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by Ethan Rothstein — March 23, 2015 at 6:00 pm 1,767 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.

Cowork Cafe, a new coworking concept in Boccato in ClarendonA Monday in Boccato Gelato & Espresso in Clarendon looks vastly different now than it did two months ago, thanks to a new Arlington startup called Cowork Cafe.

Founded by David James and Ramzy Azar, Cowork Cafe is a partnership between the two entrepreneurs and Boccato (2719 Wilson Blvd) owner Christian Velasco in which James and Azar rent out Boccato’s lounge for 9 hours on weekdays, and offer it to members for $200 a month. Those members get souped up WiFi, $50 in food and beverage credits, soundproofed phone booths and, soon, personal lockers for storage.

From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Velasco puts stanchions through Boccato’s lounge separating a dozen or so tables — including bars that function as standing desks — for Cowork Cafe members, and keeping a small handful for walk-in Boccato customers. During the cafe’s busiest times in the evenings and on weekends, the stanchions are removed and it’s a full-fledged coffee and gelato shop once more.

“I totally understand the challenges of a food establishment; it’s dependent on volume,” Azar told ARLnow.com over coffee at the cafe. His parents own restaurants, he said, which is party of why old friend James asked him to cofound the venture. “As soon as I understood what coworking was about, it seems like a great way to contribute to the establishment.”

James came up with the idea after years of working at home as an independent software developer left him feeling “a little isolated.” He ventured to coffee shops with his laptop, but those started to become too crowded, too noisy and too distracted. Walking by Boccato’s empty lounge space on a weekday spawned the idea.

Cowork Cafe co-founders Ramzy Azar and David JamesNow, Cowork Cafe has 20 paying members, and two other restaurant businesses have reached out to become the home of the next Cowork Cafe.

“It’s something that could be a lot bigger than here,” James said. “We’re excited about the ability to scale quickly. Restaurants already have space, and we can just plug in and go. That means we can try out a place with low risk.”

Of course, some might raise their eyebrows at the idea of charging $200 a month to work in a space that was previously free, but James said the advantages to membership and the price hit a sweet spot for teleworkers and self-employed professionals.

“Most of the people that work here don’t need to go to a place to work,” James said. “But people can see the benefit of being around a community. If you haven’t worked form home a lot, it’s probably hard to understand.”

The 20 members are a hodgepodge of writers, developers, self-employed professionals and teleworkers, James said. Some have routines and come in most of every weekday. Others float in and out and use it more like a regular coffee shop. With the $50 in food credit, any member can go to the counter and get a coffee or empanada without taking out their wallet; Azar called it a country club-like system.

“Self-employed folks come to these spaces anyway,” he said. “It’s not an office. It has a rustic feel and a great sense of community.”

“A place like this encourages abstract thinking,” James added.

James and Azar didn’t just show up and launch the cafe on Feb. 2 — they put in some key infrastructure, like four soundproofed phone booths for phone calls and video conferencing. James said they installed about 50 plugs and business-class WiFi. They also didn’t quite know what to expect — they put a sign on the retail storefront on Wilson Blvd, held a few open houses and hoped for the best.

The expansion plans are underway sooner than either expected, but James and Azar aren’t saying yet where or when the next Cowork Cafe will be.

by Ethan Rothstein — March 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,695 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.

ValueCrates founder Adam GenestAdam Genest had wanted to be an entrepreneur his whole life after hearing about the successful businesses his grandfather and father started.

A previous venture, and e-commerce platform, failed. Genest belonged to an entrepreneurship group and was looking for the next big idea when a friend suggested an idea he saw in Arizona, about renting crates out to movers. Genest thought about his own moving experience to an apartment in Rosslyn, and knew right away the idea had legs.

He bought 10 crates and a dolly and launched a website. ValueCrates was born.

The idea is as simple as can be: for $19.99, someone moving can rent 10 plastic crates and a dolly. You can rent 25 crates for $29.99, 35 crates for $34.99, 50 crates for $49.99 and 75 crates for $79.99. The crates can be held for a month and are delivered and picked up for no extra charge by Genest himself.

Genest started with just the 10 crates and dolly when he launched in October 2014, and he said he’s been sold out since the first weekend.

“I knew the business made such good sense that I had to try it,” he said. “I’ve turned down over 1,000 crate orders because I’ve been sold out. This was achieving a level of success I hadn’t achieved before.”

