weather icon 83° Partly Cloudy
The Latest:

Paul Singh Brings Disruption, Capital to Crystal City

by Ethan Rothstein | August 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm | 887 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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…)

Rosslyn’s LeagueApps Builds ‘More Fun’ Rec Sports Platform

by Ethan Rothstein | August 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm | 505 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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…)

Rosslyn-Based Snaapiq Gives Prizes for Photos

by Ethan Rothstein | August 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 727 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.”

Arlington Researchers ‘Giving the Internet a Mind of its Own’

by Ethan Rothstein | August 4, 2014 at 12:20 pm | 507 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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…)

‘Uber-Like’ Tailoring Service to Launch in Ballston

by Ethan Rothstein | July 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 2,994 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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…)

White Noise App Developer Continues to Evolve

by Ethan Rothstein | July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 1,404 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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…)

Crystal City Startup Simplifies Finding Service Providers

by Ethan Rothstein | July 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 719 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

SevaCallManpreet Singh doesn’t need a long, explanatory speech to explain what the tech startup he founded with his brother, Gurpreet, does. All he needs is a phone call.

The Singhs are co-founders of SevaCall, based in Crystal City’s Crystal Tech Fund. In his demonstration, Singh goes to his company’s website and gives you an example of a service you may need. He pulls up “plumber,” inserts a location, time for the appointment and specific problem.

Within 90 seconds, the customer receives a call from, as in his example, the plumber, and the two can discuss terms. Fifteen seconds after Singh inputs the criteria, his phone rings with the test call, and he has the option to take the call — and pay SevaCall’s fee — or ignore it. Customers pay nothing, the merchants don’t receive the access to the customers’ information and, if the initial merchant and the customer don’t agree to terms, there will be two more waiting as backup.

“Finding a service provider is not efficient at all,” Singh said. “But with us, you literally can have three companies that have chosen to work with you, and you can be done with your task in 15 minutes.”

SevaCall has more than 50 “verticals,” Singh said, including heating and cooling, roofing, computer repair, auto repair and dentists. So far, the company has had requests in 8,000 zip codes nationwide, fielded 900,000 calls and interacts with more than 1,000 businesses a week.

Screenshot of SevaCall's website

The company was founded in the fall of 2011, when Gurpreet Singh was operating his last business, Geeks on Site, and fielding a substantial number of phone calls from customers out of his service area. He had the idea to connect companies with their customers more efficiently, and the University of Maryland computer science grad started to build the beta.

“Many of the ways small businesses had to advertise were very inefficient,” Manpreet Singh said. “You don’t know who’s seeing what ad, and there’s never a good way to measure your return on investment.”

Manpreet Singh was working as an investment banker when his brother asked him to join his company full-time in 2012 when the website launched. In the beginning, getting companies to join the website — and customers to use it — was a struggle. Cold-calling companies asking them to sign up was both inefficient and ineffective, so the Singhs decided to use a composite ranking of location, quality based on social media and web ratings, and mined data from the webs.

“We have a two-sided marketplace, which is really challenging,” Singh said. “We started to mine our data and just put companies in our database, giving them their first call for free. The businesses were so happy they would call us right back after hearing the customers tell them where they heard about them. After that, we were able to build our network a lot faster.”

The SevaCall teamFor the first six months of SevaCall’s existence, the founders funded it themselves before working on raising a $1.3 million seed round of funding. A new round of “significant” investment from Crystal Tech Fund and others is expected to be finalized soon, Singh said.

The company is currently developing a mobile app with voice-based technology that Singh said will increase repeat customers. The company has seven full-time employees among 16 workers including interns and contractors. After the next round of investment, Singh expects to grow even more, despite the fact that his company isn’t quite profitable yet.

“We expect to go to about 20,000 zip codes,” he said. “We think we can be engaging 10,000 people a week. I want to blanket the entire country.”

Former NASA Employee Starts ‘Health Box’ Delivery

by Ethan Rothstein | July 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 963 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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 Better Health BoxSubscription delivery boxes have become in vogue in the past few years, with companies like Birchbox, NatureBox, BarkBox and Bike Loot delivering small troves of goodies every month to their members.

But, to hear Better Health Box founder Michael Slage tell it, none of the other subscription boxes on the market provide what his company, which he runs out of his Pentagon City home, do: healthy, tasty snacks targeted at specific populations with an educational focus.

