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by Ethan Rothstein — November 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm 1,228 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Ageit Yourself co-founders Michael Volz, left, and Bryan OlsonMichael Volz and Bryan Olson look like kids in a candy store in Volz’s kitchen, filled with jars of differently colored and aged liquors, with wood charring in the oven and a German shepherd peeking his snout in for smells of the activity.

This is ground zero for Age it Yourself, the company Volz and Olson started this year that allows anyone with their kit to barrel-age whiskey — or any liquor, for that matter — without waiting years and using giant, or even small barrels.

The method is simple. Each kit comes with a mason jar and freshly charred American oak, from fallen trees in the backyard of Olson’s family’ home in Great Falls. The oak is cut in a specific way to maximize the long grain wood – the only part of a real barrel liquor touches – and charred in a custom oven Volz built with his carpenter father.

The wood, jar, a special glass bottle, a flask, a funnel and instructions are then shipped, ready to use. Whoever buys the kit simply has to add the liquor, which can be anything from moonshine, to create a standard aged whiskey, bourbon, to age it further, or even cocktails like Manhattans. The kits sell for $50, and each batch of oak can be used about three times.

Age it Yourself's sample batchesTo help launch the company, Volz and Olson created a Kickstarter with a goal of $10,000 to buy more glass, fulfill orders faster and generate buzz. Volz admitted that he and Olson have slaved over the method and recipes so much that they haven’t focused much on the digital marketing side of the business — the Kickstarter has 12 backers and $731 donated with 17 days to go — but the Kickstarter is just one component of the business.

“We’re sort of going at it with three tiers,” Volz said. “There’s the retailers and customers and, there’s the wholesalers to push it to more people, and one thing we’re seeing that we didn’t expect is the producers, the distilleries, have interest.”

One distillery, Iowa Legendary Rye, is already in contact with Volz and Olson. The market is there, as Olson said, because “If you want to start a new liquor company, and you want to sell aged liquor, you can’t sell it until it’s aged. You need to age it quicker.”

The Age it Yourself kitVolz and Olson met at law school at George Mason University in Arlington, and both graduated this spring right as they were developing the idea. Volz is a veteran of the D.C. bar and restaurant scene, and he’s used his connections to place Age it Yourself in a few locations, including The Liberty Tavern in Clarendon, that want to barrel-age their cocktails on the bar.

The interest from businesses along the supply chain of the liquor market gives the pair confidence that regardless of the Kickstarter, they have a viable path to move forward as a successful endeavor.

Of course, the big question with a company like Age it Yourself: how does it taste? How does it work?

Volz and Olson indulged ARLnow.com with a brief tasting session, starting off with a sip of moonshine “to see what we’re starting with.” After that, it was on to the whiskey, aged in the jar for just over a week. The first difference was the color: the spirit starts to brown within hours after contacting the oak. After a week it’s a deep, translucent color, and it tastes sweeter, and, like Volz described, a little like a campfire. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — November 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm 558 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Virginia Tech Research Center in BallstonIf you talk to enough people involved with the brand new VT Investor Network, based jointly out of Virginia Tech’s Ballston campus and Virginia Tech’s main campus in Blacksburg, the slogan “Hokies helping Hokies” doesn’t just sound like a phrase, it sounds like a mantra.

The network is the brainchild of Hokie alumni Jen O’Daniel, an early-stage investor with the state of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, and Jonathon Perrelli, a serial entrepreneur. The network launched with a reception last week, including a keynote address from venture capitalist John May, the chair emeritus of Angel Capital Association and co-chair of World Business Angels Association.

O’Daniel told ARLnow.com at the reception that she and Perrelli had been talking about it for about three years before deciding to launch it this summer.

“We’d been looking and thinking Virginia Tech should really be doing this,” O’Daniel said, citing the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship as a model. “I find myself saying all the time that we have this powerful network of alumni trying to seek out which Hokies are in their industry.”

The network is not a fund like the CIT Gap Funding program O’Daniel works for as her full-time job. Instead, it’s a method of connecting Tech alumni who want to invest in startups led by other Tech alumni. Some of the startups founded by Tech alumni include Facebook fundraising company Heyo – which recently raised $2.5 million, according to VT Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director Derick Maggard — Lawnstarter and VirtualYou.

Virginia Tech alumni attend the launch of the VT Investor Network in BallstonThe VT Investor Network will take pitches from Virginia Tech students, graduates and faculty, Maggard said, and refer them to either specific investors in the network, or an advisory board with take them under consideration and, if the business idea passes muster, the board will pass it on to the rest of the network.

“We’re all going to screen deals together,” O’Daniel said. “It will be modeled a little bit after NextGen Angels… that’s the right size group. Sixty to 80 active angel investors can really make a difference.”

Maggard launched the Center for Innovation on the Blacksburg campus just four months ago, and the VT Investor Network is one of his first major initiatives. Once the idea started to make the rounds around alumni circles, he said “my phone has not stopped ringing.”

“It’s crazy how amazing the alumni network is,” he said. “I have over 177 messages from Hokie alums saying ‘how do I get involved, how do I help with this?’ The cool thing is the Hokie network knows we have startups that are producing and are very successful, and they know there are more to come and they want to be there to help support them.”