Genest didn’t launch ValueCrates with a startup blueprint: build a value proposition, create a minimum viable product, beta test it and always build to scale. Instead, he launched as soon as he could and was glad to do things inefficiently early on. Many business advisors might pull their hair out hearing how many customers Genest has turned away; Genest said he’s been focused on keeping the customer’s he’s had happy.

“I meet every one of our customers,” he said. “I get to talk to them and see how we’re helping them. I ask them questions about the business, and they feel, and I know, that they’re not just numbers.”

Each crate is 23.5-by-15.7-by-12.4 inches and can hold a maximum of 80 pounds. Genest offers one size crate and one size dolly, keeping his costs and options simple, and keeping prices low. When he’s asked customers what they think of the price, some have said he should raise it.

“They say ‘I feel like it’s unfair to you,’” he said.

A two-bedroom ValueCrates pacakgeDespite the low prices, ValueCrates is profitable and completely bootstrapped, Genest says. It’s still run out of his apartment, which would be more of a problem for he and his wife if the crates weren’t consistently sold out. Despite Genest’s satisfaction with building a company without regards to scale or efficiency, it’s a situation that cannot last.

Now the successful entrepreneur is in the market for storage space and is in talks with manufacturers in China. He’s been buying crates and dollies from Home Depot to this point, not a practical solution considering he eventually has eyes on servicing multiple cities. He says that’s still a ways away.

“My ultimate goal is to get D.C. right,” he said.

Genest is still telling too many customers for his liking that he has no crates available — “turning down orders sucks,” he said frankly — so he’s looking for $200,000 in investment to scale faster.

ValueCrates has strayed from the traditional startup blueprint, but Genest thinks there are lessons he’s learned that can translate to any business.

“I learned it’s OK not to be scalable and profit-focused right away,” he said. “I would have made mistakes, would have rushed it … the only reason I’m successful is because of the mistakes I’ve made in the past.”

by Ethan Rothstein — March 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm 377 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.

Healthcare entrepreneurs at work at LiftOff Health (photo via Facebook)Crystal City’s rebranding as a hub for all kinds of innovation has a new entry in its portfolio: LiftOff Health, a new incubator for healthcare startups.

Founded by Michael Slage, an entrepreneur and former NASA employee who also founded Better Health Box and Healthengage, LiftOff Health is in office space above the Crystal City Shops, given to them for a six-month trial period by Vornado, and Slage said it’s the perfect launching pad for an industry that has gone curiously underdeveloped in the D.C. startup scene.

“A lot of angel groups and places like the Dingman Center don’t really invest in healthcare because they don’t understand it,” Slage said. Along with being an incubator and coworking space, LiftOff will serve as a vetting agency, helping to prepare investor presentations for its clients and validation studies for investors.

“We stand between companies — the risk-takers — and hospitals — the risk avoiders,” Slage added.

LiftOff will wear many hats, but the company still has to “figure out what we are,” Slage said. Is it an incubator, a coworking space, a trade association for healthcare startups, a nonprofit? All could theoretically apply, but Slage said the company is ready to assume all forms.

“It all comes down to how we increase innovation in healthcare,” he said.

There are a couple ways Slage and his cofounders, Sandeep Pulim, Ludmila Litvyakova and Pratik Patel, plan on spurring innovation. First, is a partnership with Marymount University. The school is in negotiations to invest in LiftOff, and partner to provide educational programming. In fact, Slage said when he brought the idea to MU President Matthew Shank, Slage said Shank’s enthusiasm was part of the impetus to start the company.

Second, Slage said he reached out to dozens of foreign embassies in D.C., whose countries are thirsty for better healthcare products. While the U.S. market is tough to break into because of daunting federal regulations, the barrier to enter the market in foreign countries is much lower. LiftOff is already capable sending its clients on a five-day “trade mission” to the United Arab Emirates to set up partnerships in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

“In the UAE, there’s a huge need for the things we take for granted here,” Slage said.

Third, LiftOff is partnering with the increasingly vital TechShop, just a few blocks away, for a new “Health makers” program. Many of the startups the incubator hopes to bring on as clients will be building and testing new devices, and there are few better resources than the maker space in Crystal City.