Slage has worked at the intersection of healthcare and technology for 20 years, starting with “telemedicine” for NASA, in which he assisted doctors diagnose and treat astronauts on the International Space Station and other missions outside of Earth’s orbit. He is also the founder of Healthengage a health data analytics company that specializes in global diabetes data.

Despite his resume, Slage said his newest company — which he started last year as a diabetes box at Healthengage before spinning it off into a separate company — is important to him because of its direct, personal impact.

“[My previous jobs] were helping people, but it was all numbers and electronics,” Slage said. “It was helping people, but it wasn’t the same. This just means more. We’re literally sending care packages every month. It really makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Better Health Box Founder Michael SlageBetter Health Box costs $30 a month and includes three-to-five products, depending on their size, in each box. There are five different subscriptions available: for diabetes, general health, children, brain health and focus and sexual health, “which was a popular request,” Slage said.

“We try to do a mix of things that are unique that maybe people have never thought to try,” Slage said. “There are all these great companies making products people have never heard of, and all these people who desperately want to eat smarter and healthier. There seemed to be a need to matchmake.”

Slage, who has also worked for the Russian space program, said a key component of his company for the future will be expanding globally, both in the products it offers and the customers it serves. Since it’s a home-based company, Slage said he can’t ship globally yet despite demand for Better Health Box overseas.

“I believe in using multiculturalism to find solutions,” he said. “We want to use food and drinks from other countries that we don’t know about here, because if it works there, it will work here. Everybody’s human.”

Slage said each product is tested before it goes into any boxes — which his 9-year-old son helps him pack and coordinate. The testing process is key, he said, because “sometimes these healthy things are so foul-tasting.” For that reason, he thinks the educational component is just as important as the products themselves.

“Health education has really declined in this country,” he said. “A lot of people just eat what’s in front of them. Having a chronic condition makes knowing what’s in what you’re eating really important. That’s why we have doctors helping us to make sure each product is safe for the customers.” (more…)

Public Sector Investment Spurring Arlington Startup Economy

by Ethan Rothstein | June 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 951 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

Virginia's Center for Innovative TechnologyIt’s nearly impossible to be around the startup industry in Arlington without hearing about which companies the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology is investing in.

CIT Gap Funds is the program that invests in Virginia-based, early-stage technology, life science and “cleantech” companies. According to Gap Funds Managing Director and founder Tom Weithman, the Gap Funds program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that receives between $3 million and $4 million annually from the state to invest. With a portfolio of 113 companies, it’s widely believed to be the most active angel investor in the D.C. area.

CIT owns equity in 13 Arlington-based companies: Airside Mobile, CirrusWorks, Encore Alert, LiveSafe, uKnow, PerformYard, Speek, Veenome, Zoobean, Power Supply, Wealthengine, DistilIT and Loop88. CIT also has pledged an investment to Rosslyn-based Ostendio, but Ostendio has yet to close its seed funding round.

For at least some of those companies, the CIT Gap Funds investment spurred their move to Arlington. Zoobean, which was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank this spring but secured investment before the episode aired and CIT knew who had invested from the show. When the episode aired, Zoobean co-founder Felix Brandon Lloyd and his wife and cofounder, Jordan Lloyd Bookey, could finally spread the word that Mark Cuban had invested $250,000 in their company. They’re now headquartered in Rosslyn’s ÜberOffices.

The CIT investors knew “there was a major opportunity coming,” Lloyd said, but decided not to wait and helped facilitate and gather investors for the company’s $980,00 funding round, completed in April.

Jordan Lloyd Bookey and Felix Brandon Lloyd of Zoobean“They agreed to do the legal work and diligence and to tell other investors that they were the lead investors,” Lloyd told ARLnow.com. Zoobean had been headquartered in D.C.’s 1776 accelerator. “They told me we’d have to move to Virginia, I told him we were open to that… I think it was one of the things in my [investment] deck, you anticipate what things they may ask. I made it clear that we understood what it meant so they didn’t have to sell us.”

Most Arlington companies interact with CIT’s Dan Mindus, who is a founder of venture capital firm NextGen Angels. Lloyd initially met Mindus for coffee and advice, and in their conversation, Mindus broached the idea of pursuing a CIT investment, Lloyd said.

