The evening was organized by The Hatchery and co-hosted by NJ Tech Meetup founder Aaron Price. VCs and angels sat at tables, and startups signed up ahead of time for a five-minute sit-down with these investors, who are always looking for good companies and deal flow. When the buzzer sounded, the startups moved on to their next meeting or networked with each other.
Hatchery founder Yao Huang weighed in on the day, saying that she thought it had gone well. The purpose of Hatch Match, she said, is “to give the larger masses of entrepreneurs an even playing level to access investors. That’s always been Hatchery’s mission. It gives founders a taste of what to expect with investors and also to access those who may not be easily reached.” The Hatchery also wants to “train startup founders to be concise in describing the real value of their companies with the shorter meetings,” she added.
NJTechWeekly.com spoke to a number of entrepreneurs after they had had meetings with VCs or angels. Most of the startup founders we spoke to were enthusiastic about the event, especially about the opportunity to meet potential investors. They also said that the investors were generous with their advice, and with their willingness to follow up and help. The investors also directed the startups to other investors who might be interested.
Joshua Weiss, CEO of TeliApp (Linden), pitched a service called “Follow Us,” a foot traffic generator for small businesses. The company has an artificial-intelligence machine-learning algorithm for small businesses that generates foot traffic for them by pinging directly to potential customers via social media. The company came to Hatch Match NJ looking for a seed round.
“We’ve found that the closer we get to the launch of our MVP, the more interested investors become,” Weiss told us. “I already have relationships with some of the investors here, so I used this opportunity to say hello to them. Some have already given me verbal commitments. We are doing a relatively small round of $250,000, and I have already raised half of it so far.”
Carrol Barash, founder and CEO of Story2.com, is from South Orange. She is a typical example of a New Jersey entrepreneur whose business is based in New York City’s “Silicon Alley.” Story 2 teaches people how to tell their stories out loud and how to use the neuroscience of aural storytelling to improve their writing.
“I wanted to thank the people who organized this event,” she said. “It’s really great for the community to be able to meet so many investors in such a short time. It’s great for networking and it’s a lot of fun. People really respond to our message because so many of us have struggled with our writing for so many years.” Speaking about her meetings with investors, she noted that two investors asked to see her again. And she enjoyed the experience of meeting investors who do not specialize in educational software. “You get asked great questions that come from a really seasoned business perspective.”
Debbie Spina Piperno, founder and CEO of My 3 Stars (Lincroft), pitched her product, VOOM Carpool, which stands for “Vehicles Optimally Occupied by Many.” This is a mobile app that solves the problem of finding safe carpools for kids within a user’s own social network of friends.
VOOM Carpool discovers trips planned by friends, notifies other friends and facilitates the carpool creation process. Both Android and Apple apps are being planned for September 2015.
She said that she had enjoyed the event not only for the discussions she had with investors, but also for the other introductions that were made. “In fact, one introduction led to a potential future partnership, which should increase my user base.”
Helena van der Merwe’s recruitment company, A-Plus-Consulting, is based in the Enterprise Development Center, at New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark. She came to Hatch Match NJ with a minimum viable product for a platform to connect interns and apprentices with employers, and to tailor training to employers’ needs. Her company is a Microsoft BizSpark Startup, she told us. “It was the first time I’ve pitched investors, so I didn’t know what to expect. One person said he would follow up with me.”
Jason Lobo, of TLCengine (Piscataway), had several meetings with investors. “TLC” stands for “True Lifestyle Cost,” as this growing startup provides the real estate industry with a way to inform their customers about the actual costs of living in a particular house, such as the real cost of commuting to their jobs or the real cost of heating.
“The meetings went great. They were well-organized and the investors were very interested to hear what we had to say. Some very positive leads have come out of this. One of the investors even gave us his email address and his own personal ID to talk to him. Some were very knowledgeable about the real estate industry. … I also think it was great to meet a lot of entrepreneurs who are dedicated to this on a full-time basis,” he said.
Andrew Hines’ product, “Sit Assist,” is a patented device that helps to lift patients from the floor in case they fall or to lower them to the floor for exercise. He was very happy with the reception his product and business had received. Several of the investors asked to see him again, and one even had him paged during the event. Hine’s company, Unique Mobility Devices, is based in NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center.
One startup founder found the event too rushed to allow him to fully explain his hardware product to the investors. Mark Schaffer, founder and CEO of ARGOtext, said he was hampered in his meetings because he had to spend too much time explaining his patented product, with little time left to discuss his business. His product uses touch sensors on the side of a smartwatch as a full QWERTY keyboard. “The investors spent way too much time trying to understand it,” he said. Schaffer had sent out a working model to be prototyped. During a follow-up, he said that the prototype is expected to be ready sometime in July.
Pitching a product called “Intelligent Agent,” Vishal Vadodaria, cofounder of AI Machines (offices in Wayne; Herndon, Va.; and Belmont, Calif.), said that his software allows people to have a real conversation with their cell phones, instead of just giving one-line commands. Intelligent Agent is a virtual assistant interface. Users can search for and get information, buy things online, set up reminders and do travel planning, just as they would with a concierge, he told us.
“It remembers what you said about your family, your kids and your preferences. It uses a brain-like cognitive structure. … This technology pushes the current state of the art to the next level, where machines can actually start thinking an understanding,” he told NJTechWeekly.com. “Language has been such a barrier!”
Vadodaria’s meetings with investors went well, and he scheduled three follow-ups. Two additional investors asked for the company’s slide deck.
Rachel Lyubovitsky, cofounder and CEO of OnTimeWorks (New Providence), pitched her private benefits exchange to the investors. “We are bringing together the producers and consumers of benefits, and realigning their needs. Healthcare reform has introduced a lot of challenges into the benefit ecosystem, including increased regulatory pressures, tighter margins and higher commissions. Employers are seeing higher benefit costs. We are looking to introduce efficiencies and to facilitate the buying decisions of those benefits. Carriers can get better visibility into the buying behaviors of customers, and customers will know what benefits are available.”
Lyubovitsky said that her meetings had gone very well, and that the investors asked her a lot of interesting questions and even gave her some helpful recommendations. Several of the investors asked for follow-up meetings.