NJ Tech Weekly 2015-01-09T10:07:58+00:00

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  • What Should You Do When You Meet Sergey Brin in the Restroom? INVIDI’s Bruce Anderson Says “Pitch!”
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    Tech entrepreneurs can spend months or years chasing investors to bankroll their companies. For Bruce J. Anderson, it took a brief chance encounter with a Google cofounder in a bathroom at the tech giant’s headquarters a decade ago. That eventually led to a multimillion-dollar financing deal for Anderson's firm, INVIDI Technologies Corporation, a Princeton-headquartered provider of addressable television advertising services.  The Google restroom meeting was one of the many memorable experiences that Anderson, INVIDI Technologies COO and global CTO, shared when he spoke about his lengthy career during the February 22 Startup Grind meetup, hosted by David Stengle at Tigerlabs, in Princeton. The discussion mostly focused on Anderson’s roller-coaster career in an industry renowned for its high-flying startups and big money deals. Anderson took the audience back to 2000, a year when promising young tech pioneers’ dreams of fame and fortune were dashed almost overnight, leaving behind a trail of failed startups, including the one that Anderson worked for. In the late 1990s, when he became a vice president at DIVA Systems Corporation (Redwood City, Calif.), a provider of video-on-demand equipment and services, investors didn’t blink twice at lending staggering amounts of money to Internet-based startups and other tech companies that boasted “innovative ideas.” But as with those companies, DIVA Systems’ dreams of great prosperity were short-lived. Within a month of the dotcom market crash in early 2000, the valuations of tech stocks were said to have dropped nearly a trillion dollars. And DIVA Systems was no exception. Like many dotcom startups, DIVA Systems had been financed with high-yield “junk” bonds. So, when the dotcoms went from boom to bust, investors bailed out en masse from this type of financing. “DIVA had $250 million in junk bonds, and nobody would touch it,” Anderson said. The market crash soon led DIVA Systems to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, forcing Anderson to take the unenviable job of shutting down the company’s operations and finding a buyer for its video technology patents and other assets. The parent company of TV Guide agreed to buy the company, but that deal fell through, causing DIVA Systems to file a $12 million lawsuit against TV Guide’s parent. DIVA Systems won the lawsuit, according to Anderson, and used the money to pay its employees. Out of a job in 2001, Anderson started his own consulting business and in 2003 joined INVIDI Technologies, which was based in Canada at the time. “My job was to make the technology palpable to the U.S. cable industry and to make it appealing to investors.” But Anderson found that there wasn’t much demand for INVIDI Technologies’ product in the Canadian cable television market. In fact, he met with stiff resistance from venture capitalists on both sides of the border. Desperate for funding, Anderson began calling everyone he knew who might be interested in investing in the company. But he kept getting asked the same questions by potential investors: How are we going to make money from our investment in INVIDI Technologies? And why should we place our trust in you? IVIDI Technologies, which had become a U.S.-based company because of the challenges in the Canadian market, arranged a meeting in November 2003 with a Silicon Valley venture capital fund in the hopes of securing financing. Anderson recalled that “all the senior people had to give a thumbs up” in order for the company to get financing. The fund’s top executives were ready to sign off on the agreement, but one of them didn’t go along with the deal because INVIDI’s main customer was a cable television operator. The executive told Anderson that had he nixed the deal because cable TV companies were “incapable of doing anything right.” The prospects for financing looked gloomy for INVIDI Technologies until another venture capital fund requested that the company make a pitch. The meeting took place after one of the fund’s executives had received INVIDI’s briefing book from one of the partners of the Silicon Valley fund that had passed on the deal. This time, INVIDI received good news: Shortly after the meeting, the fund approved $12 million in financing for the company. Five years later, INVIDI Technologies struck gold again, with the Google investment, at a time when investments in tech and other companies were quickly drying up because of the global financial meltdown. INVIDI Technologies might have never attracted the tech giant as an investor if Anderson hadn’t accidentally bumped into Google cofounder Sergey Brin during that fateful trip to the restroom. When Brin asked Anderson who he was and what he was doing at Google, Anderson quickly launched into a one-minute pitch about his company, turned and quietly walked out of the bathroom, convinced that it was a long shot that Google would have anything to do with INVIDI. Not long afterward, however, Anderson learned that Brin was so impressed with the pitch that Google wanted to invest in his company, and Google remains an investor to this day. As the years passed, INVIDI Technologies continued to draw in more investors and customers, as demand grew for its technology, which enables advertisers to target ads at specific audiences. This type of technology has become increasingly valuable to businesses, as they are now using more data-driven approaches to generate sales.       