On April 23, the incubator IDT Ventures held a pitch event at its headquarters, in Newark, during the company’s first-ever hackathon.
IDT Corporation is an international company involved in telecommunications, payment services, money transfers, and messaging technology. Howard S. Jonas, founder and chairman of the board, was present and part of the judging panel. Jonas received his BA from Harvard and is famous for creating companies that provide good products that are at once innovative and inexpensive. PeduL (Newark), Debitize (New York), StellarEmploy (New York), UpChannel (Newark), Imali (New York) and ModernLend (New York) presented.
Jacob Jonas, director of IDT Ventures, MC’ed the event, and described his company by saying, “Helping immigrant and underbanked communities is one of our primary goals at IDT.” Many of the startups that presented are businesses geared towards immigrants and immigrant communities, either directly or by virtue of the businesses or business functions they address.
Half of the startups that presented are members of the IDT incubator, and the rest were invitees from outside IDT’s network. “There are no awards. It’s part of the process of participating in the incubator and an opportunity to pitch to angel investors,” Jacob Jonas said.
In addition to Howard Jonas, the panel of judges included Aaron Price, founder and CEO of Propelify; Scott M. Smedresman; partner at McCarter & English (New Brunswick), a law firm specializing in working with startups; Anthony Delgado, CTO of Fownders (Newark); and Zali Ritholtz COO of Net2Phone, an IDT Corporation.
The judges offered constructive criticisms about the pitches. The most often repeated bits of advice were: “Be clear about what you are asking for” and “If you have done something impressive — for instance, if your product dramatically reduces costs or increases marketing — tell that to people first, up front.”
PeduL, an IDT incubator company, is a crowdfunding platform for college tuition that provides third-party scholarships. Students upload a video clip promoting themselves, and Pedul investigates their financial needs. Donors are assured that their donations go to a specific student’s tuition. When a student “cashes out,” the money is paid directly to the school! While there are competitors, none of them pay the school directly. And unlike money given directly to a student, donations to a school are tax-deductible. Pedul is monetized by taking 5 percent for administrative costs. It has partnered with City of Newark and Baltimore, IDT, Rutgers, Louisiana State University, Penn State and others. The presenters were: cofounders Chisa Egbelu, CEO, and Kayla M. Jackson, COO.
Debitize, is not part of IDT Ventures, but is instead with the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, in New York. This startup provides its customers with a “credit card without the risk” that pays off credit card purchases the next day — guaranteed. It does so by linking the user’s checking and credit card accounts. Debitize’s target market is Millennials, as they “distrust the financial system and credit and fear debt as temptations to spend money one doesn’t have,” said Liran Amrany, cofounder and CEO. This market consists of the 40 million people who are not using the most lucrative financial instrument of the past century. Users can gain rewards and better interest rates, including on future mortgage payments; and credit card issuers have reduced risks. The presenters were: Amrany; Jeff Hu, cofounder and CTO; and Paul Sauer, lead engineer.
StellarEmploy was invited after the startup was seen pitching at a NY Angels event. Sara Nadel, founder and CEO, refers to StellarEmploy as a Software-as-a-Service “platform for job discovery.” With their own algorithm and a 15-minute questionnaire, StellarEmploy “skill-rate matches” workers with jobs. Nadel said that this screening test has saved client companies millions of dollars in hiring costs and reduced turnover by 30 percent. Prior to StellarEmploy, she had successfully founded a similar hiring service in Latin America. Nadel envisions StellerEmploy as a LinkedIn-type platform for hourly jobs. The service is free to the job seeker and charges the employer $35 per hire, per location, per year. The presenters were: Nadel and Irene Chung, vice president, product and user growth.
UpChannel, an IDT Ventures portfolio company and a former NVP Labs accelerator startup, provides customer-relationship management to smartphone manufacturers, who are generally too far upstream to know who their customers really are, and aren’t well-versed in software development. UpChannel solved these problems for Hyundai Mobile (Vienna, Va.), for instance, by producing end-user demographics for their phone sales in South America, including in specific countries and cities. This information enabled Hyundai Mobile to launch a very successful targeted ad campaign. UpChannel is an SaaS product, and it’s expanding to smart TVs. The presenters were: Jacob Katsof, cofounder and CEO, and Charlie Hulcher, cofounder and CTO.
Imali, part of the IDT incubator, creates rotating savings-and-credit associations for groups of users —through an app. According to the pitch, peer pressure ensures that each group member contributes. When a savings goal is reached, one member cashes out, and the savings cycle repeats. All the members of a group must be based in the same state. Ugochukwu Mbanugo, cofounder and CEO, said that “69% of people have less than $1,000 in savings, which leads to a predatory industry for emergency loans.” Imali is trying to reach communities that don’t have access to adequate banking services. To demonstrate the potential market, Mbanugo cited the Pew Research Center’s statement that, “$40 billion is spent by marketing companies trying to reach the unbanked and underbanked.” Savings are FDIC-insured. Mbanugo added that “group savers have three times the chance of achieving their savings goals.” There is a lot of competition out there, but Imali offers “a complete wallet” of banking, credit and payment services, which the competition does not. The presenters were: Mbanugo; Manish Balakrishnan, cofounder and COO; and Eugene Karp, CTO.
ModernLend is a credit-reporting agency for foreigners, noncitizens and nonresidents who are trying to get a credit rating or borrow money. Even though these individuals have no local credit history, ModernLend investigates the individual and assesses credit worthiness. The presenter was: Kobina Ansah, CEO and cofounder.