Four very different startups, all with N.J. connections, pitched to about 180 developers, designers, entrepreneurs, angels and others at the NJ Tech Meetup June 21, 2012.
The NJ Tech Meetup takes place monthly on the Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken) campus and is a good way for new companies to network and learn something from each other. Often there are angels and VCs who have come out to hear the pitches, and at other times, questions from the audience will spur improvements in a product, service or pitch.
These events always follow the same pattern: some freestyle networking, a few announcements from the group, and an opportunity for individuals to “ask” for help to match their needs. Often companies are looking for specific developer skills, marketing help, beta testers, or even volunteer mentors.
This warm June evening, after thanking his sponsors, NJ Tech Meetup founder Aaron Price, himself a startup entrepreneur with crafterMania, announced that the group was working to develop a full day NJ Spark Summit to take place Sept. 13th at Stevens. The conference will cover all the life-cycle stages of a startup from starting up lean to selling the company.
Four startups presented, including one impressive women-led medical device company composed of students and graduates from Stevens Institute of Technology. Introducing them, Price said, “When you look at this group, just remember what you were doing in college!” Kerri Killen, Samantha Music and Justyna Zielinska (all from N.J.) of Spinomedics pitched their device, a way to measure the range of motion of the spine in three dimensions without using X-rays.
The Spinomedics device looks a bit like a torso harness and is non-invasive. It is coupled with data acquisition software so that the results can be uploaded to a computer. The device could be of use to physical therapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists and others who are attempting to measure how much flexibility a client/patient has before and after surgery.
The company is seeking patent protection and expects to ask for FDA approval in 2013. Recently, Spinomedics won the elevator pitch competition at the Stevens Innovation Expo with this same product.
A startup that calls itself a mobile customer relationship management platform designed specifically for the hospitality industry won the NJ Tech Meetup Audience Choice award. BuzzTable, whose technical cofounder John Brennan grew up in N.J., was part of the Entrepreneur's Roundtable Accelerator program in N.Y.
The company seeks not only to replace the familiar restaurant buzzer that notifies patrons that a table is ready with a smartphone app, but also enhance restaurant customer retention through knowledge of who customers are, how often they come to a restaurant and how much they spend.
According to founder Warner Siebert, in the U.S. there are more than 970 thousand restaurants that spend restaurants spend $12 billion on Marketing and IT. Some $6 billion of that is allocated to marketing specifically, and 80-90% of that ($5 billion) goes toward new customer acquisition. “We are working on increasing the profitability of existing customers. This is where restaurants should be putting their money.” BuzzTable, he said, drives incremental revenue from increased visits, increased check size and table turns.
Also, BuzzTable engages customers during wait time and provides restaurants with real time, private feedback from customers. The customer downloads one app and loads loyalty cards for their favorite restaurants into the app. “Consumers can unlock rewards based on dollar spend and can check on top trending dishes at the restaurant through all social platforms,” Siebert added. The company already received $150 thousand in angel funding and is looking for an addition $500 thousand.
Robert Caucci, cofounder of Spacesplitter.com, a Mays Landing, N.J. native, presented his website that helps roommates deal with difficult decisions like how to equitably split the rent or share other expenses. The Spacesplitter idea is fairly far along, according to Caucci, a former roommate himself.
The average person has a roommate from age 18 to 30, and in those years they have 5 different roommate relationships, he pointed out. Although urban areas like New York have the majority of roommates, “at a national level there are over 32million roommates,” he said.
Besides providing a roommate agreement and a mechanism to split rent, Spacesplitter.com users can subscribe to “OurList” which is a list of goods roommates usually share, such as paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning goods. The startup has agreements with online companies like Amazon.com that let roommates pay only their “share” of the bill with these companies.
Hoboken–based Artistpreneurs.com entrepreneur Elizabeth Barry pitched her website that “helps artists find their passion in business.” The branding and marketing website is a place where creative professionals of all sorts can find their place in the business world, she said. The idea sprang from an email campaign that grew to 30 thousand users, designed to inspire artists with stories and inspirational themes. While the users loved the email, the advertisers “just didn't get it,” she said.
As a result Barry developed Artispreneurs.com, which she called a complete online resource for artists about how to succeed in business. The website shows artists how others are succeeding in branding by promoting through public relations, websites, videos and other areas. “We also continue the Thursday email with email marketing piece called The Muse,” she added. The company makes money through consulting, branding, social media and website design for artists.