Seven start-ups present simple ideas at TechLaunch's Demo Day

Published: The Record, July 16, 2014
By Melanie Anzidei, Staff Writer
Last Updated: July 16, 2014, 8:57am

"Above, Edward Berde, founder of Retail Shopping Systems, with his company's product, cart magic."

* At Demo Day, tech firms push help for shoppers, drivers, students, others

MONTCLAIR – From making roads and campuses safer to making parents and shoppers happier, the seven start-ups that pitched ideas Monday night at Montclair State University to potential investors all had one thing in common: a simple idea.

TechLaunch, a technology accelerator in Clifton, held its third and largest Demo Day, an event at which about 300 potential investors previewed products created by seven teams from TechLaunch's LaunchPad program.

Most products were spawned from an everyday need. One of the start-ups, Inspirity, presented a Software as a System (SaaS) solution that provides small businesses with a simpler way to transfer their websites to mobile devices. Atiq Hashmi, the founder and chief executive officer of Inspirity, said this idea came four years ago when he had difficulty navigating through a restaurant's mobile site to find its location.

Accidental inventor

Another start-up, FUSAR Technologies, created a motorcycle helmet that was pitched as safe and affordable. Ryan Shearman, the company's CEO, told investors that in late 2012, he was rear-ended by a driver on the West Side Highway in New York City while riding his motorcycle. This fueled his desire to create the Guardian smart helmet, which has a front and rear camera, an onboard computer allowing the rider to talk to the helmet and also the option of Guardian Angel, which is a safety and support system similar to OnStar for cars.

For these start-ups, Demo Day is an opportunity to keep the momentum of their products going. Edward Berde, the founder and CEO of Retail Shopping Systems, a company that hopes to change the shopping experience in supermarkets, said he hopes to find a lead investor, since the start-up already has a few passive investors.

"We're just looking for that one guy," he said.

Retail Shopping Systems' product, cart magic, is a device that is placed on a shopping cart to provide consumers with a digital experience. Advertisements and coupons come up on the screen as you shop. The start-up already has four to five units in five supermarkets in Paterson, Fair Lawn and South Orange. They're currently working on list magic, an online shopping app that will connect cart magic with mobile devices. The supermarkets buy the cart and pay for installation, and then RSS sells ad space to companies.

At the event, the seven teams had their products on display for investors to sample. Teams also gave 10-minute presentations that highlighted the purpose of their products, their projected revenue and their feasibility.

Other start-ups included MobileArq School Directory+, an app that creates a school directory for parents and school boards; Outdoor Exchange, which provides a venue for affordable access to outdoor gear; SHIELDtech, which created a keychain-like device for college students that calls public safety at the touch of a button; and Animal Social Club, a social loyalty platform where consumers can collect and trade digital reward cards between different retailers.

All the start-ups are based out of TechLaunch's Clifton office, except MobileArq (Summit), OX (Fair Lawn) and SHIELDtech (Fairfield).

Each year, TechLaunch selects different start-ups to participate in LaunchPad, a 16-week-long "boot camp" that provides funding, mentorship and business training. In exchange for seed capital, the companies provide TechLaunch with equity. At the culmination of the 16 weeks, the teams pitch their ideas to investors.

According to Mario Casabona, founder and CEO of TechLaunch, this year's event had the largest turnout yet. Since the first Demo Day in 2012, the attendance at the event has nearly doubled. Casabona said there were about 150 attendees in 2012. Last year, there were about 225.

TechLaunch, based in Clifton, started in 2011. Casabona explained that New York City and Philadelphia all had accelerator programs for tech start-ups, while New Jersey did not.

The start-up community "is starting to flourish in New Jersey," he said. "All we need now is for more investors to come in."

Email: anzidei@northjersey.com

Making the Connection: Apps Turn to Integration

Published: NJBIZ, July 21, 2014
Last Updated: July 21, 2014 at 12:00pm

If you ask tech experts, simple smartphone apps are old news.

That’s why Retail Shopping Systems created a new touch screen tablet that mounts to the handle of a shopping cart and connects with the company’s mobile app, List Magic, allowing shoppers to upload their lists to the tablet display.

“It’s a completely customizable shopping experience,” said Ed Heflin, the co-founder, chief technology officer and chief financial officer of the Clifton-based startup. “It’s almost like having a personalized shopping assistant with them.

Retail Shopping Systems, whose product is now in five North Jersey Supermarkets, is not alone in its approach. Experts say more tech companies are developing software that integrates smartphones with multiple platforms - rather than simple apps that are limited to one device - allowing them to enhance the program’s functionality for the user.

And several New Jersey tech firms are following the path.

“More and more devices are being built to support connectivity, Ryan Shearman, whose New Jersey-based company Fusar has linked smartphones to a “smart helmet” for motorcycle riders. “With access to the Internet via your data plan, you can connect to almost anything today.”

Retail Shopping Systems and Fusar were among the seven companies at this year’s LaunchPad, a pitch session hosted by the technology accelerator TechLaunch. As part of being selected for the event, each company has been selected to get up to $25,000 in seed capital and training from the organization.

Four of those startups have been developing integrated technology.

Mario Casabona, founder and CEO of TechLaunch, first noticed the trend when putting together last year’s event. It seemed more developers were submitting applications for this type of technology, he said, while investors seemed willing to consider the ideas.

“It happened organically, but at the same time we’re finding, even from last year, that some of the investors have more of an interest,” Casabona said.

Such products are gaining traction in consumer markets. This summer, GE began to offer a Wi-Fi-enabled air conditioning unit that can be controlled by a smartphone. And carmakers are increasingly focused on ways to integrate the vehicles with the devices used by their drivers.

For Fusar, the idea came from an epiphany about just how much more useful a helmet would be if they could connect it to the Internet via the user’s smartphone.

“As we kept going down that path, more and more utility just kept revealing itself to us,” said Shearman, the company’s founder. “And that was all based off our ability to maintain connectivity to the outside world.”

These features include a hands-free GPS that provides directions and information on the nearest gas station, plus its Guardian Angel service, which Shearman describes as “OnStar for motorcycles.”

All of this connectivity goes toward the company’s end goal: To make motorcycle riding safer by combining technologies already available to many recent-model cars.

For Ken Sillbert, a TechLaunch mentor and angel investor who supports start-ups, this integration only seems natural.

“To be able to integrate all of these other components safely into a helmet to help a motorcycle rider if they’re lost or in trouble, injured or fall down is phenomenal,” Sillbert said. “Integrating all that into your helmet, it just seems like a natural advancement for a vehicle that seems light years behind what cars are getting.”

And this new integrated technology has the potential to benefit more than just the consumer. Heflin said his product, CartMagic, could soon be used to better inform advertisers how to reach their target demographic.

“We’re collecting all of this data about - not just the cart usage - but potentially about what the customer has looked at, not looked at, focused on,” Heflin said. “In the near future, we will be able to take that data and, through algorithms, determine what particular thing is going to appeal to what particular shopper.”

By creating this level of interaction with the consumer, Sillbert thinks they may have cracked an elusive code.

“There’s an industry with tens of billions of dollars that (has) been working the same way for the last 50 years with circulars and coupons,” Sillbert said. “And if you can crack the code for getting into that market, where you’re going to get paid differently from the brands and make it a win for the consumer, then it’s an enormous value for the economy, investors and the company.”

Email to: andrews@njbiz.com

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