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Happy Thursday!

On tomorrow’s Friday Nooner, the GrepBeat Gang (Pete, Joe and Jackie) will welcome Jamie Jones, the Director of Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship. You can watch live at noon on LinkedIn, YouTube or Facebook, or catch afterwards on those platforms or in its podcast form.
We’re just one week away from the next GrepBeat Happy Hour on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 5-7 p.m. at Bull McCabe’s in downtown Durham. Your first round will be covered by our sponsor, Qodeo, which matches 7,000 VC/PE investors globally with diverse entrepreneurs. Bonus: all entrepreneur attendees will get 50% off Qodeo’s Concierge service, and one lucky trivia winner will score a free year of Concierge (saving $99-$240). Please register here so we can get a handle on numbers.

Quick Exit

We first profiled Raleigh-based fintech Finmark in October, 2020, after CEO and Co-Founder Rami Essaid and his team had just completed a $5M seed round led by Durham-based IDEA Fund Partners. That came less than a year after Rami had launched Finmark hot off the heels of his successful exit from his previous startup, Distil—for which IDEA Fund was also the first institutional investor. We also wrote about Finmark this January when it raised an additional $6.5M in funding, this time from American Express Ventures.
Now Finmark has been acquired by publicly traded BILL, a Bay Area-based leader in financial automation software for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). That’s also the target market for Finmark’s financial modeling software, making the pairing a natural fit. The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but especially given the rapid return on investment, it’s definitely a win for IDEA Fund and other investors as well as Rami and his team. You can see more about the deal here and here.



While more headlines are popping up about big tech companies laying off workers—last week it was Twitter cutting up to 50% of its workforce, this week Meta cut 11,000 jobs accounting for 13% of its staff—the overall job market remains very tight. That means employers need to take advantage of all the talent that’s available. Raleigh-based startup SKLLD wants to make sure employers don’t miss a cohort that’s often overlooked or flat-out avoided: the formerly incarcerated.
As more and more studies show the quality and loyalty of employees who were formerly incarcerated, SKLLD works with members of this group to get them training—including coding bootcamps—and pair them with potential employers. Read our full story on Founder Zach Howard (a 2015 NC State grad) and SKLLD here.



You might think you’re a big fan of video games, but how committed are you, really? Probably not as committed as Juan Lionheart, who is such a fan of Final Fantasy VIII protagonist Squall Leonhart that the character’s name inspired both the name of his startup and his own surname. (Juan will soon make “Lionheart” his legal last name.)
Like SKLLD in the previous item, Raleigh-based Lionheart (the startup) is focused on connecting employers with an underserved group of workers—people with diverse, disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have attended college. Juan himself grew up poor with his mom in L.A., which is part of what drives him. The Lionheart platform offers three-month paid tech apprenticeships, with the hope that some of them will turn into fulltime jobs. Meanwhile the apprentices learn skills like digital marketing and SEO to make them more desirable to employers. Read our full story on Lionheart here.


Not So Tiny

Durham-based educational toy rental startup Tiny Earth Toys has raised a fresh $1.6M led by Durham-based Bull City Venture Partners as it revs up for the holiday crush. We’ve been big fans of Tiny Earth Toys and its Founder and CEO Rachael Classi (a former exec at Durham-based Teamworks) since we first profiled the startup in January, 2021. We honored Tiny Earth Toys as part of our inaugural Startups To Watch class last year, and Rachael has been both a Friday Nooner guest and a Download Q&A subject. One more thing: I saw Bull City’s Jason Caplain at a CIBC event last night and he gushed over Rachael and the company.
You can see TechWire and Triangle Inno for more on the new funding.


Big Launch Challenge

VC The Launch Place has announced the 10 finalists for the Big Launch Challenge. The startups will pitch live next Thursday, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m. at the NC Biotechnology Center in RTP for $20K in prizes. Six of the 10 hail from the Triangle: Chapel Hill’s ephemeris; Cary’s DataQ; and Raleigh’s Divergene, FemHealth Insights, Pearlita Foods and The MilkXchange. The pitch event is part of a full day of content kicked off at 7:30 a.m. by the Angel Capital Association’s (ACA) Angel University. Click here for more info on the Big Launch Challenge, and here to learn more about Angel University.


Global E-ship Week

Next week is Global Entrepreneurship Week, which will be marked by multiple events in the Triangle beyond the ones mentioned in the previous item. Here’s a roundup of the Durham-based happenings. They include Innovate Durham’s Demo Day on Wednesday night; a free day of coworking available on Thursday at American Underground; and a Thursday happy hour at American Underground listed for 4-6 p.m., meaning you should go to the first hour and then walk down Main Street to Bull McCabe’s for the GrepBeat Happy Hour sponsored by Qodeo.


Fathom This

NC State’s Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) provides funding for startups that emerge from research in NC State labs. TechWire shares a story from NC State that gives an update on three of them. While the typical honorees skew a little too from-the-test-tube for our typical coverage, we’ve previously profiled one of them: Fathom Science, which uses computer and numerical modeling to generate information about the ocean environment in four dimensions.



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