Maggard anticipates the network to largely invest in high-tech companies, simply because those are the kinds of companies that Tech students have produced. That plays perfectly for Arlington, which has both the base of the Virginia Tech Research Center and a massive base of Tech graduates that moved here after graduating.

“The pipeline in the National Capital Region is massive,” Maggard said. “You think about what it will do for Blacksburg and Arlington as the communities for Virginia Tech, it’s amazing. It’s going to do some incredible things when it comes to this economy.”

Photo (top) via Google Maps

by Ethan Rothstein — November 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm 524 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Onomonomedia Founder Dave Clark poses for one of the company's photo boothsThe combination of nostalgia and modern technology is at the heart of Crystal City startup Onomonomedia, which builds custom photo booths that link with social media.

Dave Clark founded the company four years ago after graduating from Liberty University — where he transferred from George Mason — and it has since grown into a multi-device based marketing agency, providing photo booths for companies to engage potential customers with “real-world experiences.”

The germ of the idea starting six or seven years ago, Clark told ARLnow.com last week, when Clark took a photo booth his friend bought to a wedding and it was a huge hit.

“I saw the opportunity in how social media was blowing up, but I wanted to make sure it included a real-world experience,” Clark said. “It’s really revolutionized event marketing. It’s a super engaging thing at an event, and gives people real content.”

Clark said it was hard at first to think of what the company could be, since photo booths are typically thought of as something to do ” at the beach or the mall.” But once he saw how people were using it, and how popular the feature of posting directly to social media from the booth was, he knew he had a potentially huge new platform.

Onomonomedia Founder Dave Clark using one of his photo boothsSo, in 2010, he started to reach out to companies around D.C. to use his photo booths. He was able to bring booths to Adams Morgan Day and Foto DC and get noticed by D.C. events website Brightest Young Things. BYT became Time Magazine, whose partner, Wired, asked Onomonomedia to do a photo wall installation for its Wired Store, an annual gadget pop-up shop in New York City over the holidays.

Since then, Onomonomedia has only grown, built more and sleeker photo booths, different products — like Instagram kiosks, GIF generators, video booths and 3D booths. Clark said the GIF booth, which takes four photos of the user and turns it into an animation, is his most asked-for product.

“People wanted to see the content that was created at their event,” Clark said. “We’ll create it as classy, creatively and as easy as possible.”

The booths are made from dozens of pieces of plywood that are carefully placed together. There’s a digitial SLR camera, a computer and a printer in each. The original booths were designed by a full-time carpenter who moonlights as an artist. Now, Onomonomedia employs a full-time electrical engineer to help create new booths.

An Onomonomedia Instagram kioskEach standard booth takes “about a week” to build, Clark said, and they have made about 30 so far. Ten of those booths were made at once for a huge project with Armani Exchange stores. The fashion company wanted Onomonomedia booths in 13 of its stores around the country simultaneously. The project “was like a $200,000 investment round” for the company, and was a “gamechanger” for its future.

This year, Clark expects Onomonomedia to exceed $1 million in sales for the first time. It works with Fortune 500 companies, has sold booths to Vitamin Water and is constantly exploring new avenues to pursue, Clark said. The company moved to Disruption Corporation‘s Crystal City office this summer, but not as a company that has taken investment. Instead, Disruption CEO Paul Singh just liked the idea and the company so he offered Clark and his seven full-time employees office space. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — October 27, 2014 at 12:05 pm 676 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

YOPP screenshotWhat do Arlington businesses Lyon Hall, Casual Adventure, Trade Roots and One More Page Books have in common?

They’re all on the small business social network app, YOPP, created and developed in Arlington as a way to help small businesses reach customers in the mobile-dominated technology landscape.

“We’re enabling small businesses to compete in a world that’s heavily in the mobile commerce space,” YOPP founder Shana Lawlor told ARLnow.com last week. “We feel we can give the businesses on our platform the ability to compete and stay relevant.”

YOPP fully launched in September. In January, ARLnow.com discussed the app — which was then called MainST — with Lawlor, who was preparing to launch the beta in the spring. Since launching last month, Lawlor said the user base has quadrupled over the last few weeks with customers finding deals for small businesses in Arlington and D.C.

The app allows its users to search for items they want and notifies small businesses when customers nearby are looking for something they sell. If an Arlington resident plugged in they were looking for leather bracelets, Covet at 5140 Wilson Blvd would be able to message the customer and tell him or her to come by, even offering a discount.

The message apparently is resonating with the app’s early users. Lawlor said she was projecting 500 users by the end of the year, but the app has already been downloaded more times than that, she said.

“In D.C. and Arlington, there are so many cool areas to shop that people don’t know about,” Lawlor said. “There’s a shift in people’s thinking about where they want to shop when they find these really cool places… The majority of users are looking for very unique things, and they’re really passionate about what they’re trying to find. Finding an alternative to the search engine is very exciting for them. it’d be increasingly cool if we can help people find these things all the time.”

YOPP screenshotYOPP will be powering Arlington Small Business Day, which Lawlor founded, this year on Nov. 29. The deals will be offered through the app, the participating businesses will be highlighted in the app’s map function, and those looking for the perfect Christmas gift will be able to ask their fellow users where to go.