LiftOff Health's office space in Crystal City (photo via Facebook)LiftOff currently has 12 clients in its 5,000-square-foot space, and it’s looking for more. Slage and his team take equity in their clients’ companies — between 4 and 8 percent — or accept cash for a new tenant. LiftOff already has $500,000 in investment and is looking for another $500,000 to grow its incubator program.

Part of how the company has been able to take off so fast — they only entertained serious discussions around the idea starting last November – is its partnership with Vornado. Seeing LiftOff’s potential, Vornado gave Slage the space rent-free for six months “to see what we can do with it.” The space opened in January.

If the company is successful, there is hundreds of thousands of square footage in Vornado’s portfolio for it to grow into. Vornado and the Crystal City Business Improvement District are betting it will be.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — March 2, 2015 at 12:00 pm 423 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.

Notify Anywhere Founder Ajay Maheshwari, right, and Sahaj ShardaThere are billions of people on the planet with no access to Internet. Ajay Maheshwari wants to connect to all of them.

Maheshwari is the founder and CEO of Notify Anywhere, a mobile platform that allows users to notify a list of contacts or subscribers in a wide range of ways, from social media to email to text or phone messages. It can be used for restaurants to tell customers about specials, coaches to tell players about practice cancellations or family members to reach out in case of emergency.

“There is a need of a platform to provide people with a unified notification medium,” Maheshwari said from Rosslyn, in his borrowed space from Notify Anywhere’s mentor company, Miracle Systems.

Maheshwari’s example of a coach notifying a team is personal — his wife was taking his daughter to soccer practice in Ashburn one rainy morning. They hadn’t heard from the coach so they assumed practice was still happening. The Maheshwaris arrived to an empty practice field and, when they got the coach on the phone, were told that he had no way of contacting all the parents.

“I decided we needed to come up with an automated critical process, triggered at an event so users don’t feel like it’s a burden to notify people,” Maheshwari said. “People want a simple thing. They want to reach their audience, irrespective of the network.”

A screenshot of the Notify Anywhere appSeven months ago, Maheshwari formed the company with his cofounder, who goes by Shikha, applied for a patent and got to work. He brought on a developer, like many startups, but his is unique. Sahaj Sharda and Maheshwari met at a “hack-a-thon” in D.C. after Sharda’s team impressed with a quick-built app to “make children accessible to the education industry.” Maheshwari saw it, was impressed, and brought him on board.

Sharda is 16, and his team was a group of his classmates from Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County.

“I was excited about the idea,” Sharda said. “It was similar to what we had built. When you’re developing anything, you’re looking at your target audience. Ours don’t have Internet access, but they’re still in the community at large. It’s a big problem in terms of accessibility.”

That’s why one of Notify Anywhere’s key selling points is its partnership with global telecommunications providers. In more than 200 countries, the app can access the phone infrastructure, allowing users to send voice and text messages over a network instead of requiring both end-users to download the app.

The infrastructure access and ability to send “robo-calls” sets the app apart, Maheshwari says. It’s is cloud-based, syncs with the phone’s contacts

“We don’t have any direct competition,” he said. “I don’t see any other companies doing it.”

Notify Anywhere is currently in a beta test, and Maheshwari said the response is “overwhelming.” He expects to hit the open market by April.

To this point, Notify Anywhere has been bootstrapped by the former federal government employee, and funded with friends and family money. As the launch date approaches, the company is seeking angel investors and venture capitalists to inject funding for engineering, marketing and sales.

The app will be Android-only to start, but an iPhone app isn’t far behind. It will be free for most users, and, in less than two months, live and “fully-formed.”

by Ethan Rothstein — February 23, 2015 at 12:00 pm 1,172 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.

Patdek's Robert Melton, left, and Jay GuilianoRobert Melton is a software developer who has built command centers for the FBI and local law enforcement agencies, but eight months into his latest project, building software for patent lawyers, he said “we were a complete failure.”

“It was a really hard year,” Melton admitted from his office at Clarendon’s Link Locale.

Melton has since turned it around, and he and founder Jay Guiliano are less than two months from launching Patdek, which they hope will be a game-changer in patent law, and potential the entire legal industry.

The concept appears simple: give patent lawyers a tool to find relevant information in patent applications and cases, both current and past, and a way for them to easily share it with clients and colleagues. The concept is so simple, in fact, that when Guiliano pitched his startup idea to Melton, asking him to be his developer, Melton thought for sure something like it already existed.

