Category Archives: Venture Capital

Powerfelt claims it can power portable devices like the iPhone

uls-ener

By Dennis Clemente

International ThermoDyne’s Powerfelt bagged the most votes at the Ultra Light Startup presentation of eight energy startups that presented last October 9 at Microsoft, as it claimed to answer the ever-increasing need for clean power, especially in portable devices.

“Powerfelt is a thin material that harvests heat and motion and converts energy into useable electricity,” Paul Solitario said. “You can use it to charge your iPhone.”

The other startup presenters were Shailendra Suman of SmartCharge, Burt Hamner of Titan Ocean Energy; Jason Force of E-Mow; Ariel Fan of Grid Symphony; Raj Lakhiani of Athena Power; Graham Smith of Open Energy Group and John Jabara of Savenia Home Ratings.

The panelists who gave their critique and feedback were John Freer, manager of External Technology Initiatives at GE Global Research; Dave Kirkpatrick, managing director of SJF Ventures; William Lese, managing director of Braemar Energy Ventures and Willem Rensink – GameChanger of Shell.
ThermoDyne’s prospective customers for Powerfelt cut across various industries– mobile electronics, construction, transportation, textiles, government.

Asked if it could narrow down its intended market, Solitario said they could focus on remote sensors as it offers portable “electricity” anytime anywhere without batteries or the grid. “We have no moving parts.”

Investor’s advice to Solitario: Focus (on a specific market); find where the material can be unique; find an application where it’s available; understand how product competes in the landscape; study lifespan with a device.

Suman of SmartCharge was also one of crowd favorites. His successful Kickstarter campaign launched the world’s first LED light bulb that you can turn on or off from the same wall switch even during a power outage. It provides four hours of continued use. Battery is reportedly 300 cycles. When using the light bulb normally, it will reportedly last for three years.

The panel was impressed to hear that SmartCharge is selling already at $34.95. It started shipping 5,000 units in 32 countries last month with 100,000 units of soft orders. His gross margin is 20 percent of cost.

Suman hopes to target homes owners, small businesses, the direct online sales sector as well as wholesale to big box retailers such as Amazon.com, Duke Energy, Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Investors’ advice to Suman: Work on IP; introduce more product(s); look for other distribution channels to accelerate the business; find out where it goes on store shelves; and figure out positioning of the product.

Titan Ocean Energy’s Hanner presented the mobile platform for office offshore wind power and drinking water production already installed in Sweden. A panelist said, “You’re on the right track in Europe.”

Globally patented, the mobile jack-up platform reportedly supports 6MW + offshore wind turbines and met towers ad desalination systems.

Investors’ advice to Hanner: Make sure you’re protected; Target corporations; repurpose existing rig; keep it light; laser-focus on costs

E-Mow came next with Jason Force talking about its self-powered drone bioenergy harvester which creates renewable grass fuel pellets at low cost. It seeks revenue from pelleted agricultural products.

“It will be a significant cost reduction again existing methods,” Force said who’s looking forward to it as a build-and-operate model.

Prototype challenges for him would be the maintenance of this self-powered technology

Investors’ advice to Force: Work with a big player like John Deere so you can market faster; powering it by biogas is not the best way to go about it; look at all the pieces you want to integrate; and determine MVP, being a relatively complex engineering system.

Ariel Fan presented Grid Symphony, an intelligent brain for the electric grid to prevent utilities and priority clients from power meltdowns like Hurricane Sandy. It emerged from Columbia University’s machine learning lab.
“It’s not an emergency product. We want to create an optmization product,” she said.

Utilities are targeted customers but right now, it is looking at system integrators. The distribution strategy aimed at selling directly to enterprise smart/medium customers.

Investors’ advice to Fan: Survey how many people will use it; think how this business scales; test in some places like Hawaii to get customer exposure before scaling; work with system integrators, because they see everything; make sure you have a partner; explore idea in business model canvas.

Athena Power has developed a self-powered wireless fault sensor for underground distribution networks. It is hard to find faults, but Lakhiani is confident about its startup based on its four-year engine and his experience.
Still, he thinks it’s better if Athena works with utilities. “Underground (networks) are tricky.”

