Angels, VCs and Founders “Speed Date” at NJ EDA’s Founders & Funders Event, Part One

Photo: Founders take meetings with VCs and Angels at the October NJ EDA Founders and Funders event. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Founders take meetings with VCs and Angels at the October NJ EDA Founders and Funders event. | Esther Surden attended the most recent New Jersey Founders & Funders event, at the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies (North Brunswick) at the end of October.

Founders & Funders is probably one of the best-received programs that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority offers. It is based on a simple premise: startups in New Jersey need a way to obtain warm introductions to angels and venture capitalists, and angels and venture capitalists who want to invest in New Jersey need deal flow.

So, twice a year, the New Jersey EDA puts on a program that matches up angels and VCs with New Jersey tech and life-science startups. During the event in October, more than two dozen startup founders met angel and VC investors in 10-minute, one-on-one “speed dating” sessions to discuss strategy, business models and funding opportunities. spoke to some of the founders who participated. This is the first article in our coverage of the event, based on our interviews.

Kaushik Pillalamarri, of Smartiply

Photo: Kaushik Pillalamarri. cofounder and CEO of Smartiply Photo Credit: Kaushik Pillalamarri
Kaushik Pillalamarri. cofounder and CEO of Smartiply | Kaushik Pillalamarri

According to Kaushik Pillalamarri, cofounder and CEO of Smartiply (Basking Ridge), the company is building an internet-of-things platform that solves two problems that the IoT landscape faces today. The first is unreliable and inadequate connectivity, which leads to a poor customer experience. The second is the lack of local intelligence in the network gateways. With local intelligence, devices won’t have to go out to the cloud as much, thereby reducing congestion and the time it takes to make decisions.

“There are some decisions that need to be made locally,” Pillalamarri told us, giving the example of an IoT safety camera that spots unusual activity. If the camera can detect that there are suspicious people or that someone is holding a gun, “an alert can be sent immediately to the police,” he said. Pillalamarri called this “pre-cloud intervention.”

“On one side, we are trying to provide boosted connectivity with available resources near you using resource sharing. And, on the other side, we are allowing for pre-cloud interventions so that decisions can be made locally, intelligently and faster.”

Pillalamarri and his team are former Verizon employees, so they have the background to take this idea forward, he said. Smartiply finished a first round of funding last year. “We completed our product development and we are actually working on market trials with seven different customers,” he said. However, “we want to develop the market and scale, and we are looking for that next round of funding.” asked Pillalamarri how his meetings had gone at the Founders & Funders event. “We met with several groups and we learned what they were looking for. Their questions were very interesting and I took some good notes. This was a great opportunity for us.”

He added that some of the investors who offered less funding than Smartiply needed were willing to help with connections. One of these investors advised Pillalamarri to wait before pitching to the investors he would connect him with until the company has a purchase order in hand. “We are getting a purchase order within the next two weeks,” Pillalamarri noted, and he appreciated the advice regarding the timing of his approaches to investors.

Rachel Trobman, of Ouchie

Photo: Rachel Trobman, CEO of Ouchie Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Rachel Trobman, CEO of Ouchie | Esther Surden

Ouchie (West Orange) is a mobile platform for pain management, said Rachel Trobman, cofounder and CEO. “We give providers a new way to engage with their patients to keep them motivated and keep them coming back” for treatment.

The app helps provide additional support by allowing users to interact with other patients, and thus reduce the feeling of isolation. “Pain is a very long process, and the progress patients make between appointments is very slow. It can be very isolating, so we hope to solve that problem,” Trobman told us. Ouchie has a mobile app that is launching soon in the iPhone App Store.

The Ouchie app will enable users to track their pain and treatments. Milestones will be preset by the care provider or by the Ouchie team. “The more that you exercise, the more that you try treatments other than opioids, the more you support other people, the more milestones or badges you unlock. …You are also connecting to people on similar pain journeys who you can support and cheer along or give guidance to.”

When we spoke to Trobman, she had already had six meetings with investors. “The meetings went well. The ones that weren’t a good match were kind enough to be very clear and convey that right away, which I appreciated. Everyone’s time is precious. There were some really good matches that I hope will yield investments down the line. We are eager and ready to take our business to the next level, and we need capital to do so.”

 Trobman noted that some of the advice she had received at the Founders & Funders event conflicted with advice she had received elsewhere, “but each investor has their own style,” she said philosophically. An investor at the event, for example, told her to open her pitch with a personal story, but other investors she had dealt with just wanted to know the numbers,” she said. “We are early and pre-revenue, but we have contracts for revenue,” she noted.

 “We want to be a good business, a business that not only generates revenue, but is a helpful resource for both providers and patients. And that’s what keeps driving us to continue to grow the product.”

Jigar Vyas and Michael Frank, of Invessence

Photo: Michael Frank, COO and Jigar Vyas, CEO. of Invessence Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Michael Frank, COO and Jigar Vyas, CEO. of Invessence | Esther Surden

Invessence, a business-to-business fintech startup located in Chatham, offers a customizable white-label digital adviser platform. We spoke to Jigar Vyas, cofounder and CEO, and Michael Frank, COO, after they had met with several investors.

Vyas told us that the company had made a lot of progress since we last covered them, and was going live with a new client, Tradition Capital Management (Summit), which owns an online digital investment advisory firm called Building Benjamins(Summit).

Frank added that the company expected to sign a contract within a week with a company with a big footprint in Asia, and that it was also working on a contract with a large consulting firm in Taiwan.  

Vyas said that the meetings had gone well. “We had time to get in a couple of good conversations,” Frank said. He added that one of the investors looked at the clients Invessence expected to gain over the next few months, and said their dollar projections looked too low. They told this investor that they had tamped down their expected revenue because they were nervous about putting what they thought the real numbers would be. No one would believe them.

Vyas said receiving requests for follow-up meetings with investors gave them “confidence that we are on the right track. The event is speed dating. You have to talk fast and loud, and then the buzzer goes off. But I think it’s a great event and a good way to meet people.” 

Frank was very enthusiastic about the ability of the EDA’s Angel Investor Tax Credit Program to help them get funding. The program offers a 10 percent refundable tax credit on the New Jersey corporation business tax or gross income tax for qualifying investments in an emerging technology business with a physical presence in New Jersey.

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