The app “works everywhere,” but YOPP is focused on Arlington and its surrounding area at the moment. By the end of the year, Lawlor hopes to launch the app fully in New York City and 10 other markets.

“People love to go shopping in certain cities,” Lawlor said, “but there’s no resource telling them where to go once they get there.”

Lawlor has five part-time employees and expects to bring three of them full-time next year. The former exporting business owner has found herself in the heart of D.C.’s tech scene since launching YOPP, with an office in 1776 in D.C. and being named one of Bisnow’s Top 40 women in D.C. tech.

“I was very flattered to be among the women there,” she said. “When you’re a young startup and when you’re put in a group of successful women, it’s a compliment.”

ASBD and the Halloween and Christmas shopping seasons should be a boon to YOPP and, Lawlor hopes, Arlington businesses. She’s been working for years to create more of a community among the business owners in Arlington, and her company appears on the verge of doing just that.

by Ethan Rothstein — October 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm 959 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Cards from the Cards Against Urbanity party gameIf there’s a game that seems tailor-made for Arlington, it’s a take on a boozy card game that encourages thinking about smart growth and urban planning.

That’s the premise behind “Cards Against Urbanity,” a spinoff of the popular Cards Against Humanity party game that replaces the original’s mix of raunchy and offensive questions and answers with tongue-in-cheek  cards about living in a city. Cards include questions like “My city’s latest economic plan is _____” with answers like “Sexy firefighter fundraisers.”

Cards Against Urbanity is a Kickstarter idea, with a deadline: the only time people can buy the game is by donating to the Kickstarter, which closes at 10:19 p.m. A $30 pledge gets the funder the 234-card game, and a pledge of $65 also includes a Cards Against Urbanity T-shirt.

Cards Against Urbanity’s cards are the same size and materials as the original to allow for crossover and mixing and matching with the original game and its expansion packs. According to the game’s creators, there won’t be any chances to buy the game after 10:19 tonight.

The game’s creators are all planners, architects and economic development professionals with D.C. ties. The idea was started by Lisa Nisenson, an urban planner and co-founder of crowdsourced urban design solutions startup GreaterPlaces, and Sarah Lewis, of the urban planning think tank DoTank DC. The two and a group of urban planners and architects were at a planning conference, Nisenson said, playing Cards Against Humanity when someone suggested “it’d be fun to have a city version” of the game.

A month later, neither Lewis nor Nisenson could get the idea out of their head, so they decided to make the game. They asked permission from Cards Against Humanity, which allowed the team to develop the idea, as long as they agreed “not to make any money off of it,” Nisenson said.

“What we’re asking for is just to cover the cost of the game and the Kickstarter,” Nisenson said.

She, Lewis and their five co-creators guessed how many of their friends would buy the game and priced the Kickstarter goal accordingly. They figured 250 people would buy it, so they set the goal at $7,500. With a little more than 10 hours to go, the campaign has 753 backers and has raised $26,393.

Initially, the game creators thought only other planners, architects and economic development workers would have interest in the game, but the response — which has been across the spectrum and global — has changed her tune.

Cards Against Urbanity co-creator Lisa Nisenson“Our big takeaway from this is that if you make planning fun,” Nisenson said, “there is an audience that is really hungry for it.”

As they were developing the game, Nisenson and Lewis were giving some cards a test drive at “a rooftop happy hour” in Arlington when other customers approached them, asked to play, and offered their own suggestions for cards, like an answer card that says simply “Lead Paint. YOLO.”

“Everyone was immediately into it,” Lewis said. “They asked to join us and play a couple rounds. It validated our initial thoughts that this was something people would want to play and enjoy.”

Nisenson said that even though Arlington is viewed nationally as a model for inclusive city planning and urban design, there is still a huge opportunity to engage people who are invested in the community but, for whatever reason, haven’t previously been involved in the process.

“Cities are hot,” Nisenson said. “People want to know how to get involved and they don’t know where to start.”

by Ethan Rothstein — September 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm 379 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Data Illustrate founder Matthew FischerInspiration for the next startup can come from an unlikely source, as many founders know. For Data Illustrate founder Matthew Fischer, it came from a grad school project mapping out how the characters from the Harry Potter books would live on.

Fischer and his classmates were trying to use data to map out the future. They soon scrapped the project, but the data tools they were using, it turned out, gave him the idea for his next company, one that specializes in making real-time data easy to analyze and retain.

“After doing the grad school project, I continued doing research, talking to industry leaders and figuring out where the market was going,” Fischer, also the founder of Control A+ told ARLnow.com. “The market of data visualization is still growing.”

The company was started in the summer of 2013, and since then Fischer and two colleagues — one in Utah and another San Diego, Calif. — have built the company’s infrastructure. Data Illustrate is just starting to take on clients, for whom it takes complex data sets and simplifies them into infographics, motion graphics, mini-documentaries and data visualizations.

Data Illustrate infographicInfographics are static illustrations of statistics, like the pictured student census, left, taken from Data Illustrate’s website. Motion graphics are infographics but the pictures move to create more audience engagement. Mini-documentaries have become increasingly popular with the rise of Kickstarter, which encourages all companies to include a video explaining the premise of the fundraiser.

