Winners of the Health Equity Innovation Challenge in Cabarrus County announced

Salisbury after-school program honored
The winners were among eleven Finalist companies invited to pitch on April 29th at the Cabarrus...
The winners were among eleven Finalist companies invited to pitch on April 29th at the Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Concord, NC to the Advisory Board overseeing the program.(Submitted photo)
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 6:24 AM EDT
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CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - The Health Equity Innovation Challenge winners were announced by the Flywheel Foundation, which is administering the program on behalf of title sponsor Atrium Health - Greater Charlotte North Area and other collaborating organizations.

The Challenge received over 100 applications in its first year. Twenty-five companies were advanced to the semifinalist round by a screening committee including sponsors and community organizations focused on the challenge priorities, which include leading indicators of health disparities and social drivers of outcomes.

The winners were among eleven Finalist companies invited to pitch on April 29th at the Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Concord, NC to the Advisory Board overseeing the program. The winners are:

CareYaya Health Technologies – Durham, NC – Neal Shah, Founder

CareYaya connects families needing low-cost caregivers with doctor-approved medical students. The company is solving a structural caregiver shortage, and creating access to affordable home care at a time of high inflation and skyrocketing demand for “aging-in-place” solutions.

CliniSpan Health – Triad, NC – Founder Dezbee McDaniel

CliniSpan Health is focused on increasing the representation of people of color through targeted recruitment methods in health studies and clinical research. Customers include CROs and Pharmaceutical companies.

F.E.L.K After School Care – Salisbury NC – Founder Lamont Savage

F.E.L.K After School Care serves K-6 students with affordable after-school care and a curriculum focused on core principles including personal responsibility, ethics, and financial literacy. The company creates a future foundation for generational wealth creation and social involvement while empowering parents to focus on better family health outcomes.

Nutrible – St. Louis, MO – Founder Kwamanee Liddell

Nutrible is a web app that doctors and patients use to deliver medically-tailored meals and groceries from multiple vendors directly to patients at home, paid for by health plans and federal programs. They democratize medically-tailored meals and offer thousands of food and grocery options from more than 70,000 stores nationwide.

ZABS Place – Charlotte NC – Founder Bentzion Groner

ZABS Place strives is a destination for young adults with developmental differences interested in having a job but unsure of how to get one. The company operates a thrift store for training and revenue. By engaging in this program, they will build a Dream Link technology platform that showcases the work profiles of each Special Talent participant, offering a more suitable resume alternative to recruiters and potential employers.

The Challenge is a business idea competition seeking solutions to problems causing disparities in healthcare outcomes experienced by communities of color and those at 200% poverty level in the region including Cabarrus, Rowan, Iredell, Stanly, and North Mecklenburg Counties. The Challenge requires engagement with the target populations in these Counties for proof-of-concept testing.

“Atrium Health is committed to reducing the life expectancy gap in the communities we serve by 2030. The Health Equity Innovation Challenge aims to disrupt inequities at their root causes by partnering with entrepreneurs to develop sophisticated community-oriented approaches to address systemic issues”, said Roy Hawkins, Jr, President of Atrium Health – Greater Charlotte North Area.

The five companies selected will receive a total of $20,000 in grant funding, twelve weeks of curated acceleration, and two years of incubation in the Venture Mentoring Services program at the Cabarrus Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In addition, the companies will be introduced to strategic partnerships and additional investment capital.

“My experience thus far has been nothing short of amazing,” said F.E.L.K. After-School founder Lamont Savage. “Participating in the Health Equity Innovation Challenge provided me the opportunity to dive deeper into my business to showcase how we are able to assist in solving the health inequities that many underserved communities experience. I was excited to be chosen as a semi-finalist and completely overwhelmed to be chosen as one of the five winning founders.”

“Cultivating a community of startup founders and new businesses is a key part of our economic development strategy for the region,” said Cabarrus EDC Executive Director Page Castrodale. “The Health Equity portfolio of companies adds to the momentum of new business starts and small business growth supported by the Cabarrus Center.”

As the title sponsor of the challenge, Atrium Health - Greater Charlotte North Area is underwriting the operational costs of the Challenge, the accelerator, and the mentoring services for the companies. Additional sponsors include Cabarrus County, the Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation, and the City of Kannapolis. The Flywheel Foundations is contributing seed grant revenue for the companies.

“The Flywheel Foundation has administered accelerators and innovation challenges for the last eight years,” Jill Atherton continued. “We are very excited about this project because it connects contributions from all of our partners at the Cabarrus Center around a very important mission.”

Additional organizations involved in providing research, subject matter expertise, community engagement, and entrepreneurship support include Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, Cabarrus Health Alliance, the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), El Puente Hispano, Racial Equity Cabarrus, Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation, The Chamber - Leading Business in Cabarrus, and the Small Business Center of Rowan Cabarrus Community College.

“It’s been exciting competing in the Health Equity Innovation Challenge,” said ZABS Place founder Bentzion Groner. “This experience gave us an opportunity to envision a brighter future for our community and beyond with Dream Link. We’re excited to get to work and hope to make a significant impact in the lives of individuals of all abilities.”

The next step for this year’s selected companies is to establish their priorities and performance milestones while in the accelerator program. Initially, they will be paired with experts from the participating organizations and the mentor program. Then they will make their way through a weekly developmental process that includes office hours, cohort meetings, customer discovery and development, and fine-tuning their revenue model and business model.

“We meet each founder where they are in their stage of development,” said accelerator director Malobi Achike who is herself a well-known startup founder in the Charlotte region with her company DEI Directive. “Each founder will get a curated set of industry experts and champions to speed their development, leveraging the power of the institutions partnering in the program.”

“I look forward to close collaboration with Atrium Health, one of the largest healthcare systems in the Southeast and now the fifth largest in the US,” said founder Neal Shah. “This will be instrumental as our care platform rapidly expands into multiple states across the Southeast, to help underserved populations with affordable home care.”

Each of the companies will be mainstage presenters at ConvergeSouth on October 5th and 6th, a startup exposition that will be staged at the Cabarrus Center and Davis Theatre. The event typically attracts 500+ attendees over two days including investors from throughout the Southeast. The event is open to the public.

“A big reason we are staging ConvergeSouth in Concord this year is to feature the Health Equity Innovation Challenge companies,” according to Peter Marsh, a founding director of the Flywheel Foundation and an owner of the organization that designed and operates the Cabarrus Center.

“One of the main goals of the accelerator is to prove market traction and get the companies ‘investor ready’, meaning their ability to scale their social impact and capture the interest of growth capital whether through additional grant funding or equity investment capital”, he continued.

For more information on the companies and the Health Equity Innovation Challenge you can visit