Investors’ advice to Lakhiani: Know the sensor market to make sure you get plenty of pilots; score early with Exelon as a demonstrable result; (recognize) it’s a timely product to bring to electric utility to the world; (think of it as a) unique entry point to get data

The last two presenters were Smith of Open Energy Group and Jabara of Savenia Home Ratings.
The former is an online marketplace for renewable energy investments.

“We offer accredited investors direct access to higher return, lower risk, fixed income products by directly funding the construction and operation of commercial renewable energy power projects in the States,” he said. This includes solar projects.

Investors’ advice to Smith: Make loans that banks don’t give; look for a partner when it’s time to add deep pockets, focus on residential (market)

Savenia Home Ratings helps home sellers unlock the value of home efficiency upgrades to differentiate, sell faster and capture more value.

“Energy auditors focus on the negative. We focus on the positive,” Jabara said. “We’re CARFAX for home efficiency.”
Asked if it has a method, he said the company validates the rating through documentation. “Customers do most of the work; we check (the work).”

Investors’ advice to Jabara: The platform can be bigger, think of other groups doing the rating; and get accurate data from third-party source.

This time, Graham Lawlor of Ultra Light Startup hosted the meetup with Tim Hoffman of Cleantech Open.

Startups in mobility: charters, electric charging and smart automation present mobility concepts to BMW

bmwi

By Dennis Clemente

You know the brand behind the ultimate driving machine? BMW is also investing in startups under BMW I Ventures. And since it’s in the automobile business, you’ll have to be in the area of mobility services like the startups that presented last September 23—Buster, EverCharge, SmartCar and TransitScreen.

Founded in 2012 to help groups and charter operators find each other, Buster might as well be the Uber for group traveling. “It’s a marketplace where customers can discover, compare and book group transportation online,” said founder Matthew Kochman who also offered a similar service to fellow students back at Cornell University.

Reportedly an $11.4-billion market, Buster is for everyone who wants to book private group charters, whether for a school trip, company excursion or fun weekend getaway. Average price per booking is 1,000

With over 20,000 charter industry operators, Buster is reportedly aggregating bus companies and aims to offer centralized fleet services as well as discounts on insurance, maintenance and financing.
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Next presenter, EverCharge is an electric vehicle charger from your parking space or for apartments and condos. You just tap your access card and plug in for EverCharge to automatically authenticate your vehicle and log your usage for billing purposes.

Minimum charge for EverCharge’s membership is about $40 for 500 miles.

From California, SmartCar is automation for connected vehicles. It is a web service that connects to internet-connected cars wirelessly over a cellular network. You should be able to configure and monitor your vehicle’s automation settings from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Founder Sahas Katta talked about the many features of its app. If you want to have the perfect temperature in your, for instance, you can set a schedule and Smartcar will automatically begin cooling or heating your vehicle. It is also reportedly energy efficient.

It can also reportedly learn your driving patterns and automatically create a schedule to charge your car at the right time.

Smartcar is designed for the Tesla but it is working to have connected vehicles from other manufacturers in the near future.

A different startup from all the rest was TransitScreen. Matt Caywood recognizes the growth of smart cities, so he’s concentrating on real-time display of all transportation options at a specific location. This includes digital display ads.

The last presenter, Valet Anywhere, hopes to offer on-demand parking valet service for cities. Right now, it is only offering its service in New York City, the $25 billion parking market. “We hope to solve parking,” said founder Robert Kao.
How does it work? It assigns a uniformed vetted valet who greets you and parks your car for you. Valet also returns the car to you…wherever you may be in the city. Actual parking is said to be included in the price.

“How do you scale?” That was the frequently asked question by the guest panelists Matt Turck, managing director at First Mark Capital; Chris Thomas, founder and partner at Fontinalis; and Ulrich Quay, managing director at BMW i Ventures.

Global Innovator presents foreign startups in transit, mobile marketing, marketplace and health

WIN's Global Innovator meetup
WIN’s Global Innovator meetup

By Dennis Clemente

Where most tech startup events lump all startups without geographic distinction, Global Innovator makes it entirely clear that foreign startups has an American audience and more importantly, a panel of guests from New York’s VC world to give them feedback and possibly, funding.

The bi-monthly series is powered by the Worldwide Investor Network (WIN), a New York-based platform focused on helping early stage global tech startups shorten the path to funding and acceleration in the US market.