Data visualization allows clients to “see your data tell its story in real time,” which Fischer describes as a kind of “Doppler radar for any kind of data.” That means a trucking company that tracks where its trucks are can have an easily consumable visual instead of data points on a computer screen.

“Infographics tell an author’s story,” Fischer said. “Motion graphics tell a story and add motion. Mini-documentaries bring a human factor to the story and data visualization gives the reader information to make their own story.”

Fischer says he see the biggest opportunity to grow his company in the nonprofit sector, with organizations trying to break through the masses and make an imprint on donors, members and any other interested party.

“We can create art to share their story with more people and garner a higher retention rate,” Fischer said. “Nonprofits work with a lot of statistics, and we can share those statistics in a way that more people will retain.”

In fact, that’s the company’s tagline: “Retention is our game, art is our median, data is our speciality.” Unlike some big data and analytics companies, Data Illustrate doesn’t have a simple algorithm they simply plug each client into; they create tools and back-end construction for each individual project.

Screenshot of a Data Illustrate visualization“We don’t believe in ‘one size fits all,’” Fischer said. “A lot of these questions demand a custom answer.”

The visualizations, custom packages and work-intensive processes to get to this point mean that Data Illustrate isn’t quite ready for primetime. Fischer and his team are accepting clients, but starting in January, he expects to make a big marketing push to grow the portfolio.

By this time next year, Data Illustrate could find itself with a new specialty, new offering or new angle; such is the life of a big data startup.

“We’ve only tested about 10 percent of the limits we can reach,” Fischer said. “We’re beyond early adopters with Big Data and the future is going to take a multidisciplinary approach to look at insights data visualization could bring to companies and individuals.”

by Ethan Rothstein — September 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm 951 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

A screenshot of DescribeIt's platformA Courthouse-based startup is trying to usher landscaping companies into the digital age.

DescribeIt provides a tool for landscapers and other contractors to create proposals for clients, take online payments and track analytics. According to DescribeIt’s leadership team, it could be a massive leap forward for an industry in which many businesses still require customers to pay by check.

The company began when co-founder Ed Barrientos — also the CEO of startup Brazen Careerist, with which DescribeIt shares an office — wanted his yard landscaped. When a highly recommended contractor gave Barrientos a proposal on a sheet of paper and took multiple weeks to give a full plan and estimate, he was flabbergasted and no longer interested in being a customer.

“We thought it was an anomaly,” Barrientos said. “After two and a half years of research, it turns out that’s absolutely standard. Many jobs don’t get done because of a crappy sales job.”

DescribeIt co-founder and CEP Ryan Yanchuleff“We felt the problem wasn’t that they don’t want to sell better. They do, it’s just hard for them,” Barrientos continued. “These are big things people pay for, but the sales process is really backwards.”

Barrientos enlisted co-founders Ryan Yanchuleff, who is DescribeIt’s CEO and only full-time employee, and Daniel Sunshine to launch the company in February 2013. From then to this summer, Yanchuleff led the process of designing the platform, which allows landscapers to develop proposals in minutes, incorporating photos of plants, designs and clients’ houses, plus pricing data from The Home Depot and Amazon. The product also lets contractors email proposals to clients, take payments online, track the most popular designs and keep customer records for easy referrals.

DescribeIt launched in beta mode this summer — landscapers can subscribe for the service now — and the team is taking heaps of feedback in the fall before launching its full, alpha version in January 2015, gearing up for the busy spring season.

DescribeIt launched with friends and family investments, but this fall the team is looking to raise $250,000 to make its part-time staff full time and to fund sales and marketing efforts for the spring. The company joined 19 other D.C. area startups, including Airside Mobile and GovTribe, at TechBuzz on Friday, and registered on AngelList to try to spur investment.

A screenshot of DescribeIt's platformBarrientos and Yanchuleff met at their church, McLean Bible Church, and Yanchuleff was looking for a change after his small company was acquired by Rosslyn-based BAE Systems. Now, Yanchuleff is dealing with another challenge as DescribeIt prepares to go full-throttle: convincing landscapers to use it.

“Figuring out a way to coax these guys out of a non-technical shell was one of the challenges,” Yanchuleff said. “They’re not sales or marketing people, and the business side is a necessary evil for them.”

Barrientos said they are targeting newer business owners as customers, since older companies are “not going to change.”

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — September 15, 2014 at 12:15 pm 890 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

OnYou co-founder James RogersA former professional poker player is getting ready for a new gamble: launching a Kickstarter to help fund his new smartphone “wearable” company, OnYou.

James Rogers and Scott Bauer co-founded the company this February, and have been refining the designs of their high-tech cases and associated magnets, which keep phones attached to the user’s body without a strap or a clip.

Rogers designed the case when he ordered industrial-strength magnets, took apart his own iPhone case and reconstructed it as a wearable. The cases he plans to bring to market will use “the absolute newest materials” available, including, he said, new carbon filaments “just invented last month.”

The magnetic cases are secure and comfortable, Rogers said.

“Everyone has smartphones and everyone loves to exercise,” he said. “Everyone’s been using armbands, and in talking to people, the vast majority of people are dissatisfied with them. We designed something that’s very comfortable and it’s about as secure as you can get.”