In 2016, a consortium of cable TV, telecommunications and advertising giants, including DISH Network, AT&T and WPP, announced that it had acquired INDIVI Technologies. Following that deal, INVIDI Technologies’ investors received about three times the amount that they had initially invested in the company. Today, INVIDI’S software is estimated to be in about one-third of all pay television households. Anderson’s experiences in seeking and securing outside funding have made him extremely fiscally conservative when it comes to keeping a startup afloat. “You’re trying to make the money last as long as possible because you don’t know when you’re going to run out of funds.”   While much has changed since the halcyon days of the dotcom era, founders of today’s tech startups can still make the same mistakes in building their companies that their predecessors did nearly two decades ago, Anderson told the group. To maximize the odds of a successful exit, “it’s important [that a startup] pick the right funds and have the right people on the board,” he said. […]

  • NVP Labs Third Class of Startups Pitch at Prudential Center Event, Part Two
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

      The second half of the Newark Venture Partners Labs Demo Day at the Prudential Center in January featured pitches from the rest of the Fall 2017 class. All of these companies were in residence in Newark for the three-month-long program. Photo1 Ursa Gabriel Ruttner went up to the stage to talk about Ursa Tech (New York), which is a tool that companies and teams can use to capture the important parts of what’s said in meetings. Ruttner, cofounder of Ursa, noted that when people go to meetings, they usually scribble down some notes, but they leave out the context as to why this or that note was important. “This is even worse for teams, where each individual in that session wants to remember something different for their own reasons.” All the information is in people’s minds or in their handwritten notes. Ursa is leveraging recent advances in speech technology and artificial intelligence to transform the way we extract insights from meetings. It is “capturing everything said in a structured way, simplifying how we can highlight these key moments within conversations, and then easily sharing those moments with those who need to know,” Ruttner said. The startup begins by capturing everyone’s voice through its own distributing microphone system. “But, more importantly, we capture important moments as they are happening, using our tag tunnel, nonintrusively,” he said. “Later, using this extra structure, we can jump straight to these phrases that we knew were vital … We can fix our transcriptions and begin to package these things into sharable assets that the rest of the team can quickly consume.” Ursa is targeting User Experience teams and consultancies because they have a large number of high-value conversations with customers that “directly impact performance.” Photo2 Ziel Speaking for Ziel (New York), Marleen Vogelaar, founder and CEO, said that her company is an on-demand apparel designer/manufacturer for brands and retailers that want to sell their own line of high-performance athletic wear. With Ziel, she said, there is no required minimum for orders and delivery is in less than 10 days. To explain how the product is used, Vogelaar gave the example of an owner of a growing chain of spinning studios – Charlie – who wants to sell her own brand of high-performance clothing, but doesn’t want to make the $15,000 investment that manufacturers typically require. “We basically design, manufacture, ship and ultimately finish rare collections for our brands and retailers, all completely on demand.” And the startup helps brands monetize by integrating with standard point-of-sale and e-commerce software, as long as they can give Ziel access to their communities. Manufacturing on demand also eliminates waste and overages, which are endemic in the apparel industry, Vogelaar said. “Ziel has built the integration layer that integrates and empowers all the traditional steps in the retail chain that actually make it possible to manufacture and ship and deliver on demand,” she said. By the time of the pitch, the startup already had $1 million worth of committed sales and was growing rapidly. Photo3 Enhatch Peter Verrillo, founder and CEO of Hoboken-based Enhatch, a patient-driven technology and software company, pitched the release of Fit2Kit an end-to-end solution that enables medical device manufacturers and orthopedic surgeons to easily plan patient specific procedures, ship reduced levels of inventory and educate surgeons and patients on the benefits of the procedure. Prior to Enhatch, Verrillo worked in the medical device manufacturing space, where he launched a number of products