“I knew nothing about CIT at the time, I was sincerely asking him for advice,” Lloyd said. Mindus would sponsor Zoobean to CIT’s investment board, which gave Zoobean pointers after an “initially negative” response. When Lloyd came back, after working with Mindus and CIT, the fund eventually agreed to invest $100,000 with a $50,000 reserve available.

Weithman said CIT typically invests between $100,000 and $200,000 in a company, but its primary mission is to catalyze future investment. Similar funds in other areas, like on Lloyd had been a part of with his previous company in Pittsburgh, invest money to create jobs. That’s not what the Gap Funds are necessarily intended to do.

“Company growth and profitability are the ultimate arbiter of success in this early stage investment,” Weithman said. “We consider investment by the private sector to be a highly validating process metric of what we do. If we invested for job growth, that could send you down a number of unusual paths. High-growth techonology companies develop other innovation and contribute to Virginia’s economic ecosystem.” (more…)

Rosslyn Tech Startup Growing Fast Without “Sexy” Pitch

by Ethan Rothstein | June 23, 2014 at 11:55 am | 903 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

The Ostendio team “I’m an operations guy,” Grant Elliott, Founder and CEO of Ostendio, which specializes in I.T. compliance and security, said in a conference room at ÜberOffices in Rosslyn last week. “I laid out a plan and we’ve [grown] to that plan. Only when I started talking to people did they say how fast we were [growing]. I laid out what I thought was a conservative plan, but it turns out people think it was very aggressive.”

Elliott founded Ostendio last September after working for eight years and the chief operations officer for a health information technology company called Voxiva. It took six months for Elliott, co-founder Jermaine Jones and a third co-founder who chose to remain anonymous to build the platform, My Virtual Compliance Manager (MyVCM), that helps bring small- to medium-sized business into federal safety compliance with their data.

In the three months since the product launch, Ostendio has brought on more than a dozen clients.

Last week, Ostendio was one of 20 companies to present to potential investors at TechBuzz, a semi-regular tech event for D.C.-area companies. Elliott had to present a four-minute pitch to investors, which he said was nerve-racking since I.T. compliance isn’t as “sexy” as a new social media platform.

Perhaps because Elliott’s company isn’t operating in one of the attention-grabbing tech startup sectors, and that this is his first-time as a CEO, fundraising has been frustrating, even though it has borne some fruit early on.

Ostendio's platform, My Virtual Compliance Manager

“Fundraising takes longer than I expected,” he said in the heavy accent of his native Scotland. “What’s surprised me is it’s less about the business model and more about the dynamics of fundraising.”

The business model, Elliott says, is the reason that Ostendio has already agreed to investment with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology and from D.C.’s 1776, which also counts Ostendio as a member. Ostendio has been bootstrapped thus far, but is seeking $500,000 from its first round of funding.

Ostendio targets companies with between five and 100 employees in “a regulated market” like healthcare, Elliott said. In healthcare, where most of Ostendio’s clients operate, “HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations are a dark cloud hanging over” small businesses.

“They see compliance with federal regualtion as a huge task, which is partly true,” he said. “Small companies unfortunately have the same regulations as a larger company. Our platform actively manages compliance for our customers. We also provide training and audit functionalilty.”

Because of the boom in cloud computing and mobile devices, Elliott said, more and more small tech companies can innovate in a space like healthcare, but large medical providers like hospitals and insurance companies need to ensure that any technology that is brought on is compliant with HIPAA regulations and the patients’ data will remain secure.

(more…)

Paleo Food Delivery Startup Growing in Crystal City

by Ethan Rothstein | June 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm | 1,457 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

Power Supply meal of steak skewers with kale, sweet potato, bacon and blueberry saladAs the craze surrounding Crossfit and the Paleo diet has grown over the past handful of years, so have the businesses that support those trying to maintain that lifestyle. One such business is Power Supply, a food company that takes chef-made meals and delivers them to gyms around the D.C. area.

In late 2010, Power Supply was born after founder Patrick Smith and co-owner Robert Morton had started trying Crossfit and the Paleo diet, each having major success, but getting frustrated with the limitations on the food available to them.

“Eating really well is some combination of super boring, very difficult or very time consuming, or often all three,” Morton told ARLnow.com. “Patrick found that doing the cooking to a different diet compliance was tough, and being the three-time entrepreneur that he is, he set about thinking, ‘How could I make this easier?’”

