Open Assembly, amhCard and Allweb Technologies Pitch at February VANJ Meeting

Photo: Domitilla Enders pitched her startup Open Assembly at the February VANJ meeting. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Domitilla Enders pitched her startup Open Assembly at the February VANJ meeting. | Esther Surden

At the monthly Venture Association of New Jersey (VANJ) meeting on Feb. 19, 2013, three tech startups presented five-minute pitches to the group of assembled VCs, angels and investment community members.

The meeting, which took place in Whippany, also offered a look at the investment style of Gil Beyda, founder and managing partner of Genacast Ventures (New York and Philadelphia), who detailed what a startup should know before it sends him a pitch deck. (NJTechWeekly.com will cover Beyda’s presentation in a future article.)

Chiji Uzo, president and CEO of amhCard (Marlboro) and a serial entrepreneur, discussed his fledgling micropayments company, which needs development money. “We charge 10 percent on transactions from 10 cents to $2, and there is a huge market out there,” he told the group. No one has been able to come up with a technology to tackle the micropayments space, he said, but “we have.”

Uzo said the technology has patent pending status but will allow users to store money on any mobile device. “We’ve chosen not to make the tech details public because this space is dominated by deep pockets like Google, MasterCard and Visa,” he explained.

“The money we are looking for will help us build an infrastructure with all the features,” said Uzo. His business needs $600,000 to develop a prototype with complete functionality. With a million dollars, he said he can sign up merchants and have the capacity to partner with a content provider with the stature of the New York Times or YouTube, and with a bank.

Asked by an audience member to help the group understand the difference between amhCard technology and Near Field Communication (NFC), Uzo explained that the latter is a chip that allows wireless transmission over a very short distance. If you have a phone with an NFC chip, you can enter a credit card number into it. When you tap or bring that chip close to a point-of-sale terminal, it will read the credit card and process it just as it does with a regular credit card.

Said Uzo, “You can’t do micropayments with that. You have to have a credit card, and part of the problem is that you need a phone with an NFC chip, and the merchant has to get a new terminal that will read the chip.”

“You can use an existing terminal with a software upgrade for our mobile payments,” he told the group.

Speaking about her educational startup, Domitilla Enders, CEO of Open Assembly (New York), said, “As of this moment, our company is coming out of stealth. This is the very first time we’ve presented to anybody.”

“I’m an educator working with a top-notch team of engineers,” Enders said. “We believe we are building the next major disruption in the education space.”

Open Assembly has focused on two problems: textbooks are no longer affordable, and open educational resources, while a very promising alternative, are not yet up to par, said Enders. The amount of financial pain is huge for students, especially those at community and public colleges, up to 50 percent of whose educational expenses are for textbooks and supplies.

At the same time, the educational industry is currently making the transition from print to digital media, and most estimates are that digital is going to surpass print by 2018, she noted.

“What we want to do, and what we’ve been working on with McGraw-Hill for the last year and a half, is actually create a software as a service (SaaS) platform that allows you to combine both premium paid content and open resources,” said Enders.

“So our solution is that you [students and professors] should be able to create affordable playlists using any kind of digital media you want.” Instructors assemble their resources. “We’ve negotiated with McGraw-Hill to sell their content at the chapter level through our platform,” which is what makes it affordable, Enders noted. The team plans to enhance the quality of free, open resources by curating them with a community of users, tagging them to the latest standards and presenting them the way students want to engage with them.

Playlists can be customized for any group of students or an individual student. They will be able to personalize the offerings themselves through tools they pay for, Enders added. The playlists will be released as a product called a coursebook, which contains all the content, is interactive and uses multimedia. It can have a lot of paid content or none at all.

Open Assembly believes it will make money by sharing revenue with content providers and with teachers who are playlist authors. It will implement licensing fees for institutions and students, and will charge all users for premium features. The company is hoping to raise $600,000 initially.

“We’ve figured out in our talks with McGraw-Hill and other content producers that the first company that can create a high-quality digital course product for $30 to $40 wins the race,” she concluded.

Adnan Qadeer, CEO of NJIT Enterprise Development Center company Allweb Technologies (Newark), which NJTechWeekly.com covered here, discussed his fingerprint biometric authentication software. The product lets users forget their passwords and protects their identities. The system offers two-step authentication as an alternative to fingerprint authentication.

“Wouldn’t it be nice for all of us to have a solution that can protect our online identity and also help us remember our passwords?” Qadeer asked the attendees. AllWebID, his product, “can do this on any device, anywhere in the world,” he said.

After surveying the many competitors now in this field, Qadeer noted that while each focuses on a particular piece of the solution, none creates an overall solution, as does AllWebID. He added that the company is first focusing on consumers and online education “because of the needs and the synergies in those spaces.”

“We are looking for $1 million in funding to commercialize the solution, said Qadeer. “We have already invested a million to bring the technology to this stage.”

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