The magnets use 12-pounds of force, and Rogers put them through a series of tests, including kicking a field goal with the phone attached to his shin with one of OnYou’s compression sleeves. The phone didn’t budge, he said, and even if it did, it would still be protected by the carbon case. Rogers said for those worried about having their phones stolen, the cases will come with a safety strap.

To this point, Rogers and Bauer have developed prototypes using 3-D printers, including the one at Crystal City’s TechShop, where Rodgers is a member. The Kickstarter, which will launch Oct. 1, will aim to raise $20,000 and largely pay for an injection mold to mass produce the cases, since it will take about an hour for each to be printed. The funds will also be used to expedite OnYou’s patents and, if the goal is reached and exceeded, to develop specifications for more devices. At first, OnYou will only make cases to fit the iPhone 5, 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

The cases will be sold for $49.99, Rogers said, and they will be just as durable and protective as the highest-end cases on the market for as much as $90. The cases can be pre-ordered on OnYou’s website now for $39.99, and include arm and calf compression sleeves. Rogers said he anticipates selling iPhone cases this winter, followed by models for other phones.

The magnets are safe around phones — magnets don’t affect the flash memory storage — and largely safe near credit cards, but those with pacemakers shouldn’t have the magnets on their bodies.

OnYou's iPhone case and magnetWhile exercise is OnYou’s “entry point into the market,” Rogers said, his hope is for his “OnUsers” to develop more “OnUses” for the OnYou cases.

“Doing research and talking to women, so many of them brought up sticking the magnet near the top of their purse so they never have to dig for their phones,” Rogers said.

“We thought it would be fun for people to show us that while it’s great for exercise, what about this?” Rogers continued. “We want to develop an online community to contribute more and more OnUses.”

Rogers was a paralegal when he began playing online poker. He quickly realized he made more money playing poker than he did at his day job, so he quit and started playing professionally, including by attending the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. When Congress passed laws restricting online gambling, Rogers got a job as a software engineer.

He realized he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and now he and Bauer, a graduate student at George Mason University, have brought their company to GMU’s Innovation Lab. They’re in discussions now for an initial funding round.

by Ethan Rothstein — September 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm 1,084 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

DrinkMate Shaun Masavage is 26 years old and has an invention he believes can launch a successful company: a small breathalyzer that plugs into the mini-USB port on Android smartphones.

He’s spent more than a year designing the product, called DrinkMate, building the motherboard himself under a magnifying glass in his Ballston home. After gathering some support from friends and family, Edge Tech Labs launched a Kickstarter campaign the morning of Aug. 24, with a $40,000 fundraising goal.

That’s when he vomited.

“I thought I was going to wake up feeling super excited,” Masavage told ARLnow.com. “But I woke up that morning and threw up. I was sick at work all day. The stress was pretty incredible, especially without having a co-founder to lean on.”

Masavage’s stress eased immensely on Labor Day, Sept. 1, when, after a weekend profile by TechCrunch, DrinkMate reached its funding goal. As of Monday morning, the Kickstarter had raised $62,527 from 1,751 backers, and Masavage officially has a product to sell.

DrinkMate is a “novelty” breathalyzer that plugs into a smartphone. The associated app tells users what their approximate blood-alcohol content is. What it is not is a police-grade breathalyzer to be used to determine one’s sobriety before getting behind the wheel of a car, Masavage cautioned.

“Liability is an issue with this technology,” Masavage admitted. “My No. 1 concern is someone will misuse it and claim that this caused them to do something illegal. We’re working hard to make it as accurate as possible, but the real problem isn’t accuracy, it’s drunk driving.”

DrinkMateMasavage said the goal is to “remove the stigma” of a breathalyzer so people will be more aware of their BAC level while they are drinking. His goal is for DrinkMate to be a social tool that friends can use at parties to test each other and take steps to prevent drunk driving.

Put another way, “If you feel like you should be using a device to determine whether you should be driving, you shouldn’t be driving,” Masavage said.

Masavage said he’s conscious that the device could lead to competition for who can drink more, which is why the reading limit of the app is .20 BAC, which is more than double the legal limit for driving under the influence.

The device is built from a shell created by a 3-D printer, a component board designed and built over the course of several months by Masavage himself, plus an affordable sensor Masavage found online.

The $40,000 goal was set with the aim to purchase a $10,000 steel mold to mass produce the devices — 3-D printing would be exorbitantly expensive in anything greater than small batches — and to hire a software developer and co-founder to perfect the app. Masavage said he plans on sending out the first wave of DrinkMates by December.

“My target retail price is $25,” Masavage said, noting he plans on targeting convenience stores and online retailers to carry the product at first. “By keeping the price low, it falls more into the novelty category. If someone wants a police-grade breathalyzer, they can buy one.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm 979 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Paul Singh, Founder and CEO of Disruption Corporation, which runs Crystal Tech FundPaul Singh is filled with ideas.

Sit down for a while with the founder and CEO of Disruption Corporation, a venture capital firm that owns and operates Crystal Tech Fund, and it’s clear that the 33-year-old Singh is aching to break paradigms.