Smith had already founded software companies called Assist Match and Market Hardware, the latter of which he sold, before taking up his new diet and exercise regime. When Smith, an Arlington resident, found his next venture idea, he paired up with a private chef named Rachelle Slotnick, owner of the former Little City Gourmet in East Falls Church. He then started taking orders in advance and delivering them to his home gym, Trident Crossfit in Alexandria.

A power supply fridge, this one in Power Supply's Crystal City officeSoon, Smith was selling meals in Patriot Crossfit on Lee Highway in Arlington while Slotnick was growing the menu. Today, Power Supply is in more than 75 gyms in the D.C. area, Morton said, and has a network of seven chefs preparing not only Paleo meals, but also vegetarian and “mixitarian,” which is vegetables and meat like the Paleo diet, but mixes in some grains and legumes. A year ago, Power Supply merged with Mindful Chef, which connected chefs with yoga and pilates studios, and now runs Power Supply’s chef network.

“[Smith] figured that there was a real combination with food that tastes really good, is healthy for people to eat and is convenient for people to pick up,” Morton said. “What’s been most interesting to us is we started from Crossfit and Paleo, and they are both ideas and ways of eating and moving differently, but we’ve already said we don’t want to be confined by that. What’s been exciting for us is the expansion in the food that we’re offering and, with it, the audience has expanded.”

Among the meal choices Power Supply offers is steak skewers with a kale, sweet potato, bacon and blueberry salad — which Morton said was wildly popular — spaghetti squash with andouille sausage sauce and Cuban pulled pork with cabbage slaw and guava sauce. The standard meal size — a 5-ounce cooked protein and a roughly 16-ounce meal — costs $12.50 per meal. Paleo eaters can get a smaller meal for $9.50 or a larger one for $15.50.

Customers can order meals online the week in advance (the orders close on Thursday night) and pick them up at their local gym on Mondays and/or Thursdays. Among the Arlington gyms that participate are Potomac Crossfit in Courthouse, Mind the Mat pilates and yoga studio in Clarendon and Energy Club in Shirlington.

“What’s been most interesting and helpful is [the gyms] are activated communities where people are getting together to do move differently and eat differently,” Morton said. “It’s hard, it’s fun, in places like Crossfit and yoga and pilates, more and more people are not what the typical image looks like. There’s a positive community element in places where people are succeeding where they haven’t before.” (more…)

Clarendon Resident Launches Kickstarter for Sock Company

by Ethan Rothstein | June 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 2,029 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

Boldfoot Founder Brad Christmann(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) Brad Christmann was yearning to start a company when he graduated from business school in 2012, but he could not think of a viable idea.

That’s when his brother reminded him of an idea he had as a 9-year-old for reversible socks. Christmann quickly recognized the reversible idea wasn’t going to work, but the idea of a sock company stuck in his head.

This morning, Christmann launched the Kickstarter for his startup, Boldfoot, selling $12 pairs of American-made socks with eclectic designs.

“I really wanted to do something in the startup space, but didn’t have an idea I loved,” he said. That’s when his brother reminded him of his sock idea. “Socks are endlessly creative. It’s a nice, low-cost product with limited risk to test it out with a bunch of different patterns.”

The socks aren’t reversible, but Christmann said they are all made in the U.S., with a cotton, nylon and spandex blend in a manufacturing plant outside of Philadelphia. He’s banking that the designs — which he created himself — the material and what the company stands for will resonate with Kickstarter investors and, one day, customers.

Along with being made in the country, Christmann plans to donate a dollar from every purchase to a charity dedicated to helping homeless veterans with jobs, training and housing. His full-time job is in digital marketing for Capital One, and he’s applying many of the principles he learned there, and in business school, to Boldfoot.

Some sample socks by Boldfoot“I tried to build the company around passion points,” he said. “It’s American-made, they’re designed in school and team colors, and we’re pro-veteran. It’s about finding how to promote your company in a very targeted way.”

Originally, Christmann said he was “adamant I wasn’t going to use Kickstarter. I wanted to do it the old-fashioned way.” He took several of the designs he created to different manufacturers, all of whom told him his company and his orders would be too small for them to produce.

He said the reality check of the difficulties of finding a manufacturer was something he expected, but not to the degree he experienced.