for the orthopedic market, including hips, knees and shoulders. During that time, he and his team aided over 5 million people to walk and run again. Verrillo began to notice the process also created inefficiencies in the system by bringing "a ton" of inventory into surgery rooms. "A single surgery could require that over a quarter of a million dollars of salable goods be brought in to complete the procedure, but would only generate a few thousand dollars in revenue," said Verrillo. “The implants and instruments would then get packed up and shipped back to the manufacturer to be reprocessed and it is very expensive to do this." Verrillo and his team saw an opportunity to fix this. "We have the ability to streamline the process and make it more efficient." Enhatch can take any radiographic image (such as a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray) of the patient's anatomy, and "within seconds" convert it into a three-dimensional model that can be properly sized for a standard or custom fit implant. The device manufacturer can then send the model to the surgeon on their mobile phone, he told the audience. "They can see the implant, they can make adjustments, they can make changes and select what's going to be delivered." Instead of a quarter of a million dollars in inventory arriving in the surgery theater, a "handful of instruments that are critical to the surgery" are all that will be delivered. "What we are really excited to say is that last year we shipped 12 million medical devices, delivered to the hospital through our software … This isn't a dream. It's live and it's being used." As it entered the accelerator, Enhatch closed a $1.4 million capital round, Verrillo said. He pointed out that his team had a combined 90 years of experience in medical devices and logistics. Photo4 Hyr Last to speak on Demo Day was Joshua Karam, cofounder and CEO of Hyr (New York, with an office in Newark), which has built a skill-share platform for hourly paid labor, a marketplace for the new sharing economy. Speaking about Hyr, Karam said, “Our business users today are in hospitality and retail, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and more. And their challenges really center around access to skilled labor fast. Also, overcoming the rise in labor costs that all of us probably hear about. Minimum wage just went up 18 percent, and at year end, it goes up to $15 an hour. And the third challenge is really managing you staff in a way today that is often handcuffed by a swath of legislative changes that are impacting your ability to do so. “From a worker’s perspective, what they want most in today’s new economy is access to a supplemental income fast. They want freedom of flexibility to work differently than many of us did before. And they want security and benefits that come with a traditional full-time or part-time job.” Hyr is a mobile platform designed to connect hospitality and retail businesses with hourly paid independent labor, all on-demand, to fill holes in schedules as the need arises. Filling these holes because someone calls in sick or business spikes has always been a challenge for businesses. The workers using Hyr have the ability to create a profile on the app and look for available shifts in their region based on their interests or schedules. “One of the greatest features of Hyr is that within a matter of hours, not weeks, the funds from their shift get directly deposited into their bank account.” To simulate benefits that people may lose when they are part of the sharing economy, Hyr created “Your Points,” which are points that go toward benefits that are portable for the entire time workers spend in the Hyr system. The points are earned on each shift; and at a certain threshold, they “bubble up and are redeemable for paid vacation days … It’s enabling workers in our system to allocate those points to whatever means the most to you … days off, health and dental, personal savings, community support and more.” The startup has launched its solution in Toronto, Canada, and New York City, and is preparing to launch in Newark. &nbs […]

  • NVP Labs Third Class of Startups Pitch at Prudential Center Event, Part One
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

        More than a month has gone by since the third cohort of startups at NVP Labs pitched to a crowd of 500 people in January. The event was hosted at the Prudential Center, the home of the Devil’s hockey team, and audience members were invited onto the ice before the pitch competition to demonstrate their skill at scoring goals. We’ve written an article about Newark Venture Partners’ contribution to the Newark tech ecosystem. All of the startups covered in this two-part article were in residence at NVP Labs for the three-month program, and many now call Newark their home. Photo1 Industrial/Organic Up first to the platform was Amanda Weeks, cofounder and CEO of Industrial/Organic (Brooklyn, N.Y.), who noted that more than $160 billion worth of food is being thrown away in the U.S. each year. Her company has patented technology that “transforms wasted food that is originally bound to faraway landfills into salable, beneficial products in just a few days. We also generate electricity with