The Patdek team says nothing brings together the content of patent cases — terabytes worth of data comprising hundreds of millions of documents, all in Patdek’s system –  with the tools to search them easily in a usable way.

“These massive companies have the capabilities to do it,” Melton said. “But they don’t have the motivation to build a holistic tool like this for a niche market.”

The biggest challenge, Melton said, was avoiding converting the documents to text, something that would make them unusable for lawyers, who hold original documents sacred. All of the documents in Patdek’s system are images of the original, meaning a lawyer can take a paragraph from a patent case, highlight the text, send it to a colleague with the information and it can be used worry-free in court.

Guiliano knows how useful and how powerful the tool could be if executed properly. He’s been a patent lawyer for 19 years, and is still in practice challenging patents at his day job, and he’s been the driving force behind Melton’s seemingly ever-increasing workload.

Patdek screen shot“Jay is someone with a clear vision of where he wanted to go,” Melton said. “After eight months, we couldn’t select text or highlight characters. Jay said, ‘We need that. It’s super frustrating using other apps that have that. I don’t want to be frustrated.’”

Why is it so important, and so frustrating not to have? Guiliano said, as a lawyer, he needs to be able to answer questions about cases quickly. Right now, there’s no easy mechanism to do that.

“I want to be able to set up a case in five minutes,” he said. “That’s our goal. How do we take out all the time leaks and make it smooth and easy to do?”

Eight years ago, he knew he wanted to solve this problem, but only in late 2013 did he decide to get the ball rolling to do it himself. That’s when he reached out to Melton, a self-described “gun-for-hire” developer, to help him build it.

Now, less than two months away from their expected launch, the gun-for-hire and the attorney realize they might have something even bigger on their hands than a niche patent software tool.

“We see a lot of markets for this because we accidentally built a platform,” Melton said. “Everyone wants to use the app in different ways.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — February 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm 469 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.

Dexter Industries Founder John Cole and the RaspberryPi computer that powers his robotsDexter Industries Founder John Cole is sitting at his desk in Rosslyn’s ÜberOffices, but he won’t be there for long.

The head of the educational robotics company hasn’t stayed in one place much in his adult life. After graduating from George Washington University, he worked as a petroleum engineer for Halliburton in Louisiana. From there he launched a biodiesel startup, worked in reconstruction for the State Department in 2008 in East Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War,  moved to Mexico City, then back to D.C., followed by a stint in Afghanistan working for USAID, a few years in India and, now, Arlington.

India is where his company, which sells robots made from LEGOs, affordable materials and open-source computers, took off.

“I literally just put up a website, started to work on projects and blog about that,”  in 2009, Cole said. The former chemist taught himself how to build a website and a rudimentary e-commerce platform, just like he essentially taught himself how to build robots. That was in December 2009.

The company started slow after that. His first projects were with LEGO Mindstorms, basic robots with motors that can move around. Cole designed sensors to help them detect walls, and from there he was off to the races.

While in India, Cole decided to turn his attention full-time to Dexter Industries. Soon after, a $30 teaching computer called Raspberry Pi came out. The Raspberry Pi is designed to let anyone connect and use the computer for whatever they choose. It’s open source, meaning a tinkerer like Cole can bend it to his will.

Cole designed what he called a BrickPi. The system connects the Raspberry Pi computer to a LEGO Mindstorm robot, and allows those who purchase it to turn legos into ball cannons, tanks and anything else they can think up. Cole launched a Kickstarter campaign in June 2013 with a goal of $1,889.

He raised more than $127,000.

“It was a big turning point in our company,” he said. “That’s when things really started to take off.”

With thousands of customers more than he expected, he had to figure out a way to deliver on all his orders. Being a do-it-yourself type already with a nose for adventure, Cole got a visa and traveled to China, set up meetings with manufacturers and distributors, and built his production network from the ground up.

“There’s a great quote I’ve heard: ‘You’ll know success when you feel panic,’” he said. “There were thousands of orders. That was a stressful experience.”

The components of Dexter Industries' GoPiGo robot Cole ran the campaign from India, and the Kickstarter was so successful that he took an old “Dukes of Hazzard” airhorn he bought — “everyone in India has these really cool airhorns on their cars,” he said — and built a robot to have it go off every time the Kickstarter received a donation.