“I didn’t know the manufacturing was going to be that tough,” he said. “It was like they’ll work with me when they have nothing better to do. It wasn’t until I shelled out two grand to make some samples I had any sort of agreement.”

The designs for the samples Christmann made came from random places of inspiration. He would walk down the street and see a brick pattern on a building and take a photo to turn it into a sock (far left in the above picture). Because of the patriotism imbued in his company, he made sure to have several red, white and blue designs.

“I had a three- or four-month period where everywhere I went, I saw patterns,” he said. “I’ve never had any formal design training, but I’m good enough at Photoshop to be dangerous.” (more…)

GSA Employee Building a Social Golf App

by Ethan Rothstein | June 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 1,143 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

TeeBoxPro Founder Ryan BoothRosslyn resident Ryan Booth knows golf is “an old school game,” but his technology startup venture hopes to take the leisure sport into the modern era.

Booth is developing TeeBoxPro as combination handicap tracker/social network for golfers. He graduated from business school at George Washington University last month and works full-time in finance for the General Services Administration, but he’s been devoting nights and weekends to building his product.

The germ of the idea began when Booth was taking a class called “e-entrepreneurship,” and he had to come up with an idea for a new tech business. He had already worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee during the 2012 London Olympics, and knew he wanted to do something sports-related. He started thinking about the Google Doc he and his friends use to update and compare each other’s golf scores.

“My friends and I are always trying to figure out how well each other are doing and what courses we’re playing,” he said, noting several members of the group are spread out across the country. “I realized there was really nothing out there to make golf social online. There’s a void in the marketplace.”

At first, TeeBoxPro was designed as a golf social network, but as the idea and the designs evolved, it has turned into a much more powerful tool. When the product launches — which Booth expects to happen in the fall — it will have a handicap tracker built off the algorithm of the U.S. Golfers Association, which tracks official handicaps. Golfers can usually only find out their handicap by being a member of a country club or paying for a service online, but TeeBoxPro plans for the service to be free.

In addition, the handicap tracker will be rolled into a ranking system, not unlike those used by fitness apps like Nike+ or MapMyRun, for competing among friend circles. It will also have social functionality, with users being able to check in at golf courses, upload photos and video and, Booth hopes, earn promotions from golf courses that sponsor the app.

TeeBoxPro Handicap tracker“There is currently a void in the golfing market for a tool this integrated,” Booth said. “There are tracking apps like GolfLogix, and it has a social component, but it’s terrible. Nobody uses it. Golf is a competitive sport, but it wouldn’t be unless you’re in a foursome or a tournament.”

Booth said he’s done weeks of on-the-ground market research, talking to golfers old and young at courses around the D.C. area, like Hains Point, Bull Run and Top Golf in Alexandria. He said he plans to return to these places with an app, and letting those golfers beta test it, as well as encouraging courses to partner with TeeBoxPro.

Booth said he hopes to be testing the product “by the tail end of golf season” and to have a full “MVP” product in “no less than six months.” Booth knows his company’s biggest challenge will be getting users, which is why he doesn’t plan on selling TeeBoxPro as a “new golf social network.”

“We’re going to market this is a free handicap calculator,” he said. “We’re going to get a lot of people testing it, get them to feel it out, and hopefully we’ll be able to use their feedback to improve.” (more…)

Former APS Teacher Helms STEM Education Startup

by Ethan Rothstein | May 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 2,218 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

Appleseed Lane co-founder Cynthia Marbley(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) Cynthia Marbley was a teacher at Tuckahoe Elementary when her son was having a playdate with her neighbor’s child.

She and her neighbor were discussing how working mothers could have a more active role in their children’s education when they got the idea for Appleseed Lane.

Appleseed Lane is a monthly, subscription-based company that sends parents a kit for a project that encourages STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education in children between 4 and 8 years old.

“We want our kids to be exposed to learning in a way that’s dynamic and organic,” Marbley told ARLnow.com from the Starbucks in the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center. “The kids can get their hands dirty. Science has to be hands-on for kids to have that ownership and engagement.”

Marbley and her neighbor got to work quickly on what those kits would look like, how they would change from month-to-month and every other detail creating a service from scratch entails. Marbley decided last summer to leave her teaching job and devote herself to Appleseed Lane full-time, and the company launched its first box in October 2013.

