Twice a year, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) organizes a Founders and Funders event, bringing startup founders together with investors who have been preselected to meet them. The investors are briefed on the startups presenting, and each startup is coached on how to make the most of its 10-minute meetings.
This season’s Founder and Funders event took place October 27 at the EDA’s Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies, in North Brunswick. Some 18 venture and angel investors met with nearly 30 early-stage companies in the tech and life science areas.
Introducing the event, Kathleen Coviello, technology and life sciences director at the EDA, said, “We had a number of term sheets come out of the last event,” as well as a strategic alliance that is awaiting a final investment.
NJTechWeekly.com spoke to some of the founders of the New Jersey startups attending the EDA event about their companies and their experiences. Many of the founders we encountered at this month’s event were more mature than those at previous events, with domain experience in the field they were addressing or experience running tech companies.
Vadim Cherdak, president and CEO of ECare21, told us that his Princeton-based company presents a new direction for senior care for the 21st century. “We redesigned senior care, applying technology that can monitor seniors at home.” Activity monitoring can give relatives peace of mind with instant location and wellness information, including fall alerts. “At the same time, we are building a marketplace where vendors can sell their products aimed at seniors, such as insurance,” in full compliance with the state.
“Our meetings went very well. It’s a good crowd of interesting investors and we’ll just see what happens. From a human interaction point of view, the meetings were very good.” Two of the investors expressed an interest in speaking with him further, he said.
Al Shermer, cofounder and CEO of Trion Interactive (Vorhees and New York), and Vincenzo Penza, cofounder and CTO, came to the EDA event to secure funding. Their company is already partnering with some of the biggest names in publishing.
The Trion solution helps publishers, large and small, create video mobile pages by embedding the company’s mobile video players. “We kind of put the pipes in the mobile technology for the publishers and advertisers to use,” said Shermer. He added that they founded the company in 2011 and it was profitable within 60 days. “Currently, we are on a $4.3 million run rate for 2015.”
“The meetings were great! There is a mix of people here. We might not fit into some of their investment models, but there are definitely some who we do fit,” Shermer said. At one meeting, “the investor knew a lot about us, and he knew some people in a similar market. He already said he wants to set up another meeting for us to get together. They are from the Philadelphia area as well, so it will be quick and easy. So far it’s been a great event with great networking.”
Penza noted that there was depth of knowledge in the room. “It’s amazing how within 10 minutes you can get feedback that’s extremely relevant to your situation. You are speaking to some very knowledgeable people who are excited for what we have to say,” and who provide advice. “Two people even gave us recommendations to connect with other people.”
CircleBlack is a digital-empowered platform that helps busy American consumers gain more control of their wealth. “We help them know how much they have, what their money is doing, and let them know whether they have any issues or whether they are on track for their goals,” said CEO John Michel.
“We have an app for your phone as well as any sort of tablet, and it works well with your financial adviser,” he added. The startup, which is almost two years old, is headquartered in Princeton and does its development work in Jersey City. “We have 10 employees,” he said, as well as some networking consultants.
“The meetings have been interesting. I came here because I’ve been a big fan of the New Jersey Technology Council, and they suggested I attend. I did so, and I’m enjoying the people I’m meeting.”
Michel explained that this is his second company, and a little digging on the Internet showed that he had also run BloombergBlack, a startup wealth management company within Bloomberg that was closed down. According to Investment News, that entity had “amassed $1.5 billion in assets and hundreds of paying customers during the first four months of its trial.”
The founders of MediCoupe (Somerville), Christine Barbieri and Donald Jones, are innovators in the area of transportation for seniors. The Somerset-based company has what it believes is the first ride-scheduling platform that caters to the elderly and the adult children of the elderly who manage their care. These people need to schedule rides in cars that are wheelchair accessible, on demand.
It’s the Uber for the elderly, Barbieri acknowledged, joking that “Uber has already done all of our marketing for us.” Jones noted that it allows people to travel to doctors, hospitals, chemo services, pharmacies and even recreational sites less expensively than the competition right now. The service is operating in Union and Essex counties so far, and is testing in Somerset, Middlesex and Mercer counties.
At the time of the interview, MediCoupe’s founders had had just one investor meeting, but the investor “seemed very interested and had a lot of good points of feedback,” Barbieri said. The investor asked for more information, so the founders will provide it and hope to move forward.
David Williams, CEO of Building Technology Solutions (Jackson), and John Estiva, the company’s chief business development officer, both come from telecom backgrounds. “We own a proprietary wireless technology that is ten times faster and can achieve six times the distance as our nearest competitors,” Williams said. They received a license for their technology from the Department of Defense.
Williams and Estiva came to the EDA event to look for monetary support to commercialize the technology, build out the network domestically and license it outright internationally. Estiva said that the meetings went very well, with several of the VCs he spoke to knowledgeable in the telecom area and aware of the problems that the company was facing right now.
“This is a little bit different than some of the VCs we’ve talked to previously. The VCs here are a bit more knowledgeable, and they are very receptive to what we are trying to do. What we are trying to do involves a very big change,” and is disruptive technology, he added. Williams said that most VCs are only interested in software applications and how fast they can get their money back. “We are very confident that when we find the right person, people or entity, they’ll get our idea and jump on it.”
Meddle (Atlantic Highlands) provides enterprises with a blogging solution enabling employees to help market their companies, cofounder Vidar Brekke told us. Employees don’t always have the time and skills to blog on their own. So Meddle gives them tools to make it easier for them to create content during the workday that will showcase their expertise and their passion for their company and customers. “When you read in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times about something that affects your customer, you can use Meddle’s plug-in to quickly annotate the part of the article you think is interesting to your customers, and in a couple of minutes you’ve created a blog post that can be shared” with social media.
The meetings went well, he said. “I’m in a position now that I’m not asking for money now, I’m asking for money in a year, which is a great thing to do because you don’t have the pressure of having to have every answer ready.” Brekke said that he was just asking for the investors to get his company on their radar. It’s a better way to raise money, with less stress involved. “Whenever you connect with somebody, it’s great because you can always go back to them for advice,” and build a relationship before you become an eligible company for their investments.
Gil Bar-Lev, founder of OceanTailer (Fair Lawn), and Ralph Castro, VP of sales, came to the event to make connections for funding. “We are the B2B marketplace that links buyers and sellers and suppliers and wholesalers together, regardless of geographical location,” Castro said. “We’ve been in business now for about 16 months, and we’ve been very fortunate to have a very extensive portfolio of clients. We are looking to expand our operation and personnel to help support our growth mandates. We are very fortunate. We are experiencing very good growth!”
Bar-Lev said that their goal for attending the EDA event was to tell the company’s story to a variety of VCs in the hope of getting their support. “We’ve pretty much become the de facto marketplace for buyers and sellers, regardless of technology, to link together.” Bar-Lev had been a computer engineer in the B2B area, and that background led him to understand what the challenges were and what OceanTailer could do to streamline the procurement process between retailers and wholesalers.
Bar-Lev said that, of the two meetings he and Castro had with investors, one of the VCs really understood an operation of OceanTailer’s size and where it stood in the market. “We had a very productive conversation,” he concluded.