Last year, Dexter Industries launched another robot called the GoPiGo, available on their online store for $84.99. The kit includes a RaspberryPi and components to build a robot that moves. While the BrickPi has sold more total orders, the GoPiGo is currently Dexter Industries’ hottest selling product.

The next phase of Dexter Industries’s growth, Cole hopes, will come in education. He wants to take his products — which he calls a “hacker’s paradise” — and bring them into the classroom to get kids excited about building robots.

“Our market up until now has largely been makers and hackers,” he said. “We always considered ourselves an education company, but we’ve been educating the educated.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — February 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm 667 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.

OmniEarth COO and cofounder Jonathan Fentzke(Updated at 1:15 p.m.OmniEarth COO and cofounder Jonathan Fentzke says his company likes to stay “under the radar,” an ironic phrase considering its plans to launch 18 satellites to generate data from around the world in a host of different sectors.

Officially launched in February 2014, OmniEarth takes geospatial data and provides analytics for a broad range of companies. This could mean telling municipal water suppliers which parcels are using too much water — crucial in drought-ridden areas like California — or telling oil and gas companies where there are faults along their pipelines.

“More than 80 percent of data these days has a location along with it,” Fentzke told ARLnow.com from his office above the Crystal City Shops this morning. “Remotely sensed data can give you an indication of how things are changing on a global scale.”

Fentzke and his cofounder, CEO Lars Dyrud, have been friends for more than a decade, but both were working in the applied physics laboratory at Johns Hopkins University when they realized their work for the public sector had use for private companies. Hosted payloads, when one entity rents extra space on a rocket being launched into space, were growing more and more common, and Fentzke and Dyrud wanted to bring it to market.

“We did three years of customer discovery, talked with more than 200 potential clients and saw that there really was traction for this business,” Fentzke said. “We sell information to people who know what to do with it, and we sell analytics to the people who don’t.”

OmniEarth logoOmniEarth’s main business model is selling applications of their data to its clients. That can be predictive models for the effects of the weather on a crop to multinational farm companies, where forests are being illegally cut down or even something Fentzke called a Twitter “happiness index,” which takes the mood of tweets and compares it with the location of people tweeting them, drawing maps based on the data.

OmniEarth is barely a year old and has already received about $3.5 million in funding, with partnerships with massive companies like Harris and Ball and local tech companies like Dynetics. They have partnered with Spaceflight to launch a constellation of 18 small satellites, monitoring “multi-spectral data,” with imaging outside of the visible spectrum (i.e. infrared light).

“The satellites are like our utility, and data and analytics is like our plug,” Fentzke said. “If you don’t have a plug, you can’t access the utility, like electricity.”

Fentzke, an aerospace engineer by training, says OmniEarth is “by scientists, for business users and decision-makers,” and the company is attempting to trademark the slogan “every day, everywhere.” The Board of Advisors reads like a who’s who of the cross-section of industries the company caters to, from a retired U.S. Air Force general to oil and gas executives to a former NASA administrator.

Part of OmniEarth's headquarters in Crystal CityThe company is growing faster than many other Arlington startups, but for what Fentzke and Dyrud have in mind, this is only the beginning. OmniEarth has already bought a smaller company called IRISmaps to leverage its geospatial data and continues to look to expand.

“This is not a get-rich quick scheme,” Fentzke said. “Our goal is to grow something that stands alone. We didn’t just blindly pick this business because satellites are cool. It’s a tool for data, and when you know how to leverage remotely sensed data, you have market-leading information, and it’s legal.”

In another year, the 20-person company expects to double in size and bring in “some big dollars” by the end of 2015. OmniEarth may still fly under the radar as a big-growth company in Arlington, but it won’t be a secret for long.

“The moment I think it’s valuable for us to wave our flag and say ‘hey look at us,’” Fentzke said, “we’ll do that.”

by Ethan Rothstein — January 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm 1,040 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.

The BTCS team in their Rosslyn officeBitcoin is hard to explain. It’s a “crypto-currency,” and it’s worth real money — just like Euros and pesos are worth real dollars — but it’s completely digital.

