TechLaunch held its 18th BullPen pitching event on September 22, shining a light on three startups. Taking home the investor panel award was data-protection company Calamu Technologies (Clinton). The other two startups were TapArt (Brooklyn) and Career.Place (Marlboro).
Calamu’s founder and CEO, Paul Lewis, gave a confident pitch, saying that in “our patented process, data files are encrypted, fragmented and scattered across multiple public clouds in a way that makes the data 100 percent breach proof, resilient and automatically compliant.”
TechLaunch’s overall mission is to “commercialize emerging technology by finding and nurturing early-stage tech ventures, to accelerate growth via mentoring, coaching, networking, and access to resources and capital,” founder Mario Casabona told the virtual audience. Besides the company’s now-virtual business accelerator, TechLaunch organizes a startup bootcamp for aspiring entrepreneurs. The organization also hosts weekly office hours to provide mentoring to startups.
Judging the competition were Christine Caruso, director of venture commercialization at Foundation Venture Capital Group (Princeton), which focuses on the health field Jill Johnson, cofounder and CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (Newark), an organization dedicated to eradicating barriers for entrepreneurs who lack access to knowledge networks and capital; Joanne Lin, principal at Newark Venture Partners, an early-stage venture-capital fund; and Jay Bhatti, cofounder of Brand Project (New York), a venture-capital firm in the consumer space.
Hosting the event was Robin Bear, founder of Robin Bear Consulting (Madison). Bear is a strategic adviser to startups, and she kept the virtual event rolling.
First up was TapArt, pitched by founder and CEO Srikaran Masabathula. TapArt is a design marketplace exclusively for graphic wall art. “We curate artwork from talented digital artists globally and bring their designs onto our website as finished products. All the artists have to do is share the designs with us. We do the heavy lifting for them.” Masabathula said.
The company is all about helping artists share their work, he noted, and it’s developing an augmented reality app so that buyers can see how a piece of graphic art would look on their wall. TapArt is also working on a technology that will allow artists to create high-resolution scans of their artwork. “This would help artists in developing countries sell their work,” he said. The company handles the marketing and fulfillment of products, and gives the artists a royalty on every purchase.
A member of the audience thought that the 15 percent commission rate being given to the artists was low. However, Masabathula noted that the company can print out many copies of the graphic art in many different formats, so one piece can be sold multiple times. Bhatti said that he believed a 30 percent commission would get people more excited, and he pointed out that the company should buy the domain name “TapArt.” Caruso asked if the platform was completely built out for the artists and consumers. She also wanted to know about the company’s return on investment from advertising.
Pitching next was Lewis for Calamu. He told the audience that his company encrypts fragmented, scattered data across multiple public clouds. “While the data is at rest, it cannot be hacked,” he asserted. “If an attack were to occur, the hacker gets only useless fragments, and no actual data. The data is resilient and immune to a ransomware attack.” The company is currently involved in enterprise pilots, he said, and is in talks with investors. “We are seeking an investment of $800,000 and prefer a convertible note or a SAFE [simple agreement for future equity].”
Calamu is “initially focused on financial services because we have strong relationships there and also because they’re under a regulatory requirement to retain and protect data,” he said.
The audience asked several questions about Lewis’s claims that Calamu is 100 percent breach proof, but he stuck to his guns. “We don’t want to be breach resistant, like everybody else. We believe that we’ve come up with a solution where the data is completely breach proof. And that is because once the data is processed with Calamu, it doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.”
Johnson asked Lewis to talk about the sales cycle. In response, Lewis noted that Calamu’s sales to enterprises are usually done through a pilot engagement that can last several months. “We are only doing paid pilots to make sure that they have skin in the game,” he told her. He added that he believes sales will be high because the company will be displacing some archival, encryption and, in some cases, compliance technologies.
The final pitch came from Melissa Dobbins, cofounder and CEO of Career.Place, which offers human resources managers a “blind” candidate-screening solution to promote diverse and efficient hiring. Dobbins noted that bad hires are very costly to a company, and that diverse teams are 33 percent more likely to be profitable and 158 percent more likely to understand clients.
“Career.Place is an anonymous candidate-screening selection process that replaces resume screens, profile reviews, initial video interviews, general assessments and other time-consuming processes,” she said. “Candidates flow into Career.Place from job boards, career pages, recruiting efforts and other sources. And the shortlist of the best-qualified candidates flow out, ready for the final steps in the process, so only their talent, and not their appearance, influences the results.”
A member of the audience wanted to know if the company had done any studies to confirm that they are actually turning out diverse candidates. Dobbins said that they are keeping metrics at every stage of the process, and she added that the trick is to avoid using an algorithm, as that can cause a lot of bias.
Lin wanted to know if there is a training component required for employers, so they can effectively convert traditional job descriptions into effective questions for candidates to answer. Dobbins admitted that when the startup first began, they needed to do consulting work with their customers. But, now, once Career.Place gets them into the correct mindset, they get into the rhythm and can create job descriptions quickly.
Winners of the BullPen events receive more than $15,000 in professional services donated by TechLaunch’s sponsors, as well as a guaranteed opportunity to pitch at an upcoming meeting of Jumpstart New Jersey Angel Network (Chester) and Tech Council Ventures (Summit).