What also makes Global Innovator different from other tech meetups is how the whole affair has an air of formality about it, quite different from other meetups where the standard garb is T-shirt and jeans and the setup is freewheeling. Here, attendees wear suits, wine keeps flowing, press kits (even without the press in attendance, except this blogger) are provided, and just for added glamour, all the kibitzing continue to the rooftop—for VIP ticket holders. Like I said, it has an air of formality. And it helps that they have sponsors to pull this off.

Last June 25, the four foreign startups followed Global Innovator’s theme-Mobile Apps. The presenters were TransitApp, YouAppi, Gone! And Nutrino. Following the format, they presented for five minutes with no apparent time limit for VCs to give their feedback. Tanya Prive, founder of RockThePost moderated the event with WIN’s Eyal Bino opening the affair. They may consider introducing where each startup comes from.

Sam Vermette, co-founder of TransitApp, spoke about its app—how its finds your next departure instantly. Free. What makes it different from any other transit app? Instead of giving you just a schedule or map, it tells you when your public transport is nearby.

“People only want one thing: When is my ride coming?” he said.

He’s confident that in the future, people will be using more public transport, citing how China moves 2.5 billion in public transport. He’s eyeing the world. With $17 billion in fares in US and Canada, the numbers out there for his other 70 markets must be huge. His biggest market is New York.

He looks forward to the day when you can just beam your phone on any public transport system. “Our friction-less payment (method) is in prototype.”

But what makes it different from Google? “We think public transport deserves its own app where Google is the Swiss knife of apps,” he said, as he looks forward to the day also when every city has Wi-Fi.

Moshe Vaknin, founder of YouAppi, presented YouAppi, a mobile apps recommendation platform that has reportedly raise $2.2 million.

Using the YouAppi system, publishers of mobile apps, reportedly gain a simple and reliable way to target their acquisition and retention resources for the highest valued and most loyal consumers.

“YouAppi is for mobile publishers struggling to monetize their inventory using traditional banner ads,” Vaknin said.

Nico Bayerque of Gone! showed how his app works as an algorithm-powered concierge service that sells your items, pick them up, package them appropriately and fulfills them.

Addressing what he calls the 350 billion market, he is answering what’s foremost in our minds: What do we do with our junk? And suggesting why not sell them through Gone! Electronics is a best-seller.

He demonstrated how he mines pricing data using ebay, for example, to gauge how much you can sell your products lying in waste at home.

Highest worth of products Gone! has picked up and the windfall the person received for using their app: $1,600. “Once we remove anything from your house, you get paid,” he said.

Why them? He said they know the marketplace. “If you want to sell wine, for example, we know the marketplace for it.”

The last presenter was Nutrino. Using your personal and medical profile, goals and food preferences, Nutrino’s patent pending technology helps create a healthy dietary plan for you.

Nutrino adapts to you in real time, continuously improving its recommendations. It’s supposed to be the first data-driven personalized food recommendation engine in the market.

The VCs at the presentations were Danny Schultz, managing director, Gotham Ventures; Jalak Jobanputra, managing partner, FuturePerfect Ventures; Hadley Harris, founding general partner, Eniac Ventures; and Nic Poulos, principal, Bowery Capital.

The other speaker of the night was Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local and best-selling author, likened fundraising to dating.

Based on his experience, here are his fundraising tips:

• Transparency is good but not o too much

• Don’t waste your time once you know it’s not a good fit

• They’re going through the same thing you are

• Persistence is vital in any relationship worth having

• In the end it’s worth it

How ripe are you for Seed A investment—and other VC insights

By Dennis Clemente

What makes a startup ripe for Seed A investment? There’s the most obvious answer: “You have demonstrable revenue growth.” There’s the hopeful response: “You’re selling more metrics and data than just sizzle.” And the standard throwaway response: “…If you’ve become a revenue-focused brand.” You’ll do better with the first reaction; keep your hopes up for the second; plan long for the third.”

