New Jersey-based female founders were the winners at the last two TechLaunch BullPen startup pitch events that took place in Jersey City and Madison.
Carii (Pilesgrove), a B2B collaboration and community platform aimed at large enterprises, organizations, law firms and others, represented by cofounder Denise Hayman-Loa, won the investor panel vote in March.
KidGooRoo (Fair Haven), the “Yelp for kids’ extra-curricular activities” pitched by cofounder and CEO Alex Skove, took home the investor vote in May. KidGooRoo was also the audience’s choice in May.
The TechLaunch BullPen has been one of the most important additions to the New Jersey tech ecosystem during the last two years. BullPen introduces startups that are ready for investment to Angel investors.
More importantly, companies selected to pitch are mentored by seasoned entrepreneurs who give them the benefit of their knowledge. They then pitch to an audience and a panel of investors.
The BullPens are held in conjunction with a university and a meetup. The event in March was hosted with the Jersey City Tech Meetup and held at New Jersey City University and the May event was held at Fairleigh Dickinson University (Florham Campus) and hosted with the Morris Tech Meetup.
The other startup that participated in March was iCashout (Jersey City), a mobile customer engagement platform for main street merchants – with an early emphasis on restaurants - to connect with their customers in real-time using minimal effort and cost.
Presenting in May was FokisOn (Warren), a company represented by founder Dan Rosenberg, that offers a unique interactive activity, called a Moment, which captures the attention of colleagues at meetings or of college students in class, using incentives. The idea behind FokisOn is to motivate people to pay attention during activities rather than playing games or surfing the web during meetings or class lectures.
A startup called Zeblok (Ridgefield) has a sensor that is embedded in shoes and can detect gait and balance issues in people wearing the shoes. The company’s founders, who presented in May, believe their first market will be medical researchers who want to capture data in a biometrics cloud about how medications are affecting gait or how patients are recovering from procedures.
Each event features a student company pitched by its founders. The March contributor from NJCU was Z&N Designs, an online children’s apparel company that empowers kids to emotionally express themselves by wearing customizable outfits. In May, the founders of an FDU student business called Park with Me presented their business model that allows hosts to rent out private parking spaces to drivers who need parking. The students thought the business would work well at the Jersey Shore, where parking is at a premium, but there may be spaces to be had at private businesses.
Carii: Carii can be thought of as Community 2.0, Hayman-Loa told the audience. It is a social and community platform aimed at companies and organizations. The product is scalable and can be used in really large enterprises, can be implemented for a customer quickly and is customizable for each use case. It’s not Facebook or LinkedIn, which are tremendously frustrating for enterprise managers, she said. The key element here is this concept of privacy control. “We give our clients full privacy, full control of their own data, in their own experiences in their own firms.”
The company has had tremendous success for a startup and is seeking funding for growth. “We have significant pipeline with major prospects…Because the platform is fully developed, there’s really not a huge amount investment required in the technology. All of our investments, at this point, in technology enhancements are client funded. What we are focused on is growing our sales, our marketing, our full market growth, and our clients’ success, so that we can make sure they continue to be successful, continue to refer us to other business.”
Part of the BullPen experience is taking questions from the audience. An audience member told Hayman-Loa that she needed to fix the company’s messaging for consistency, as her website and apps had three different messages on them.
The investor panel also provided feedback. Meg Columbia-Walsh, CEO of Wylie, a Jersey City AI advertising startup who has been a serial entrepreneur, suggested that Loa was raising too small a pot of money needed to scale this company. “I would suggest you need $3 million not $750,000 if it’s as good as you claim it to be.” She added that $3 million is not enough money to reach the brands the company needs to reach.
KidGooRoo: Skove said that before KidGooRoo, there was no single source for parents to go to find a comprehensive listing of kids’ afterschool activities in their area. Also, there was no place parents could get reviews to get a better idea of what activities would be best for their kids before enrolling their child.
“KidGooRoo is the platform connecting parents to afterschool activities in which their kids are going to be most successful, and at the same time, we are connecting businesses, those activity providers out there, to the parents they depend upon,” she said.
Skove noted that the startup’s strategy, like Yelp and TripAdvisor before them, is to focus on the end user, the parents, and build an audience through a ratings and review platform, establish trust with their audience, and then increase stickiness by adding additional functionality and tools.
In response to an audience question about the differences between Yelp and KidGooRoo, Skove said that Yelp only covers brick and mortar businesses. “As a parent looking for a basketball program, I could be looking for someone with a gym, but I also could be looking for someone who coaches basketball.” A coach may not have a permanent place of business. “Being able to gather that information into a single place is what parents need to make better decisions.”
Skove answered a question from Jumpstart NJ Angels’ CEO Katherine O’Neill, who was on the investor panel, about scaling the company. She asked if it would take $1 million to scale each U.S. state. “The key for us is to make unit economics work,” Skove told her. “We need to be able to demonstrate that in New Jersey we have these three revenue streams, they are all operating as we expected them to operate, and now we can go for some significant funding to expand nationally…The goal of the $1 million is to prove our proof of concept here in New Jersey…It is the same strategy that Yelp used successfully.”
Cinematcher: CineMatcher cofounders Lauren Magura and Felipe Dieppa, who took home the audience choice award, pitched their platform that helps producers fill production jobs when they are on location. Both Magura and Dieppa had experience being with productions that lost people along the way to sickness or other problems, and needed a way to staff up with local talent. “So, we came up with these solutions. Users can hire and get hired using role matching algorithm, machine learning and geolocation and producers can easily onboard and manage those hires and organize their information. We want to be a one-stop shop for all creative productions and get rid of all of those pain points that other platforms are failing to solve,” Magura said.
An audience member with an HR investing background challenged Magura and Dieppa to explain how their solution differs from standard HR hiring apps that are being developed at a rapid pace.
Said Magura, “We didn't think of it as like a staffing agency or a hiring source when we started. We thought of it as almost like a “Tinder” for film and TV jobs. That's actually what our industry has coined us, so we were just doing the connecting.” We weren’t dealing with onboarding or anything like that, and we “just started developing that recently. So we were just the connector… and people jumped on the app and they geographically located themselves and they build their crew themselves.”
A member of the investor panel told the duo that they needed to slow down during their pitch to really let the investors understand their revenue model. The two key points he didn’t understand was what was free and what was being paid for. He also noted that while the company said it had 15,000 matches, it only claimed 1,000 transactions. He urged them to “do a little bit of analysis and diving into the numbers that would help us understand where the value is.”