On Tuesday, Sept. 24, U.S. Senator Cory Booker was the featured judge at the NJ Tech Meetup/TechLaunch pitch event at Tigerlabs, in Princeton, N.J., listening to presentations and offering advice to the contestants and the nearly 100 people in attendance.
As a member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Booker said he had a keen interest in seeing what kinds of businesses are emerging in New Jersey and in understanding what he can do as a legislator to support their growth.
"The power in America for job creation and business growth is to support small businesses. And as I look at small businesses I notice the tech and innovation sector is really one of the boom areas for our country," Booker said.
One of his priorities is to help businesses access capital. Booker mentioned that he had recently introduced a bill in the Senate, the Startup Opportunity Accelerator (SOAR) Act, that would direct $25 million over five years to a U.S. Small Business Administration program called the “Growth Accelerator Fund.” According to Booker's website, "The program allows business startups to compete for funding to help their businesses grow.”
Booker, along with Aaron Price, of NJ Tech Meetup (Hoboken); Mario Casabona, CEO of TechLaunch (Clifton); and Tara Dowdell, of Tara Dowdell Group (Jersey City), served as judges at the event. Also in attendance were Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and Mercy County Executive Brian Hughes.
Leading off the pitches was Graham Turk, for Wattvision (Princeton), a product and service that tracks energy usage in homes and businesses. The device hooks into the electricity meter and measures the amount of energy used, with the results accessible from a smartphone. Customers can compare their energy usage to that of other Wattvision customers and receive alerts when their usage spikes, helping them save money in energy costs. The Wattvision team works at Tigerlabs.
Notefuly is a note-taking app and website that makes remembering things easy and intuitive while maintaining the user's privacy. Taseen Peterson made the presentation on behalf of his team, explaining how the product offers many design options that enable users to personalize their notes with dozens of background designs or their own pictures. Users can also share their notes with other users through social media platforms like Facebook. The Notefuly team came out of Seaton Hall University, in South Orange.
Sven Hermann presented Gruberie, a dining recommendation service. Based on a customer’s taste profile, Gruberie personalizes recommendations of new dishes at restaurants by using algorithms to pick meals the customer would most likely enjoy.
Ryan Shearman, of Fusar Technologies (a TechLaunch company), presented the "Guardian" smart helmet. The road helmet provides the rider with real-time audiovisual information about his or her local environment. The helmet uses Fusar's patent-pending STAR System. Shearman noted that motorcyclists and their passengers make up 14 percent of all road fatalities. Guardian was developed to help make motorcycle riders more aware of their surroundings to make their rides safer.
Dr. Stephanie Budijono, of Hastke, a startup spun out out of Princeton University, presented a 3D imaging instrument that captures dynamic cellular events in live cells in real time. Budijono said that her background in targeted drug development made her aware of the limitations of her field when it comes to developing drugs aimed at cancer cells. A major problem is the inability to monitor the effectiveness of therapy methods. Hastke seeks to overcome these obstacles through the use of 3D images.
After the pitches were heard, the audience chose Wattvision. Fusar received recognition for best pitch. Each team that participated received a certificate of recognition from Senator Booker for its work.