, but if she decides to scale her operation, we can help her use technology to more efficiently manufacture her products.

“She’s been in business for a number of years, but she is ready to take it to the next level, and through this program, we’ll have people who can pour into her already great business.”

The curriculum kicks off on Feb. 24 and will culminate on May 7 at the RAP Wilson Pitch Night as part of the Gig East Summit. Initially the program was set to be housed in the Gig East Exchange, but construction delays have this first cohort working out a city building next to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.

“RIoT and the city of Wilson have been working together for a number of years, so to be bringing a tangible resource to the area is really exciting,” Meleney said.

Each of the program participants will attend weekly workshops and work one-on-one with mentors to cover everything from concept validation and customer discovery to product and market development before concluding with sessions on business growth and team building.

“For example, Gregg Givens is a former East Carolina University professor with a deep expertise in audiology, but he is at a concept level, so we can help him a lot with forming the technical part of his solution in terms of helping people find the right hearing aid and transition to using one on a daily basis,” Meleney said. “He’ll also build out a team because he has admitted that he won’t be the technology person, so we can help him find the right team to bring his solution to market.”

Other participants have developed their product or service and are in the midst of pilot programs, such as TraKid with a bracelet to help find lost children quicker or Shyft Auto to help drivers schedule maintenance appointments as well as pick up and deliver the car from those appointments.

“We are excited to welcome these companies to the Gig East family as our first RAP Wilson cohort,” said Rebecca Agner, Wilson communications and marketing director. “It’s encouraging to see Gig East progress from humble beginnings just three years ago to attracting these promising companies to Wilson. We can’t wait to watch them grow and help tell their story of thriving in eastern North Carolina.”