That’s part of what led him to Crystal City. Singh is a native of Great Falls and an alumnus of Bishop O’Connell High School, but he moved to California’s Silicon Valley in 2008, where he co-founded the 500 Startups angel investment firm. He moved back to Northern Virginia — he now lives in Ashburn — last year to start a family, and immediately “scoped out Crystal City, but kept it ultra-quiet.”

“We had Disruption up and running,” Singh said. “We thought, ‘what if we tried to build an ultra-productive environment for all kinds of creative entrepreneurs?’ We were thinking about where we can place it that would have a big impact. I realized I could do something meaningful here and build a model for a future American city.”

Crystal Tech Fund is both a coworking space and investment fund. Almost all of the companies that occupy desk space on the 10th floor of 2231 Crystal Drive have received an investment from Singh and his team. Some, like Bloompop, have office space there because, as Singh says, “I just like them.”

The Tech Fund isn’t a seed investment firm or a “traditional” venture capital firm, giving companies Series A, B or C investments in the tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars. Instead, it aims to fill the funding gap between a company’s initial seed round (which is typically less than $1 million) and a Series A. Companies in the Crystal Tech Fund largely generate about $1 million or more in annual revenue, and have a team in place.

Sen. Mark Warner tours Crystal Tech Fund in Crystal City“I love to fill gaps,” Singh said. “There’s a lot of money available for the first round of funding. If you want to raise ultra-big money, there’s a lot there. But there is a gap between the seed and later-stage funding, so we fill the gap there.”

Recently, Singh has been fixated on another gap: the lack of firms qualified — and legally allowed — to give private investors research and advice for investing in startup companies. That’s why Disruption “handed in its exemption” and announced last week it has become a registered investment advisor.

Venture capital firms are generally exempted from regulations and disclosures the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires of firms like Merrill Lynch and Charles Schwab because the firms don’t give advice to outside investors. Disruption no longer gets that exception, meaning, Singh said, he now has to be ready to be audited at any moment. He prints out his emails and even his tweets, just to be safe.

“There’s really nobody else doing what we do specifically,” Singh said. “We have a deep bench of analysts that provide research for us on companies we invest in. Now we’re able to provide whatever research these clients need.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm 505 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

LeagueApps' workspace in UberOffices in RosslynMost people who have played recreational sports have experienced at least one frustration associated with the leagues: everything that doesn’t involve playing in the actual game.

Making the peripheral parts of rec sports easier was the stated goal of LeagueApps when it launched in 2011, and the company has tried to do just that for a growing roster of 600 leagues around the country. LeagueApps provides a platform for leagues, such as Arlington-based D.C. Social Sports, to manage registration, payment, rosters and other processes that go into organizing rec sports.

“We offer an all-in-one solution for your sports league,” LeagueApps Director of Product Management and “point guard” Gautam Chowdhry told ARLnow.com from LeagueApps’ ÜberOffices space in Rosslyn. “A lot of leagues now are doing things on three or four different systems. They’re managing the league with an excel spreadsheet or they’re using another software that’s not optimized for sports teams.”

Rec sports have significantly increased in popularity in the last five years, Chowdhry and Chief Product Officer and co-founder Steve Parker said. That’s especially true in the D.C. area, where the populace’s transience lends itself to “social sports” leagues, which revolve more around making friends and drinking than other rec leagues.

“There’s people moving in and out, they’re looking for activities, things to do after work,” Chowdhry said. “There’s also the idea of extended adolescence. People are getting married later, they’re moving into the cities, they’re looking for activities.”

A screenshot of Nakid Sports' website, developed by LeagueAppsLeagueApps was originally a sports Meetup-type company called Sportsvite, which is still around and owned by the same group. Launched in 2008 as a way to bring people together to play sports, Parker and his co-founder Brian Litvack soon found that the greater demand, and opportunity, was in making the leagues more accessible and functional online. In 2010, the group decided to pivot, and launched LeagueApps a year later.

“Our ultimate goal to make the experience in participating in sports for the players, parents and coaches easier and more enjoyable,” Parker said. “What you’re doing on the field is what matters. That’s where the fun is, that’s where the excitement is. Everything around that is friction and a nuisance of logistics.”

This year, LeagueApps started catering to youth leagues as well, trying to gain a foothold in a market that’s 10 times the size of adult sports. “It just made sense to tool our product so it could work in both markets,” Parker said.

The company started out bootstrapped, Parker said, but they’ve taken a few rounds of angel investments as they’ve grown. The team is now up to 22 people with office in New York City and San Francisco, as well as Rosslyn. Later this year, Parker said, LeagueApps is eyeing a Series A funding round to carry out their ultimate vision of a complete platform with new levels of service.

“We ultimately want to transform the experience that people have when they participate in sports activities,” he said. “That means a better experience, mobile, re-thinking all the things they do, how they engage with that sports experience, engaging with the league itself, the participants. We’re in the early stages of conceiving that.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm 727 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Snaapiq co-founders Ryo Hang and Jacob PerlerLast year, Ryo Hang had an idea for an app that gives its users prizes for competing and winning contests with one another. The Shanghai, China, native thought he had a good idea, but he was missing something.

