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From mental health to metaverse, five startups tapped for Innovate Durham cohort

News & Observer - 8/11/2022

A startup retrograding geothermal heating and cooling systems. Another linking people of color with mental health professionals virtually, and a third helping small businesses make money in the metaverse.

Each is part of the latest Innovate Durham cohort, announced this week by the City of Durham and Durham County. The five companies in this year’s cohort are given 16 weeks to use Durham as a sort of testing lab to tackle local issues. They don’t receive public funding but are given access to city and county data, resources, and facilities.

“One of the great things that we got straight out of the gate is a lot of support from like-minded people who want to see you succeed,” said Marcus King Azeh , cofounder of Lavni, which is teaming up with Durham County Emergency Management Services in a test program to link frontline workers to mental health services.

The first Innovate Durham cohort was announced in 2017. This year’s program began in mid-July and runs through mid-November. The companies were picked by a committee of city and county staff and stakeholders. Local officials note the current cohort is the most diverse in the program’s history, with half of the businesses owned by women and 60% Black-owned.

“We want to recognize and build upon the long history of innovation and entrepreneurship that has existed in Durham well before our program, such as Black Wall Street,” said Andrew Holland, assistant director of strategy and innovation with the City’s Budget and Management Services Department, in a press release.

The five participating companies are detailed below:


Headquartered in Baltimore, ZROverse provides service infrastructure for the metaverse, mixing e-commerce and gaming to help businesses create virtual stores. In Innovate Durham, the startup is training eight people to work on a budgeting project.

Resolved Analytics

Durham-based software company seeks to diminish carbon footprints by converting less efficient ground-loop heating systems into more efficient geothermal heating and cooling systems.

SmartBridge Inc.

Business consulting firm in Houston will work with Durham government employees on how to best identify past mistakes to promote more positive change in their community.


Raleigh-based startup aims to connect the Black, Indigenous, and people of color community to online mental health services. Company is partnering with Durham County Emergency Management Services to try their app with frontline staff.

Durham Success Summit

Offers programs that promote business education, networking and mentorship for Black men in Durham between the ages of 16 and 24.

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.

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