An Appleseed Lane kit with materialsThe kits have a different theme every month and include projects with simple, colorful instructions. The theme for June is Sports Science; it is a collaboration with Shawn Marion, an NBA player for the Dallas Maverick and, Marbley said “an old friend.”

Each kit includes every material needed, with the exception of household items like scissors, and include lesson plans led by Professor Caterpillar; lesson plans aligned with National Science Education Standards, Marbley said.

“The boxes are research-based and aligned with what schools are doing,” Marbley said. “We got teachers and education experts to weigh in on the design and lesson and we have a ton of kids test it.”

Subscriptions cost $23.95 for one month, $21.95 per month over six months or $19.95 per month over a year, with shipping included. Each kit is roughly the size of a shoebox.

“My 5-year-old son is one of my official testers,” Marbley said. “He enjoys it because it’s also uninterrupted time with me. It’s an ongoing education and it’s also about relationships. The parents do each project with their child and they can engaged and not on their phones while they’re doing it.”

Appleseed Lane instructionsSince launching in October, Marbley said Appleseed Lane has grown 500 percent and is now firmly profitable. The company is bootstrapped outside of friends and family money, and it is shipping nationally.

Appleseed Lane will soon offer parents the ability to purchase a series of lesson plans at once, as opposed to simply receiving one per month, to make it possible to use as homeschooling material. The company is focused on growing nationally and building partnerships, and not yet on offering a wider variety of services like older education or kits focused outside of STEM.

“We want to focus on kids who can develop a love for STEM early on,” Marbley said. “We want kids to get excited about STEM as soon as possible when they’re naturally curious.” (more…)

Georgetown Grad’s Startup Tells Companies How to Tweet

by Ethan Rothstein | May 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm | 733 views | No Comments

Startup Monday header

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.

Encore Alert Founder/CEO James LI works at his UberOffices workspaceWhen most early 20-somethings are getting ready to graduate college, they can usually be found furiously sending out job applications, cramming for final exams and enjoying their last few months until “real life” starts.

Encore Alert founder James Li, however, was preparing to take his seed of an idea for a business and supercharge it after he was accepted into Acceleprise, a technology startup accelerator in downtown D.C. that gives companies $30,000 and access to its mentors in exchange for a 5 percent stake.

He and his cofounders, Tammy Cho and Felipe Lopez, were originally accepted for their idea for an email newsletter platform for nonprofits right after Li graduated from Georgetown last year. (Cho, although full-time with the company, is a sophomore.) In August, they hit the “reset” button and launched Encore Alert as it is today: a tool that tells social media marketers when to tweet, how often, and about what, all in real time, all in email alert form.

“We talked to a lot of chief marketing officers,” Li said about his company’s reset, “and they told us a lot of the social media dashboards out today have become overkill, and they don’t enable the typical social media marketer to take action every day.”

Encore Alert’s system takes all tweets related to a company, including Twitter mentions, relevant articles or trending topics, and distills them into “action items.” It recommends when the social media marketer should reply to a tweet, link to an article, or try to jump on a hashtag, for instance. Encore Alert’s current clients include Georgetown University, Consumer Electronics Association and Wedding Wire.

An example of an Encore Alert emailEncore Alert boasts that it has parsed through more than 12 million tweets for its customers, and narrows it down into five to seven recommended actions the Twitter account should take. Li describes it as a “social media assistant,” whose job it is to be looking at Twitter 24/7 and giving reports to the marketing manager.

“The goal is to have all the work done before the marketer touches it,” Li said. “They can sit back and let the information come to them.”

Encore Alert moved into Rosslyn’s ÜberOfficers last month after completing a $460,000 seed funding round. One of Li’s investors was the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, which is why Encore Alert moved from Acceleprise to Arlington. The company now has six full-time employees, but, Li says they’re currently in “hiring and sales mode.”

That’s a shift for Li, who spent most of the early months of his company in meeting after meeting with mentors, advisers and, most of all, potential investors. His goal is still to get to a Series A funding round, but recently he’s been able to do what he envisioned doing when he launched his company: “sit down and execute.”

“It’s definitely a mixed bag,” Li says of the life of the CEO. “You’d rather be sitting and executing, and meetings tend to be a big distraction. But if we didn’t fundraise, we wouldn’t have these great advisors throwing their weight and advice behind us.”

(more…)

×

Subscribe to our mailing list