“I wanted to reward people for doing something, but I didn’t know how to monetize that,” Hang said.

At the same time, Jacob Perler, working for Deloitte in Rosslyn, wanted to start his own technology business, but needed a developer. The two found each other on CoFoundersLab, met for coffee at the Barnes & Noble in Clarendon and, a few months later, launched Snaapiq.

In that initial meeting, and in several subsequent get-togethers, the two co-founders decided that they would focus on creating photo contests — which they call “adventures” — with the winner getting prizes. Perler came up with the idea of having companies sponsor the contests and the prizes, essentially turning Snaapiq into a combined contest/marketing platform.

Screenshot of a Snaapiq contest“Ryo was very adamant about gameification and rewarding people for accomplishing tasks,” Perler said. “As we spoke about it, we landed on pictures and thought people would like to get prizes for their pictures.”

After five months, Hang and Perler launched a bare-bones app in the iTunes App Store. Perler lives in Rosslyn, where the company is based, and Hang lives in Sterling, Va., so they tend to work separately, although they have a membership to D.C.’s WeWork. When they sat down to coffee with ARLnow.com last week, Perler said they two hadn’t “seen each other in a couple of weeks,” but that hasn’t stopped them from being strong collaborators.

“Working together like this is helping build the company culture, which will be key to our success,” Perler said.

Snaapiq users upload photos for different adventures, like “coolest sunset” or “best hiking trail,” and Snaapiq’s algorithms rate each picture on a variety of metrics, including picture ratings in the app, and awards a prize to the winner. Snaapiq runs multiple contests a day and some of the prizes are worth more than $100.

About 90 percent of the contests on Snaapiq are sponsored by the company at the moment, with 10 percent coming from outside brands like D.C.’s Lindy Promotions and Urban Stems. The app has been downloaded about 20,000 times so far, and Perler said there have been more than 50,000 adventure uploads on the app. With a redesign coming in the next few weeks, he and Wang expect the number of users on the app to hit 100,000 within the next six months.

Screenshot of a Snaapiq contestBy that time, Perler said, Snaapiq should be generating revenue. They are in the middle of raising a $300,000 seed funding round, and Perler said they’re in discussion with angel firms and venture capitalists in D.C. and New York.

“A lot of people are excited, especially by our early traction after being completely bootstrapped,” Perler said. “In a year or two, we think we’ll be really taking off. We offer a unique compound value for advertising.”

Companies will want to work with Snaapiq, Perler says, because “every business runs contests all throughout the year.” And the contests that Snaapiq sponsors are worth spending the money on, Hang says, because “we’re giving away prizes, but we’re getting customers when we do.”

Despite the fact that brands are already running contests on their own on free sites like Twitter and Facebook, Snaapiq offers “native engagement,” according to Perler.

“We have highly engaged users and they are used to engaging with brands from day one,” Perler said. “Our users are used to seeing it. We can offer ads from day one, sending push notifications and integrate with social media.”

Brands can also use the winning picture in promotional materials, but a picture can’t be used if the user doesn’t win the contest, according to Snaapiq’s terms of service. When someone wins a contest, they’re more willing to engage anyway.

“One user won $250, which is a significant amount of money for a lot of people,” Perler said. “She emailed me a dozen pictures and posted about it on Facebook. $100 is an incredible amount to some people, so we think it’s a selling point as well as a social good.”

by Ethan Rothstein — August 4, 2014 at 12:20 pm 507 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Sailminder co-founders Robert Cooper, left, and Hashem FouadSailMinder, like many startups, came from an idea to make its co-founders’ lives easier. CEO John Stauffer, Chief Technology Officer Hashem Fouad and Chief Creative Officer Robert Cooper have come up with a way to make internet research based more on human input and less on search engines.

The three came together in September 2012 with a common problem: all of their jobs required gobs of research from different sources around the internet, but none of them were satisfied with the way they could look for reliable information and organize it.

Stauffer works as a social media strategist for Ogilvy & Mather and needed to research “a big topic for a big client,” Cooper told ARLnow.com. Cooper, a former co-worker of Stauffer’s, had been designing products as a consultant and was itching to start something new. Fouad had just developed emotion detection software that can adapt training methods based on participants’ emotional responses, as part of a contract with the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The ONR passed on the project — “it was a little too out there,” Fouad said — but he had told Cooper about it just days after Stauffer and Cooper had chatted over coffee. The three decided to team up and form a new company designed to help “knowledge workers,” as they call themselves, with research.

“We wanted to make some next-generation learning software,” Cooper said.

Cooper, Stauffer and Fouad designed an idea to create a browser plug-in that allows the user to “like” or file an article, then the plug-in automatically categorizes that article and sorts it. The more users that install the plug-in and use it, the more powerful a tool it becomes, recommending new articles on relevant topics, dividing topics into sub-categories and organizing articles based on how highly recommended they are.

Sailminder dashboard screenshot“The more you interact with it, the more refined the search becomes,” Cooper said. “It’s like we’re giving the internet a mind of its own.”

Fouad, a consultant and game programming professor at Rosslyn’s Art Institute who said he’s constantly looking to build new products like 3-D sound systems, finished the prototype in April and the product is patent pending.

