Meet 12 problem-solving startups pitched at the latest BigIdea CONNECTpreneur event

Following a fireside chat with outgoing Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman, founders repping the cybersecurity, medtech, hospitality and other sectors shared their innovative ideas.

Protenus teammates in 2018.

(Photo courtesy of Protenus)

This is a guest post Shashi Bellamkonda, an adjunct professor in digital marketing at Georgetown University and McDonough School of Management. He was not involved in the production of the CONNECTPreneur event.

Every day we hear of startups making life more convenient by helping us better or more quickly order food, connect with friends, receive products or communicate with each other.

I got a very different vibe listening to entrepreneurs at the latest BigIdea CONNECTpreneur event, held the George Washington University Marvin Center on Nov. 21: Many of these startups had a mission to change our lives, not just increase convenience.

These CONNECTpreneur events organized by local entrepreneur Tien Wong, bring together the D.C. Metro’s entrepreneurs, executives, VCs, incubators and other networkers. Wong started the event with a fireside chat with Seth Goldman.

Goldman should be familiar to D.C. entrepreneurs: He started Honest Tea in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1998 with a mission to produce low-sugar and low-calorie flavored iced tea. At the event, Goldman mentioned that he started the business from his kitchen. Early funding mostly came from friends and family, and the biggest problem to scale was the distributorship, which lead to the company seeking an acqui-partnership with Coca-Cola.

After Honest Tea’s success Goldman became fascinated by plant-based meat and specifically Beyond Meat. As entrepreneurs do, he cold emailed the company’s info@ address, which started a relationship that eventually led to him becoming the executive chairman of Beyond Meat. Goldman is leaving Honest Tea at the end of the year and for contractual reasons, he said, he did not disclose his next role — though he did say he will be joining a food company that makes an impact.


The startups that presented at the CONNECTpreneur event can be broadly classified into these categories:

  • Security and communications
  • Real estate, energy and construction
  • Medical
  • Travel and hospitality
  • Fintech

The D.C. area is filled with entrepreneurs and I am glad they showed up at an event where they could tell the world about their ideas and generate enough interest to make their mission come to life. Here’s what they pitched:


Security and communications

Gravatate CEO Javier Castro and COO Rosemarie Savino are solving the fragmented communication tools problem between companies. Many of us have seen this problem firsthand: The company uses one communication tool, its many vendors use other communication tools, and there is always friction and too many places to check messages. Gravate aims to solve this problem for IT departments that deal with this headache.

Gravatate CEO Javier Castro and COO Rosemarie Savino. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Syccure (pronounced “secure”) is helping data transfer securely to any non-trusting parties. CEO Thomas Capola knows what he is doing, having founded four companies and selling two of them with revenues of over $100 million. When there is a need to secure data not only within the organization but also when the data is provided to other organizations, contractors, vendors and others, Syccure may be the solution.

Syccure CEO Thomas Capola. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Xiid (pronounced “exceed”) takes the complexity away from logins to provide password-less security. Federico Simonetti, the CTO and founder, presented and he has some excellent credentials including working with digital forensics. While Xiid’s SaaS product sounds extremely geeky, I can relate to the times when you have to ask IT/network colleagues to open ports or provide access to your vendors. Xiid may be the solution to provide this access and prevent attacks.

Xiid CTO Federico Simonetti. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Real estate, energy and construction

Truss aims to solve the challenge of leasing commercial office space. Senior VP Tom Fuge presented the concept, which includes setting up a new office, providing transparency in rental rates and online tours, and helping deals close in days instead of months.

Truss Senior VP Tom Fuge. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Archneura founder Clair Marie Wholean told the audience that due to lack of a building quality index (BQI), many buildings constructed today have a shorter lifespan than before — 39 years or less, or “disposable buildings.” Using BQI, Archenura aims to reduce waste and costs for commercial building owners and other interested parties by showing that higher-quality buildings generate more revenue.

Archneura founder Clair Marie Wholean. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Nova Heat Batteries LLC was introduced via a very interesting presentation from Larry J. Austin, a former Wall Street executive. The device that you see Larry holding collects heat energy from the “tetra-hertz infrared range” and converts it to electricity. The product is not yet available in the U.S. and has been used in Europe for the past seven years, he said. This idea may help the people affected by the California fires by providing alternate energy sources, for instance.

Nova Heat Batteries LLC’s Larry J. Austin. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Reverse Ionizer know that in many parts of the world, you can get drinking water from any source using a technology called Reverse Osmosis. (I learned of this on my recent trip to India.) What cofounder Patrick Hughes told us was that every commercial building has cooling towers which also treat the water passing through them. Reverse Ionizer technology treats the water to remove risk of plasma and reduces the scaling over time

Reverse Ionizer cofounder Patrick Hughes. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)


Carrtechllc’s pitch was very interesting: You never want to visit a hospital, but if you ever need to, did you know that intravenous injections require multiple steps and multiple needles? The team at Carrtech LLC led by founder and President Sue Carr has a solution to reduce the steps and multiple needles, thus saving money — and most importantly, saving the waste that is created by these needles. Love the mission of this startup.

Carrtechllc founder and President Sue Carr. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Mira addressed the topic of the day: healthcare. I agree with founder and CEO Khang Vuong that healthcare costs are confusing and the system is “cruel” (my words) to the uninsured and underinsured, which Mira aims to avoid via low monthly cost and one affordable flat price per visit and transparency in all the costs upfront so there are no surprises. The website has a caveat that it does not replace insurance.

Mira. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

Retail, travel and hospitality

According to The Pocket Palette founder Lynda Peralta, not everyone wants to carry a bulky makeup bag with them around the airport security plus business meetings. Trains, cars, airplanes and hotels — all of them can offer these pocket-sized makeup packs as amenities to save their passengers from makeup stress or as a backup. I personally loved this idea.

The Pocket Palette founder Lynda Peralta. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

PuroTrader is like the eBay for cigars, but CEO Pierre Rogers wants to expand from peer-to-peer online cigar trading to wine and whiskey. These products are some of the heavily regulated products and an online trading place is needed for convenience to lifestyle consumers, he said.

PuroTrader CEO Pierre Rogers. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)


Ortus Academy is building a community of millennials, dubbed Money Club. CEO Aaron Velky said its business model is selling membership to the online community through purchases of online courses to nonprofits and school systems plus B2B deals with companies that want to reach an audience of young adults.

Ortus Academy CEO Aaron Velky. (Photo by Shashi Bellamkonda)

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