Blockchain Technology Consumer Solutions — or BTCS for short — was launched in 2013 as Bitcoin Shop, an ecommerce platform that allows users to buy goods with bitcoins and other digital currencies, like Dogecoin or Litecoin. Bitcoin Shop founders Michal Handerhan and Tim Sidie, now COO and lead developer respectively, had bought bitcoins but didn’t know how to spend them. So they created a way.

“They got some immediate traction from consumers and offers to help fund the company,” Chief Marketing Officer Charlie Kiser told ARLnow.com from BTCS’ Rosslyn office this month.

Kiser, who has worked in startups for years in the D.C. area, joined the team along with now-CEO and Chairman Charles Allen. In February 2014, Bitcoin Shop went public, raising $1.875 million in its initial public offering.

“Going public is not the most traditional route for startups,” Kiser admitted, “but it’s great in terms of speed and confidence in getting something closed. The idea was we could be one of the first publicly traded companies and we could accomplish some things in an industry with a lot of unknowns.”

In fact, most of the crypto-currency industry is unknown. While the currency exists, it’s not run by a bank or a government. It’s decentralized and far more unstable than currencies of developed countries. One bitcoin was worth more than $1,000 U.S. dollars near the end of 2013. Earlier this month, it was down below $200, and currently it’s hovering around $240.

BTCS logoThere is no mint for bitcoins, either. Instead of a government printing them, they are “mined.” BTCS has a partnership with a bitcoin mining company in Israel. How are they mined? Anyone who wants a bitcoin must provide technological maintenance to the bitcoin system. The more bitcoins are circulating in the world, the more work a “miner” must do to get a bitcoin.

Bitcoins are exchanged and circulated on the “blockchain,” a “de-centralized peer-to-peer network” that works “effectively as a ledger system, reporting transaction,” Kiser says. Bitcoin was simply the first use of the block chain — many more are anticipated down the road.

That’s what intrigued Allen, a former engineer who was working at an investment bank before joining the company.

“I said ‘this company’s going to be much bigger than e-commerce,’” Allen said. “Bitcoin is basically the Internet in 1995. Back then, no one thought it had any use, but the technology made sense. At the heart of bitcoin, the technology makes sense.”

A bitcoin ATM at the BTCS officeBTCS has invested in a company that produces bitcoin ATMs and is currently developing a bitcoin wallet, similar to Google Wallet, that will help its users keep their currency secure. BTCS hopes to be an access point for anyone to enter the crypto-currency space, in any form they choose.

“We’re hoping we can be a market leader into giving access to the digital ecosystem,” Kiser said. “We’re hoping BTCS is where you come for all that.”

Unlike other startups in emerging industries, BTCS has public investors to answer to. Investors can look to the four investments and one partnership BTCS has made as signs of progress toward market leader status. However, it’s simply too early to tell if these early gambles will pay off.

“We are long on bitcoin and blockchain,” Kiser said, “and we are getting ready to enter the valley of innovation. Whether it’s the currency or the blockchain, there’s been enough invested to know in five years whether there will be a consumer case for it.”

Through its investments and products, BTCS hopes to be the ones to usher the new technology into that era, but it’s waiting on the industry to help.

“There are all these problems that the technology solves,” Allen said. “They just haven’t been built yet.”

by Ethan Rothstein — January 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm 606 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.

The logo in ThreatConnect's office(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) One of the most promising companies in the cybersecurity space is based in a small office in Shirlington, where it helps Fortune 100 companies protect themselves from hackers.

ThreatConnect, which changed its name from Cyber Squared in November after it received $4 million in funding, formed four years ago, and launched its data security software platform in August 2013. In the year and change since, it has grown to serve 650 companies, 3,300 users and “40 of the Fortune 100 companies,” CEO Adam Vincent told ARLnow.com last week.

ThreatConnect is poised in the coming year to add more than 50 jobs and move to bigger office space. Vincent says he wants to stay in Arlington because, he says, “I live here. I like it here.”

The company started in 2011 when Vincent and three co-founders — Chief Intelligence Officer Richard Barger, CFO Leigh Reichel and Product Director Andrew Pendergrast — left their jobs in the cybersecurity industry to start their own company because, as Vincent said, they were “frustrated private companies couldn’t protect themselves against hackers.”

“These hacker groups are like if Navy SEALs showed up at your office building,” Vincent, a lover of metaphors to explain his complicated industry, explained. “There’s not too many buildings that can protect themselves.”