Last May 13, Rubicon Venture Capital’s Joshua Siegel hosted a night of VC talk and startup demonstrations at Orrick at CBS building. For the first part of the night, Siegel brought in the venture capitalists to answer his prepared questions like the one above. The VCs were Marc Michel of Metamorphic Ventures; Will Peng of Red Swan Ventures; Brad Svrluga of High Peaks Venture Partners; Nikhil Kalghatgi of Vast Ventures and Matt Gorin of Contour Venture Partners.

Elaborating on their responses regarding Seed A investment, the VCs put importance to having customer acquisition metrics and a repeatable sales process. “If you’re past the idea of product/market fit thinking, then you’re ready,” Michel said.

Still, at least two VCs said it has become harder to pinpoint what Seed A means nowadays. “The nomenclature has changed. What was an A can now be B.”

Peng said strong engagement with a group of people is key, but he also attempted to simplify it, “Early stage is, ‘Do people want it’ (your startup)? Series A is, ‘Do a lot of people want it’?”

What areas or sectors are ripe for Series A funding? VCs may not always give you a straight answer, because even without them saying it, the tech space is always evolving, if not converging with some other service or technology. Michel considered marketplaces, the shared economy, even mentioning Uber as a marketplace, but to avoid pigeonholing himself, he said, “Every firm will have its own idiosyncrasies.”

Really now, why can’t they say more? Peng doesn’t want to influence mindsets, “We don’t want you to change your business model based on trends, because we look for companies that come from a genuine place. If you are building something you are passionate about and you have the conviction to make it work, then we’ll take a look at it.” For a few seconds, he buckled and said food, but stopped short of elaborating. If he is talking about Soylent, look into it if you haven’t heard about it.

Asked if they work with other investors, Michel said, “We syndicate everything we do. We look for good partners and share financial risk, because most companies take time to develop.”
VCs have the resources to add value to your startup where angel investors can only provide expertise. Kalghatgi, however, is not one to share a startup with another investor if it means he’ll be hampered by what his firm can offer.

The difference between East Coast and West Coast investors is a topic not brought too often in public, but Siegel tried to say who would respond. Without going into detail, he said, “We hear a lot of crazy stuff in San Francisco, (how) it’s easy to get money.”

Svrluga said, “It’s 10 times bigger (there). There are also better entrepreneurs out there.”
In New York as opposed to Silicon Valley, there was also a comment about how good VCs see through the hype—and fakery. They ask about hitting milestones that attract investors. They want the right team, the right technology, the right differentiation.

Peng added how he doesn’t like you buying traffic, because it’s fake growth, akin to what we’ve learned with the Emperor with No Clothes fable. “It you stop buying traffic, you will (see) that you don’t have anything. Don’t go this road of lies.”

A question that pops up every now and then is how to get noticed by VCs. The response has always been the same: (face-to-face) networking, but Svrluga went a step further. True to how technology has improved networking, he said Linkedin is the greatest referral tool. “If you can’t figure out Linkedin, then you won’t be able to get the audience.”

Naiveté permeates entrepreneur novices, according to Svrluga. He suggested you come to him with a warm lead; for Gorin, a strong reference; for Kalghatgi, a person who knows you really well and can give you an accurate portrayal.

It’s true what they say. Mondays are no-nos for VCs. Michel laid out his schedule on the table: “I have 30-meeting slots dedicated to meeting new companies. But he is also quick to say how it’s physically impossible to meet everyone. Mondays are a no-no. It’s all a day of meetings.”

After the VCs’ talk, the startup demonstrations followed. The presenters were Jeremy Kagan of Pricing Engine; Michael Ibrahim of Whisk, an Uber competitor; co-founders Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty of TodayTix; Peter Stebe of nextSociety, and Doug Chambers of Field Lens.

For those starting out in New York, nextSociety’s Stebe tells us how networking with the right people proved crucial in his life away from his home, Germany. Now he’s monetizing it with nextSociety, an iOS networking app using a relevance score, a smart indicator that tells you how well a connection aligns with your professional interests.

Every startup has an interesting back story. For Stebe, who is from Germany, it was always how he dreamed of living in New York. Now he has a startup here.

Field Lens’ Chambers was succinct and to the point in his short presentation. In his construction work app, he talked about how he is answering the problem of communication breakdowns typical in construction work. He has a solid team, another important ingredient in a startup.

Having been funded, he knows the drill. Determining a problem and how you can solve it is crucial to your success and VC funding.