Carolina Chicken and Waffles wins fifth Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge

In 2018, Jamerus Payton was with his family in Greenville when they started talking about their legacies.

They brainstormed business ideas that captured their love for each other, their families and eastern North Carolina. Discussions centered on how all of that could be packaged to make their families and the region better. After a batch of mom’s fried chicken, the idea for Carolina Chicken and Waffles took shape.

Fast forward to 2019 when Carolina Chicken and Waffles’ first food truck was launched.

“We kicked the tires literally and figuratively, and here we are,” said Payton, a North Carolina A&T undergraduate and current Master of Business Administration student at East Carolina University.

Where is Payton’s company today? It is the 2022 winner of the fifth annual Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge, held Wednesday at ECU. Joining Payton were his wife, siblings and mother, who were there not just to show their support, but also to help spread the same love from 2018 and deliver samples to the judges.

Payton and Carolina Chicken and Waffles were among six student-led teams competing in the Miller School of Entrepreneurship’s signature pitch competition and vying to win a big part of $150,000 in cash and in-kind services.

Winning this year’s Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge will give Carolina Chicken and Waffles a monetary boost of $15,000 and another $15,000 in optional equity investment.

“We’re looking to scale up to bigger and better things and hit major markets and underserved markets here in eastern North Carolina,” said Payton, who also participated in the ECU’s RISE29 program and Accelerate Rural NC.

Fielding Miller ’84, CEO and co-founder of CAPTRUST, once again served as a judge for the Pirate Challenge. His $5 million gift to the College of Business in 2015 established the Miller School and made the annual Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge possible. After judging this year’s challenge, Miller walked away impressed.

“It gets better every year,” said Miller. “It’s fascinating, and there’s a lot of bright minds here doing great work.”

Additional awardees

Three additional awardees walked away from the PEC with cash prizes for their businesses.

Sydney Gilmore shows off some of her artwork during the 2022 Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Sydney Gilmore, whose company Sydvicious won second place in this year’s Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge, will take home $15,000 in cash and in-kind services.

Sydvicious, artist-created hand-crafted coloring books, and Sydney Gilmore won second place and $10,000. The company won an additional $5,000 from Red Shark Digital to assist with web development.

GO-BO, LLC, a compact modular martial arts weapons kit, and Doug Thomas took the third-place prize and $5,000.

“I say it every year, and I mean it every year. The Pirate Challenge keeps getting better and better,” said Dr. Mike Harris, director of the Miller School. “The diversity of products and the background of student teams made me proud.”

Harris added, “I think the judges’ message from (Wednesday) night is that fundamental concepts and ideas can win.”

Along with Miller, judges for this year’s Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge were:

  • Felipe de Araujo, serial entrepreneur and winner of the third Pirate Challenge.
  • Kel Normann ’85, managing director for Normann Financial Group and serial entrepreneur.
  • Julian “Bubba” Rawl, real estate developer.
  • Julienne Shields, president/chief executive officer at the U.S. Association for Small Business & Entrepreneurship.

One judge new to the Pirate Challenge was Shields. In her role, she’s been very familiar with the Miller School and the Pirate Challenge, but never witnessed the competition up close.

“I was incredibly impressed with how well prepared the teams were,” said Shields. “It was clear that they had been part of a program (Miller School) that has absolutely devoted its time and attention to helping the students be the best they can be.”

Today, Carolina Chicken and Waffles is in a better position to establish legacies for its families, and package the love and passion they have for future generations, eastern North Carolina, and chicken and waffles, of course.

Doug Thomas shows off his compact modular martial arts weapons kit during the 2022 Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Doug Thomas and crew GO-BO, LLC won third place and was awarded $5,000 in cash and in-kind services.