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This Smyrna startup uses AI to make photos look professional

When entrepreneur Chris Morris took on the photography for his wife's Etsy store, he knew there had to be a better way. His Rush Roto has since gained attention from the likes of AWS and Startup 302.

Chris Morris, founder of Rush Roto. (Courtesy photo)

When Chris Morris was 13, he started a recording studio that made enough money to pay the rent. He learned that running a business meant more than providing a service — he also had to find ways to stand out and draw new customers.

“That led to me figuring out that you can put different videos and and movies on an audio disc if you know how to code it properly,” Morris, now the founder of the photo app Rush Roto, told Technical.ly. “That led me down the path of programming, but it also forced me to learn videography, because there wasn’t many videographers capable of doing that kind of stuff.”

Years later, in 2021, Morris had relocated to Smyrna from Bensalem, Pennsylvania, still running his successful videography business, when his wife asked if he could help her with her Etsy shop. She’d been searching for a product photographer, but couldn’t find one within an hour away.

Morris helped out with photo shoots, but getting the photos up to professional quality standards took a lot of work.

“It was like, there has to be a better way,” Morris said. “And I started developing Rush Roto from there. The big breakthrough was figuring out that if we needed an application where you could remove the background easily and then add in some things that would be dynamic.”

A startup is born

There are existing ways to remove backgrounds — Photoshop, of course, and easier-to-use tools like Canva. The difference is that Rush Roto does it almost instantly, and with an AI-powered upgrade currently in beta, it will do more.

“It’s not just adding a background,” Morris said. “It’s basically putting the picture of that object that you took into another picture.”

And one image can be turned into multiple campaigns in just a few seconds, according to the founder. “A lot of selling online is seasonal,” he said, so a single product photo can be made into images for Halloween, the Christmas season, spring — or any theme, really.

The AI in Rush Roto is actually two AI engines working together.

“I call it an AI sandwich,” Morris said. “There are two pieces of AI that’s making this happen. … The first part is open source that we tweaked a little bit ourselves to make it work a little bit better for [cutting out] objects. And the second part is a custom model built on Stable Diffusion, which is an image generation model, and we added our special pieces on top to make it work better for taking an image and adding something to it.”

Getting here

Getting a startup like Rush Roto off the ground meant funding would be needed — a pain point for Delaware founders. Morris put about $10,000 of his own money into getting the startup to the point where he could apply to business growth programs, and found early support through Amazon Web Services (AWS) when Rush Roto was selected as one of 25 startups in the inaugural AWS Black Impact Accelerator in 2022.

That honor won the company $125,000 in cash and $100,000 in Cloud Credits.

“Both are super important for this kind of a thing. That cash got us over the big humps of getting this up to this point where we could develop our own model,” he said. “And as we scale up, Cloud Credits are going to be super important, because this is processor intensive.”

Most recently, Rush Roto received $6,000 from Delaware Prosperity Partnership’s 2023 Startup 302 competition, where it placed in the Delaware Tech-Enabled category. The funding will help the company develop a website version of Rush Roto.

Soon, users will be able to test out the platform on the website without downloading anything. After that, businesses can produce up to 1,000 images for $30 a month.

Growing in Delaware

As the business grows out of Smyrna, Morris, who has a small team working with him on Rush Roto, is aware of the pros and cons of doing it it Delaware.

“I found myself driving up and down the highway,” he said. “I just did another pitch competition where I came in second in New York just a few months ago. And another one where I was going down to DC, so there’s a plus at being able to hit multiple cities without having to hop on a plane.”

Morris is rooting for the growth of Delaware’s tech ecosystem.

“I will say it is difficult in terms of really finding programs that are here to help accelerate small tech startups,” he said. “But I was really excited to see that they had started running this Startup 302 program. I think that’s what Delaware needs more of, because basically, you have to leave to really get that initial funding to get going.”

It’s the continuation of a lesson he first learned as a teen: Growth is dependent on finding new ways to stand out.

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