NJTechWeekly.com attended the Founders & Funders event sponsored by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) in early November. During the event, startup founders were matched with VCs or angels who could help them jumpstart their fundraising efforts.
Investors like this event because they get fodder for deal flows. Founders like the event because they get five-minute meetings with investors who might fund them. At those meetings, founders hope to impress investors with their business know-how. And they often receive good advice, as well as invitations to contact the investors for longer conversations.
One of the key highlights of the twice-yearly gathering is the networking that takes place outside the founder/investor meetings. During this time, startup founders meet and find synergies with other founders, and perhaps form relationships within the New Jersey tech ecosystem. The November Founders & Funders session took place at the Newark Public Library, a beautiful venue that could bring inspiration to both investors and founders.
Our first article was published here. Below, you will find the stories of three other founders who came to the event:
Bobby Varma, cofounder and CEO of Princeton Identity | Esther Surden
Bobby Varma of Princeton Identity
According to Bobby Varma, cofounder and CEO of Princeton Identity (Hamilton), her company is an identity-management solution provider focused on biometrics, including “Iris on the Move” recognition technology. “We cater to customers who have a need and a pain point around authenticating large volumes of either their employees or student population.”
The company came out of SRI International (Princeton) in 2016. SRI is a nonprofit research organization that focuses on “bleeding-edge technologies,” she told us. The Princeton Identity solution, she said, provides high-fidelity security by authenticating personal identities. The Iris on the Move technology offers speed, authenticating people in as little as three seconds. Varma noted that people don’t even have to stop. They just walk up to the device and get authenticated.
Additionally, the enrollment process is very easy, involving only one click of a button. “And if you already have access-control software with one-click authentication, we can automatically enroll your whole population, and that can range from 40,000 people to 100,000 people.”
We asked Varma about her meetings with investors, and she said that she had had seven meetings. “There are a lot of VCs here for us to meet. This has been amazing because meeting these VCs has been very hard for us, and they don’t take cold calls. So, this has been a great venue for us to meet the VCs, interact with them and really tell them our story. Not every VC is right for us, but this gives us the opportunity to meet them and possibly keep relationships in the future.”
Ken Colangelo, CEO, and Leon Wilson, public benefit officer of Bantr | Esther Surden
Ken Colangelo and Leon Wilson of Bantr
Next, we spoke to Ken Colangelo, CEO of Bantr (Allendale) and Leon Wilson, public benefit officer. “Basically, Bantr, which was founded as a B Corp, is a television social media company. We are seeking to develop an app and market it to a large group of people so that we overcome the challenge of finding others who watch the same show without talking about spoilers. Current social media platforms are actively fragmenting the audience, creating silos,” Colangelo said.
The company started from an idea hatched during the pandemic, when Colangelo decided to move back to New Jersey. As Colangelo’s family converged from many different points around the country, they needed to find something to talk about with each other. One solution they thought of was for everyone to watch the same TV show each week — whether on TV or via video streaming — and then discuss it during their Sunday dinners. It was a great way for the family to keep in touch with each other.
Bantr is available on both Android and Apple. Wilson and Colangelo noted that they had conducted several trials on college campuses and held focus group meetings to figure out how someone who wants to talk about a reality show uses the app versus someone who watches a serial drama, for example. Plans involve expanding to movies.
When we asked the two about their investor meetings, Colangelo answered that they had gone to four meetings so far. He noted that the investors were split into two groups: those who were only interested in startups that had ongoing revenue versus those who were willing to be the first institutional investor in a startup. “I would say that the meetings have been extremely interesting. A lot of people see the value in what we’re trying to propose,” he said.
“Also, one of the reasons why we’re here is that we’re working with the NJEDA to do the programs so that we can remove some of the risks out of the decisions the investors are making.” Colangelo added that the NJEDA had been introducing them to the startup community in New Jersey and that they had attended many productive lunch meetings outside of the Founders & Funders event.
Jayanthi Narasimhan of WatchRX
Jayanthi Narasimhan, founder and CEO of WatchRX | Esther Surden
We met with Jayanthi Narasimhan, founder and CEO of WatchRX, a company that was originally based in the Boston area, but is now looking at spaces in Newark. Narasimhan has close ties to NJIT, where WatchRX participated in the Health IT Connections program early in its development. The company has a smartwatch that can manage elderly patients’ medications, ensuring that they take their meds on time. It connects to a smartphone app through which caregivers can connect to their patients 24/7. The watch provides visual medication reminders with each medicine’s name, label and dosage, as well as voice instructions.
The device also generates smart alerts if patients don’t take their medications or if their vitals are crossing any threshold limits. “So, we provide actionable alerts to caregivers as well as to nurses. We currently work with physicians to offer remote patient monitoring and chronic care management solutions,” she said.
We spoke to Narasimhan after she had spoken to three investors, and she said the meetings had gone very well. Two out of the three expressed a keen interest in keeping in touch and wanted to provide her with other leads for possible financing.
One of the investors gave her some advice that she took to heart. They said that the market is tough these days. “They would advise not to go for the full raise, but to raise enough to go to the next milestone, and then wait and go out for the next round,” in the hope that investors will have more funds to invest later on.