Cyber Squared launched consulting for private businesses on cyber security to pay the bills while they were bootstrapping themselves and building out their ThreatConnect platform. The platform allows companies to sign up for free and connect to other companies’ data, to give them more information when combatting cyber threats. The more companies that sign up, the more powerful the tool becomes.

From left, ThreatConnect cofounders Adam Pendergast, Richard Barger, Adam Vincent and Leigh ReichelSecurity is very “silo-ed,” Vincent said, and when the data each company acquires on threats can’t reach each other, each company’s defenses are weaker because of their lack of knowledge

“We built a brain in the network,” Vincent said. “They already had the arms and legs. We connect them.”

Vincent also compared each company to a section in the orchestra, and compared ThreatConnect’s software to the conductor. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard an orchestra without a conductor, but it doesn’t sound very good.”

And while the sound of cellos not playing from the same music as tubas doesn’t sound appealing, it doesn’t come close to describing the attack companies — and their customers — have come under since ThreatConnect launched.

More than 40 million Target customers had their data hacked on Black Friday in 2013. JPMorgan Chase was hacked in summer 2014, affecting 73 million families, according to the New York Times. And, most recently, Sony Pictures was hacked in a suspected cyber attack from North Korea, prompting it to not release its movie, The Interview, as planned.

Every time one of those major hacks has occurred, ThreatConnect’s phone lines have started ringing, Vincent said.

“All of our brands are constantly under attack,” he said. “We’re in a world today where people are going to take what they want via cyber and it’s happening around the world. This is a sophisticated operation. It’s important we figure out a way as a market to solve it.”

ThreatConnect's Shirlington officeIn addition to the free platform, where the large majority of ThreatConnect’s users come from, the company also offers two paid versions of ThreatConnect. One, recommended for companies Vincent described as “in between the Fortune 5,000 and the Fortune 500,” is called the private cloud, where ThreatConnect doesn’t share the companies data externally, it protects the company internally.

It’s third option “On-prem” targets the “biggest of the big” companies, offers them “analyst on-demand service” — which Vincent described as “tele-medicine” for cybersecurity.

There are less than 50 paying ThreatConnect clients at this point, but that’s where Vincent expects the boom to happen this year. To help grow that side of the business, ThreatConnect announced today the hiring of its first vice president of sales, Matt Brenner, formerly of SourceFire, acquired by Cisco Systems for $2.7 billion.

“The market is just now starting,” he said. “We believe we have a massive opportunity to sell to the masses.”

by Ethan Rothstein — January 5, 2015 at 12:00 pm 786 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.

The growth in the Arlington startup community is too broad to limit to just one article.

We covered Snaapiqtalklocal (née SevaCall), Paul Singh and Disruption Corporation and DescribeIt, all of whom made strides in 2014, but none quite as big as Privia Health.

Privia Health CEO Jeff ButlerThe 6-year-old healthcare company combines a data-sharing platform — Privia Quality Network — and a network of doctors using said platform — Privia Medical Group. The medical group grew from 140 doctors in February when ARLnow.com interviewed founder Jeff Butler to more than 300 today.

Privia Health also built a training center for its staff and doctors in its network, according to spokeswoman Kate Slonaker. But the biggest development — and likely how Privia was able to build the training center — was a $400 million round of investment, led by Goldman Sachs. The investment will largely go into expanding Privia Health nationwide.

One of Startup Monday’s more controversial stories in 2014 was our profile of DrinkMate, the smartphone breathalyzer created by EdgeTechLabs founder Shaun Masavage. Masavage had been working for the Office of Naval Research near his home in Ballston, but he resigned on New Year’s Eve.

DrinkMate As of Jan. 1, Masavage is now EdgeTechLabs’ first full-time worker, and he has begun shipping the mini-breathalyzers to the thousands of Kickstarter funders who helped the campaign reach $99,161, more than double Masavage’s goal of $40,000.

DrinkMate still only works for Android phones, but Masavage — who invented the device and built the initial prototypes himself — is now focused on creating an iPhone version. As he prepared to ship out his first orders, he says he traveled to China to “personally oversee” their assembly.

