(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
During a demo day at the National Aquarium last week, startup founders pitched plans to maximize profits and purpose.
Conscious Venture Lab (CVL), the accelerator program of SHIFT Ventures that’s based out of space at Baltimore City Community College in West Baltimore, closed out its fifth cohort on Thursday. The accelerator supports businesses with a social mission over four months through a curriculum and mentorship. Drawing companies from around the region, the nine-company cohort featured five founded by women and four by people of color. (Note: Applications for the next cohort are open through Valentine’s Day.)
At demo day, the companies presented on their progress and plans to a panel including Meghan McGee, a partner at Camden Partners, and Jeffery Mund, the founder and managing partner of MCVC Ventures.
Here’s a look at the companies:
ReVased — Winner
The Baltimore-based company founded by Arielle Vogelstein and Aviva Vogelstein offers a flower subscription service. It delivers flowers that were previously used at events (think: weddings), which the cofounders-sisters said would otherwise be thrown out. For every arrangement purchased, the company donates flowers to local nonprofits.
The company captured the judge’s attention with the unique take on upcycling, as well as entrepreneurship chops. As they put a focus on testing and adjusting with early users in Baltimore and New York, CVL CEO Jeff Cherry pointed out that the model that they end the cohort with wasn’t the same as when it started.
A win at Demo Day earned the Vogelsteins bragging rights, but no monetary award.
Built on technology developed by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine leaders, the Baltimore-based company offers mobile assessment software for medical training. It gives data and feedback to residents who are in the operating room, allowing them to know where they can improve. This is integrated into workflows for residents and faculty, allowing for monitoring. CEO Aimee Martin said the company has found progress with university medical centers, and is moving into a sales and marketing phase.
The on-demand economy created plenty of convenience, yet in each rideshare, home stay or dog walk, trust is also required between two parties who didn’t previously know each other.
With SafetyPIN Technologies, Jenny Thompson is creating a digital symbol of that trust. The SafetyPIN is earned through a comprehensive check that includes criminal background, financial history and a behavioral screening.
Thompson said it is broader than the checks offered by other services, and the company worked with criminal profilers, psychologists and security experts to develop it.
Once folks pass, they get a digital badge that can be displayed on an app or website. Along with people providing services, Thompson said it can be useful for situations where both parties are required to have trust, such as a homeshare where someone is being invited into a home and the owner is also staying there.
Data systems are becoming a norm among businesses seeking to collect info and track progress. iQuantile is looking to bring these tools to the social sector to measure a nonprofit organization or non-governmental organization’s impact.
“Without impact data, we don’t really know if the work we are trying to do is making an impact,” said CEO Cyrus Kazi.
To provide that data, the New York-based company created Quantibly.com. With the new tools, the SaaS platform also teaches organizations new ways of collecting data, changing how they work.
Text messaging is often viewed in the context of time, as the ability to act on content is directly tied to when someone receives it. But by using technology that’s built in to smartphones like geolocation, Marlon Brown and Kendrick Pullen created a tool to share content and messages based on location. Messages sent via LifeTagger are received based on proximity.
The company is pursuing a B2B model, which includes a software development kit that allows businesses to integrate LifeTagger into an existing mobile application.
Pullen and Brown also believe the tool can be used to help collect stories about cities as they change. With the location-based content, they want to make it easier for new residents of an area to hear the history and stories of the residents who already live there.
As shelters and other homeless services become full, home sharing programs are being embraced to help folks who are at risk of experiencing homelessness by connecting them with people who have a free bed. Baltimore-based HostHome offers technology to connect emergency housing programs to these home sharing programs.
Led by CEO Ava Pipitone, the startup offers a web platform and mobile app that connects users to home sharing programs. In turn, it also connects social workers, allowing all three of those parties to message within the platform. It was created with lots of input from Baltimore’s YES Center, which runs a home sharing program.
In considering the market, Pipitone said there’s a necessary shift. There’s a common perception that “being unhoused or housing unstable means you are economically disadvantaged or poor,” when actually, she said, “We should disassociate those things.” Many facing homelessness spend days in cafes, using devices.
“How many founders have spent a night in their car?” she asked.
County Sports Zone
High school sports always draw plenty of interest, but content available from local media has declined along with wider newsroom cuts. Baltimore-based County Sports Zone has a place to get updates on scores, schedules and stats, and brings social and gamification tools to the mix. CEO Jake Shipley said it combines to offer a personalized experience based on the user’s interest.
It also introduces a mechanism where teams can raise money. Users earn spirit points as they share content and record engagement. In turn, the spirit points can convert to real dollars that fund school projects.
We Are Marcus
CEO Christopher King said mentoring can be key for students in grade school, especially in the category of social and emotional learning.
Through its platform WAMpro, We Are Marcus puts the stories of mentors online, where students can watch video content. For youth of color, it provides relatable voices who are also people of color. It also includes writing activities, which in turn can help measure progress. To foster in-person discussion, the platform is designed with content that can help facilitate a discussion in the classroom or at an after-school program.
In 2020, making nonpartisan information more accessible and taking the confusion out of the ballot are two missions of Baltimore-based Politicking.
Wen-kuni Ceant and Jordan Wilson cofounded the company as they saw disengagement among millennial-age voters. They built an app that provides key election info ranging from voter identification to the specific stances of politicians. It also has a tool to break down the legalese of ballot questions into lay terms.
Initially, it’s focusing on five cities where there are high concentrations of millennials but lower voter turnout: Oakland, Miami, Detroit, Dallas and Baltimore.
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