By Sonja Whitemon
Three Charlotte startup companies were selected to receive grants from NC IDEA, a private foundation committed to supporting entrepreneurial ambition and economic empowerment in North Carolina. The foundation awarded $75,000 grants to seven companies in North Carolina. The recipients of the awards were all companies founded by Black entrepreneurs.
Desmond Wiggan and Aubrey Yeboah began working on their plans for BatteryXchange in 2018. While studying abroad in China, the two Charlotte MBAs found themselves stranded with no way to call the school, home or even a rideshare when their cell phone batteries died. BatteryXchange was born out of the anxiety of this experience.
The company provides a new charging option for people on the go. The mobile application allows for quick access to batteries through an easy rental process that frees users from being dependent on wall outlets. The batteries are offered in downloadable form, through a portable device and through kiosks located in businesses around a city, and can be used any time and any place. The batteries are compatible with all Android and iOS devices, and can bring devices from 10 percent to 75 percent charged in less than 30 minutes.
Wiggan’s connections in manufacturing helped them navigate their start. He spent two years immersing himself in the manufacturing world in China. Since 2018, the pair has been laying the foundation for the company, building and developing their products. They launched the company in 2021 and now have 20 operating kiosks and counting —14 in businesses in Charlotte and 6 in Winston Salem.
The company is expanding into event venues now that entertainment events are restarting with a new partnership with the Charlotte Convention Center. “There were 40,000 people in town this weekend for T.D. Jakes,” said Wiggan. “We have seen more users at the convention center in the last few days than we see in smaller locations for weeks. People are using it.”
In addition to event venues, the company is focusing on health care systems with a new partnership with Atrium Health. They are currently in Atrium Mercy and are working on the next three Atrium locations.
“With the eco-system that we are trying to create, we have to have anchor locations,” Wiggin explained. Hospital systems and the small businesses around them can make up that ecosystem where the batteries can be picked up at one location and conveniently dropped off at another.
The funding from NC IDEA will help BatteryXchange continue to build its products and expand into new locations, such as Atrium Health. “We were able to place our largest order yet,” said Wiggin. The funding also allowed them to build new software features into their products. The company plans to expand throughout Charlotte, the country and, ultimately, globally.
Calvin Williams started Freeman Capital in response to his own personal experience trying to get financial planning services. After running a business after college and selling to his partner, he tried to find financial planning services. “I thought I had a little bit of money until I tried to find a wealth manager,” Williams recalls. “They told me that if I didn’t have a million dollars, it wasn’t worth their time. I knew there had to be a better way to get [wealth building] advice.”
In 2015, Williams founded Freeman Capital, focused on helping people who make $50.000 to $200,000. “We formed this company to help folks who are just like me. Regular folks who are working good jobs and trying to do their best and yet have no one to help them out. We help everyday people get the help they need for less than the cost of a cell phone bill,” he said.
Starting out, Williams surrounded himself with highly experienced experts who had been working in financial services for a long time. “I formed an advisory board of certified financial planners who were diverse, with men and women and Black and white, to help me get a foundation on what this company needs to do and how to reimagine building wealth for people who are not yet wealthy,” said Williams.
“Now that we have proved that our customers improve their net worth, they want to stay with us and grow,” said Williams. The NC IDEA grant will help Freeman Capital market to more people with its message, “you can build your wealth now.” Visit www.freemancapital.co for more information on Freeman Capital.
Smart Girls HQ
Smart Girls HQ also was awarded a $75,000 grant from NC IDEA. Smart Girls HQ creates engaging online content and facilitates exciting online experiences that enable girls aged 3 to 12, preschool to preteen, to achieve STEM literacy. The company also helps parents of girls within the target age with tips and guidance on helping their girls get interested and succeed in STEM activities through a weekly newsletter and a newsfeed that curates parenting and educational topics. The company will use the NC IDEA funding to add a product development position to help scale the business. Smart Girls HQ was founded by Obi Olukeye, an MBA graduate of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Visit to raisingsmartgirls.com for more information on Smart Girls HQ