North Carolina startups raise more than $347 million in first quarter of 2017

North Carolina startup companies raised more than $347 million in the first quarter of 2017 — a more than 105 percent increase from the same quarter last year, according to a report from the Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED).

That sizable increase was mainly due to the Charlotte-based telecommunications startup SmartSky Networks raising more than $170 million in the first quarter. SmartSky is creating a system to improve Internet connectivity for airplane passengers.

The first quarter of 2017 was the highest grossing quarter since the third quarter of 2015, when the state brought in $441 million in venture capital. During the most recent quarter, 45 companies brought in funding in 48 separate deals, compared to 32 companies a year prior.

“It was a good quarter,” said Steve Hinkson, director of communication at CED. “Certainly it was bolstered by the (SmartSky) deal, but we saw similar activities continuing in the number of deals and the number of companies. The volume was steady.”

Hinkson added that the early indication is that the volume of deals has remained steady in the second quarter.

It was also the first quarter since 2015 that tech companies have raised more money than life science companies in North Carolina ($268 million compared to $70 million in quarter one 2017).

Last year, CED reported funding in North Carolina was approximately $806 million, falling from around $1.25 billion in 2015 – a 35 percent decrease.

Hinkson said he is hopeful that the state can reach the billion-dollar mark again this year.

Here’s a breakdown of what sectors the funds were going in:

▪  Tech: 24 companies completed 25 deals, bringing in $268,433,775

▪  Life Science: 16 companies completed 18 deals, totaling $70,510,932

▪  Advanced Materials and Manufacturing: Two companies completed two deals, netting $2,636,022

▪  Cleantech: Three companies completed three deals, raising $5,645,000.

More than 58 percent of the companies that raised equity in the first quarter were based in the Triangle. Those companies raised more than $106 million, or around 30 percent of the total funds raised.

Usually, the Triangle scores the highest percentage of venture capital funds in the state, but the large SmartSky deal helped the Charlotte area to lead the quarter.

Agriculture technology companies in the Triangle did well, however, raising $29 million in the quarter.

A majority of that was raised by Benson Hill Biosystems, a St. Louis-based agtech company that has offices in Research Triangle Park. Benson Hill, which is focused on implementing cloud computing into agriculture, raised $18.5 million, according to CED.

Boragen, a Research Triangle Park company developing a next-generation fungicide, also raised $10 million in the first quarter.

Boragen was the first startup launched by RTP’s AgTech Accelerator, which made its second investment early in the second quarter of the year.

Another Durham startup, Spiffy, was one of the lead fundraisers in the quarter as well. The company, led by former ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo, raised $7.5 million earlier this year.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes