WDCEP curated 10 early-stage D.C. startups during the SXSW conference in Austin. We got updates from each of them.
Cities around the world try an array of economic development strategies at mega-conferences like SXSW, Austin's annual corporate-powered World's Fair.
Mostly those strategies come down to one of three goals: visit us, hire our residents or do business with our existing employers.
Of late, economic development groups make a great show of their earliest-stage companies, seeding the growth of their future employers. This year, the #WeDC house, a takeover of Austin's Bangers Sausage House on Rainey Street, featured a pre-happy hour tech showcase for just that reason.
For several hours, conference attendees toured a dozen stations inside a beer hall, clutching coffees and trading business cards. At the conclusion, the dozen company founders were gathered for a group photo, where Kevin Morgan, WDCEP's tech liaison and among the organizers, thanked them for "being among the best of the best of D.C."
All with fewer than 10 employees, and a couple at or before launch, the companies are among the next wave of D.C. startups. Techincal.ly DC caught up with the founders to hear the latest from what the District's economic development organization wanted to show off.
[caption id="attachment_39277" align="aligncenter" width="308"] Hellmut Adolphs.[/caption]
Backed by a slate of local investors (including Tim Chi, the Wedding Wire and Blackboard cofounder), the chatbot company is expanding beyond its origins in driving nonprofit donations, said founder and CTO Hellmut Adolphs. The team of eight works out of 21st and I and are going from "software for good" into an expansion of verticals with their AI-powered tool, including higher education and healthcare. Interestingly, Adolphs noted that they're adding managed services contracts with clients that want dedicated support on the product. (We last saw Intellei pitching at TechBUZZ in the fall.)
[caption id="attachment_39278" align="aligncenter" width="619"] Goodworld CEO Dale Nirvani Pfeifer, at right.[/caption]
Fresh off a $750,000 injection from Mastercard, the social good startup that facilitates donations from hashtags is using SXSW as an opportunity to get in front of as many people as possible. It's a true global audience, said CEO Dale Nirvani Pfeifer, flashing her Kiwi accent. She noted the "networking is off the charts," and praised the structured opportunities the #WeDC initiative offers her.
Find our past coverage of the company here.
[caption id="attachment_39279" align="aligncenter" width="1101"] Paul-Julien Burg.[/caption]
A rare back-to-back Technical.ly realLIST honoree, the foot-traffic analytics firm may have just found a powerful new use case. Focused first on retail clients, the company installed its devices and software to track movement of people inside the #WeDC house itself, said Paul-Julien Burg, the startup's friendly and wild-haired business development manager. "We can now build a density map to understand what room was most popular, do we need a venue this large and, generally was it as successful as we had hoped," he said, adding that they've found interest from conference organizers for these "hardcore analytics."
[caption id="attachment_39280" align="aligncenter" width="619"] Brandon Andrews, at left, and Al Dunn.[/caption]
Eighteen months after launching, cofounder and Chief Product Officer Brandon Andrews says they're riding high on their #NoMoreBadAds campaign. The mobile market research program facilitates consumer feedback, by matching its clients with responses from users of its mobile app. Andrews was joined by Al Dunn.
[caption id="attachment_39281" align="aligncenter" width="612"] Yemariam Mamo.[/caption]
Targeting a launch late summer, cofounder and COO Yemariam Mamo was on-hand to show off her concept for "Shazam for hair care." Mamo, an American University alumnae, and her cofounder Kymberlee Hill, a Howard University student in the CEO role, are using computer vision in a mobile app to solve a new problem: with the explosion of the natural hair movement, there's a need for a platform to match consumers with products. Mamo said they're targeting an affiliate business model at launch.
[caption id="attachment_39282" align="aligncenter" width="608"] David Gibson Jr.[/caption]
Begun in 2015 and with a product launch in 2017, the platform for managing amateur sports leagues is nearing completion of a partnership with D.C.'s Department of Parks and Rec, said founder David Gibson Jr. They primarily sell annual clients, though monthly payment is possible, he said. Their bread and butter comes with youth sports, camps and annualized tournaments, offering rankings, roster management, payment facilitation and the like.
[caption id="attachment_39283" align="aligncenter" width="617"] Kimberly Moore.[/caption]
Since we last saw Cofounder and CEO Kimberly Moore pitch at the Vinetta Project showcase last summer, she's rolled out a feature that allows families to organize trips on Atlanta mass transit system MARTA, a feature coming to the Metro North line between Connecticut and New York and planned for D.C., and expanded elsewhere. The "end to end planning platform for situations in which trust is the currency" has goals nobler than after-school trips, noted Moore. She piloted "Go Together To Vote," which will grow this fall en route to becoming a major program for the 2020 presidential election.
[caption id="attachment_39284" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Meghan McCarthy.[/caption]
Starting in the DMV, Maternie is building a marketplace where parents and guardians can choose daycare and preschool options for their children. This month, they'll launch proprietary, government-informed ratings in Virginia and Maryland, a feature they already have for D.C. facilities, said CEO and cofounder Meghan McCarthy, a veteran of Morning Consult.
[caption id="attachment_39285" align="aligncenter" width="615"] Cofounders Kevin Hawkins (left) and Chase Maggiano.[/caption]
Launched Monday morning, BravoScore is a live music and arts discovery platform prioritizing social validation. Cofounders Chase Maggiano and Kevin Hawkins started with a focus on "the live music capital of Austin and D.C., the densest arts city in the country." They plan to continue to roll out listings, helping you find performances your friends like too.
Andy Potash and his wife, Andrea Potash, are trying figure out how to create jobs for those who have spent time in prison or who have been homeless or who have fought addiction.
Or, as Andy Potash puts it, “people who need a second chance in life.”
"It's a new way of thinking of philanthropical giving."
Their latest strategy is to give out loans to early-stage businesses who employ those people and offer the businesses low interest rates on the condition of further job creation. Wash Cycle Laundry, the Philly-based sustainable laundry service that’s now operating in three cities, is one of the first companies to get one of these loans through the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF), the New York City-based foundation founded by the Potashes.
Wash Cycle got a $450,000 loan with a five percent interest rate that will decrease as it hires people from what the company calls “vulnerable adult populations,” said Wash Cycle spokeswoman Leigh Goldenberg. If the company creates 500 jobs over the next five years, they’ll repay the loan at a one percent interest rate.
“It’s a new way of thinking of philanthropical giving,” Andy Potash said.
Wash Cycle has created nearly 50 jobs, spread between three cities, half of which are filled by people who have at one time faced addiction, incarceration, homelessness or welfare dependence, according to a press release. The management team is seven people, who work out of the company’s Center City office, and the rest are laundry and cycling staffers, Goldenberg said.
For Wash Cycle, the loan is a way to grow the business without losing equity.
While it has raised money from Investors’ Circle and Robin Hood Ventures, Wash Cycle has also been backed by Philly organizations like the Patricia Kind Family Foundation, the Untours Foundation and The Merchants Fund to the tune of $600,000, Goldenberg said. Most of that money has been in the form of loans, she said, but that number also includes prizes (like this $25,000 Blackstone Foundation one) and a grant from the Merchants Fund. Some foundations have also invested in Wash Cycle for equity through Investors’ Circle.
The foundation support has been instrumental, said Investors Circle investor John Moore, who also sits on the Wash Cycle board. The Patricia Kind Family Foundation and Untours Foundation were some of the company’s earliest backers and helped it get to a point where groups like Investors Circle and Robin Hood Ventures could invest, Moore said.
So far, DSVF has only made a loan of this nature to one other business: Pivot Project, a furniture company in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Andy Potash said. It hopes to make more, as well as partner with other foundations to spread the reach of these kinds of deals.