bacteria.” The company does not use anaerobic digestion or create methane gas, she said. Industrial/Organic uses vacant industrial buildings in urban areas to process the garbage “with zero odor and emissions,” Weeks added. “Not only do we provide waste management services in a massive global market hungry for solutions, but the nutrients, water, organic materials and energy that our technology reclaims from wasted food tap into a combined $700 billion market.” Right now, the company is looking at two smaller categories, launching a multi-surface cleaner and disinfectant that’s a safer and healthier alternative to Lysol-type cleaners, as they’re made entirely from food waste, and an organic fertilizer that acts as a bio-stimulant, “one of the fastest growing product categories in agtech.” Photo2 Bixby Mark Smukler, cofounder and CEO of Bixby (Newark and New York), pitched his early-stage technology company that makes it easy for property managers to provide top-quality services to residents. “Despite being the largest industry and asset class, real estate has been a late adopter of technology,” he told the audience. A new generation of tenants is demanding more connected, efficient and sustainable communities; and property managers are looking for tools to handle things like inspections and maintenance calls that will attract good tenants, he said. Bixby is an “easy-to-use, affordable Web and mobile platform that makes it easier for property managers, saves them time and money in handling inspections and repairs, and collecting payments,” and it eliminates the complicated back-and-forth phone calls. This creates a better experience for tenants, leading to higher retention and less turnover. Smukler said that since he launched Bixby, in June 2016, the company has grown an average of 30 percent month over month. At the time of this pitch session, the company had 7,000 tenants and residents, who sent over $1 million in rental and common-charge payments. It was also helping managers handle thousands of maintenance requests. “Moving into 2018, we remain heavily focused on increasing our market penetration through signing enterprise-level customers with over 1,000 units under management, moving towards our goal of having 50,000 units on the platform by the end of 2018." The company plans to monetize itself by means of platform fees paid by property managers to use its services; transaction fees paid by residents, who send in rental and common-charge payments; and affiliate commissions, earned by recommending products and services to the user base. These could include recommendations of service providers such as locksmiths, handymen,and movers. [Additonal info: "We process over a $1M in rent payments EACH MONTH and have processed over $10M since launching!" ] Photo3 BOTique BOTique (Tel Aviv and Newark) is a conversational artificial intelligence platform built for enterprises that want to automate chatting applications at scale, said Yoab Yanovski, cofounder and CEO. “The entire BOTique team came out of Israeli intelligence, where we served for seven and a half years working on AI projects with defense applications.” Yanovski said that his startup has created a next-generation AI platform. He noted that there has been a clear shift to text-based communications channels, specifically chat. While the older generation used to prefer to pick up the phone, and dial it, and wait to talk to a human, the younger generations use chat as their number-one channel to communicate with businesses.” For their part, enterprises are seeking customers, but are struggling to keep pace with the cost of managing text-based communication channels. BOTique’s solution leverages conversational AI and seamlessly integrates it into existing databases, such as those concerned with customer relationship management. The modules offer “all the advantages of artificial intelligence without having our customers ever think about AI, whether it’s how to make the machines understand our users or how to train the AI.” Yanovski said that the market opportunity is huge, as AI has just begun to make inroads, and the market this year is over $350 billion. While chat-based AI has a crowded field of competitors, “unlike our competition, our technology enables us to offer pre-built AI models. This makes us a scalable AI company. And our customers are loving the fact that they get a product instead of a project.”  The company already has six big enterprise customers, Yanovski noted. Photo4 PadInMotion Speaking for PadInMotion ( Newark), cofounder Nir Altman relayed a personal story about his grandfather, and how difficult it was to get information at the hospital about his medical condition or treatment after he had been discharged. “The medical professionals wanted to provide information to us, but they didn’t have the tools to do it,” said Altman. “And so, together with a cardiologist, we developed a solution.” The startup’s digital solution is now in operation at 14 hospitals throughout the country. The company leverages tablet computers to provide information to patients and families, and also provides a platform so that “patients and their loved ones can continue to use that information, that hospital-approved information, long after discharge.” The solution would be up and running within three weeks, he said.  “It’s a SaaS model, and the results have been proven. PadInMotion addresses the 5,000-hospital market, which admits 250 million patients annually. “This $5 billion opportunity for our tablets was just one small part of the $100 billion opportunity associated with media in hospitals and healthcare.” Altman said that the startup’s revenue is growing quickly. It’s selling directly to hospitals. “What happened over the last few months is that there is so much demand for products such as ours, that companies in our competitive space actually started contracting with us to license our technology to deliver to their hospital customers.” Photo5 Seamless.AI Founder and CEO Brandon Bornancin introduced Seamless.AI (Newark and Columbus, Ohio), a sales and marketing intelligence startup that makes it easier for companies to acquire new clients. Seamless.AI is a search engine powered by AI that finds the perfect email addresses, phone numbers and insights for any company within an addressable market, he told the audience. “With our state-of-the art search engine, you can input all your ideal customer search criteria, and in real time, Seamless will find all the ideal contacts and companies you should be working with.” Before using Seamless, a sales person could connect with 20 ideal customers a day, or perhaps 5,000 a year. After Seamless, he or she will be able to connect with more than 50,000 ideal customers and make ten times the revenue, said Bornancin. He explained that the company’s secret sauce comes from its users. “The more users we acquire, the more data we get. The more data we get, the smarter the algorithms. The smarter the algorithms, the better the product.&rdquo […]

  • Can New Jersey Make Net Neutrality the Law for the Garden State?
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am


  • How Newark Venture Partners is Making an Impact on the Brick City
    on January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

        Newark Venture Partners held its third Demo Day for NVP Labs accelerator companies in January and before the startups took to the stage at the Prudential Center (Newark), managing partners Tom Wisniewski and Dan Borok gave an update on the progress the venture fund and accelerator has made. NVP is a double bottom-line endeavor first envisioned by Don Katz, founder and CEO of Newark-based Audible. The VC group is investing in startup companies, and through these investments is bringing jobs and visitors to Newark. “If we do well, we will be additive to the Newark and the underlying community,” Borok said in his remarks. Some 500 investors and members of the Newark tech ecosystem were in the audience at Demo Day. Before the program started, many of them took shots on the ice, trying to score goals at the home of the New Jersey Devils. As of January 17, NVP had invested in 40 companies, 30 of which were in its accelerator program. About 1,800 startups in total had applied for investments from NVP and NVP Labs, which is a good number considering how young the VC fund is and compared with other, more established accelerators. NVP has put $10 million in capital to work, “and that’s less than 25 percent of our fund, so we have a lot of dry powder left,” he added. More than 55 percent of NVP Labs startups have raised financing during or after the NVP Labs accelerator program, compared with just under 50 percent of startups from accelerator programs across the industry. “We are doing well when we compare ourselves to folks like Y Combinator, Techstars, and 500 Startups,” Borok said. “Our portfolio companies have 270 employees in total, so we are creating jobs,” said Borok. In addition, “We’ve brought north of 5,000 people here to the city for events and technology meetings.” The fund's limited partners include Audible, Dun & Bradstreet, Prudential, RWJBarnabas Health and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Borok announced the addition of two more corporate investors in the NVP fund, TD Bank (through the TD Foundation) and Panasonic, “whose headquarters in North America is literally three blocks away from here.” Panasonic is doing a lot of work in the internet-of-things space, he noted. The fund has so far raised just under $45 million, he said. Beginning with the fourth accelerator class, NVP Labs will be looking for B2B startup companies that the program can help by accelerating their growth. Speaking to the crowd at the Prudential Center, Katz, who also founded Newark Venture Partners, told the audience that “if you want to work with a city that will be seen as the pioneering epicenter” for tech and city revitalization, “get here early and start now.” He said that the success of NVP had exceeded his expectations. “In just a couple of years, we’ve come this far, to see this idea flourish.” And he praised those who believed in his vision when there was only the idea to believe in. Katz also praised the 280 Audible employees who volunteered to help mentor the NVP Labs companies. “Newark Venture Partners is part of a greater ecosystem bringing back great American cities,” he said. “The business case is deep for this to be a tech turnaround story.” &nbs […]