“I spent 40 to 60 percent of my time on projects just finding good information,” Fouad said. “It’s a problem knowledge workers have. There’s no technology that really outlines a quality source. The best tool for this is the human brain. So humans tell us what is good, and we have a machine learning system that lays it out on a topical landscape. Then it will tell you what topics are relevant in your neighborhood of research.”

“It depends on a crowd of users populating the system,” Fouad continued. “It’s a very powerful idea.”

Not only does the product categorize topics and recommend articles for research, but it tracks the user’s “learning” progress. It rates them on a percentage of expertise based on the amount and variety of sources they have read. It can develop quizzes and show who else is researching a similar topic. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — July 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm 2,994 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Hopsak Founder Josh ChaoJosh Chao has a passion for clothing, fit and retail. When working as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton in D.C., he grew more and more aware of what a hassle it was to get clothes to fit well.

Chao started his company, Hopsak, last summer after taking a class at Georgetown University during his studies for an M.B.A. He wanted to get involved with something with retail, and after consulting with his professors, he started to narrow his focus on tailoring.

“I wanted to apply a small problem, figure out how to solve it and build a solid foundation,” Chao said while sipping from an iced coffee at Buzz Bakery in Ballston last week. “I took the problem that I’ve experienced in my own life, getting clothes that fit right.”

With that in mind, Chao set out to build a company that is “kind of like Uber for tailors,” although Chao said he’s hesitant to advertise the business as such because it’s not a perfect comparison. At Hopsak, a customer goes online and enters in alterations he or she would like to have, includes his or her measurements, and mails the clothes to one of Hopsak’s six tailors in its network. The tailor then mails it back — shipping is free both ways — and the customer has a tailored outfit without having to leave the house.

Chao knows that the large majority of people won’t trust their own measurements, despite a tutorial the website will include when it launches — planned for the end of August — and the opportunity to email tailors directly for help.

Mockup of Hopsak's consumer product“There’s a lot of intimidation when taking your own measurements,” he said. “People like things to be smooth. When there are a lot of steps in it, it creates a barrier for action.”

To reduce the steps, Chao broke the tailoring down into four basic actions: lengthening or shortening sleeves or pant legs and taking a garment in or out. The vast majority of basic tailoring work, Chao said, are those four actions, and they’re also the easiest to measure.

No startup founder would willingly admit its consumer-facing product might be too intimidating to generate enough traction to support the company, but Chao devised a separate product aimed at retailers that he sees as the main revenue-generator for the company.

“We always knew that retail partnership would be our bread and butter,” Chao said. “For retailers, it’s an opportunity for those without the demand for a tailor on-site… A lot of retailers are having a hard time competing in today’s market, so we feel this is a tool for a better experience for this customers.”

The retail product works largely the same as the consumer version, except store employees can be trained to take customer’s measurements and send swaths of orders to tailors, as opposed to one at a time. The retail version is currently live and in a private beta version with a Georgetown suit maker.  (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm 1,404 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The TM Soft team(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Mobile applications have become a major sector of the technology industry in the last few years, but when TM Soft Founder Todd Moore got his start, there was no book, no blueprint on how to run a successful app company.

Moore was working as a software developer in federal contracting when, in 2008, he decided he would try and build an iPhone app to help him sleep. This was in the early days of iPhones, when they were running iOS 2.0, the first iteration to include the app store.

“I was teaching myself how to create apps late night weekends and just doing it for fun,” Moore told ARLnow.com from a conference room in Rosslyn’s UberOffices. “Then I was making games and useful apps, and when I published White Noise, it became the No. 1 free app on iTunes overnight.”

Considering the massive amounts of code and time it takes to launch some apps today, Moore’s app was relatively low-tech; he went around his house and yard in Arlington recording noises, like a fan, crickets and rain. He put the app on the store, and a month later he began charging $1.99 for it and created a separate, free app with advertisements. The switch enabled him to quit his job and devote his energy full-time to maintaining White Noise and building new apps.

Screenshot of TM Soft's White Noise Lite app“It only took me a weekend to build the first [White Noise app],” he said. “It only looped eight different sounds. It was simpler times back then. Times have changed, now these phones are like personal computers.”

To date, White Noise has been downloaded more than 20 million times, allowing Moore to eventually grow his company to five full-time staff members. The ongoing success of the app has allowed him to experiment, and fail, with more ambitious apps. He said he’s launched more than 20, but only four have turned into high-volume downloads.

“It’s nice to be able to come into work and be able to say ‘this is what we’re going to do,’” he said. “If I have some wacky idea I want to try, we can try it. It’s total freedom.”

After White Noise became his meal ticket, Moore changed tack and started building more games and tools. He developed Card Counter, a game that teaches its users how to count cards at a blackjack table. Moore said he developed it after reading “Bringing Down The House,” a story about how MIT students learned to county cards and made millions of dollars at Las Vegas casinos.

Card Counter was in the top 20 of iTunes apps after casinos issued a warning about card counting apps. Puzzle app Compulsive is at around 2 million downloads. Moore is in production of another puzzle game that has social competition aspects and multiple levels.

“That’s something I’m spending a lot of time on,which is risky,” Moore said. “The longer it takes you to finish your app, the riskier it is.” (more…)

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