“We also secured an exclusive partnership with Drunk Mode App to implement some incredible new features into the DrinkMate app to make it interactive and add quite a bit of value to the already-inexpensive product,” Masavage said. Drunk Mode allows users to lock certain numbers to prevent drunk-dialing and leave “breadcrumbs” to retrace one’s steps the previous night.

Another Kickstarter company, Boldfoot, has seen substantial growth since its successful funding round. Founder Brad Christmann said after raising $23,273 from a $10,000 fundraising goal, the company is set to take the next step.

Boldfoot Founder Brad Christmann“The Kickstarter orders have all been fulfilled and we are officially open for business online at Boldfoot.com,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “Numerous new designs have since been launched and we anticipate being in 10-plus retail outlets in the first quarter of this year.”

Other noteworthy developments in the startup world: Encore Alert, a Twitter advising and technology firm, now counts the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons among its clients; and nClass, an education technology company, launched a New Delhi, India, office and “launched the product globally,” according to founder Gaurav Malik.

by Ethan Rothstein — December 29, 2014 at 5:00 pm 592 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.

In the startup world, change is rarely slow and steady. For many of the businesses ARLnow.com has profiled this year, change has already come, and it came fast.

The SevaCall teamIn July, we looked at SevaCall, a Crystal Tech Fund company that allows users to call and immediately be connected with a pre-vetted service provider, like a plumber or HVAC repair service. When we spoke to co-founder Manpreet Singh in July, the company had already raised $1.3 million in funding and was in the midst of angling for more capital.

In September, Manpreet and his brother, Gurpreet, announced that they had raised $2.6 million more and rebranded. SevaCall is now talklocal, and the company has moved out of Crystal City. According to Disruption Corporation Founder Paul Singh — previously Seva Call’s landlord — they have relocated back to College Park, Md. Crystal Tech Fund was one of the lead investors in the new funding round.

Singh, himself a subject of a Startup Monday profile, has continued to show that Disruption Corporation will not be categorized. After launching as an investment fund, then adding investment advising to its portfolio of services, Disruption doubled the size of its headquarters and filled it almost immediately. Now, neighboring the dozen or so startups already on the 10th floor of 2231 Crystal Drive, is a coding “boot camp.”

DescribeIt CEO Ryan Yanchuleff works in his Courthouse officeDescribeIt is still in its Courthouse headquarters, but co-founder and CEO Ryan Yanchuleff tells ARLnow.com that the company recently closed a $255,000 round of investment — he had been searching for investment to help market his landscaping proposal software — and hired its first non-founder full-time employee.

Most importantly for the company, the full product is launching on Thursday with the new year. When landscaping projects start to boom in the spring, Yanchuleff and his co-founder, Ed Barrientos, wnated to make sure all the kinks were worked out.

“We’ve been busy for sure,” Yanchuleff said. “We’ll be making our big splash at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show up in Baltimore on Jan. 14-16.”

This August, Airside Mobile launched its major product at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. The Mobile Passport app allows users to fill out their customs forms on their smartphone and download the receipt. Essentially, it lets those with the app bypass the sometimes hours-long lines for customs, and breeze by.

The app was developed in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Airside Mobile is planning to launch in other airports around the country soon.

Startup Monday has covered companies that specialize in complex, big data analytics, healthcare technology and everything in between. One of the simplest ideas — an app that lets users submit pictures to win prizes — has taken hold.

Snaapiq, with Rosslyn-based Jacob Perler at the helm, took that simple idea and used it to raise $180,000 in seed funding last month. When ARLnow.com profile Snaapiq in August, 90 percent of the photo contests were sponsored by Perler and his co-founder, Ryo Hang. Today, Snaapiq partners with university athletic programs, Alex and Ani and SoccerPro.com to sponsor contests for its users.

by Ethan Rothstein — December 22, 2014 at 4:20 pm 892 0

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.

Eastern Foundry CEO and Founder Geoff OrazemEastern Foundry, a new startup incubator focusing on government contractors as tenants, launched on Dec. 16. With 70 offices covering 21,000 square feet, it’s already 85 percent full.

Eastern Foundry CEO and Founder Geoff Orazem said he expects to be full in his space on the fourth floor of 2011 Crystal Drive by “mid-February at the latest.” Its occupancy rate is just one example of the sweet spot his company has found in its sector.

Taking a walk through the halls of Eastern Foundry belies the future the company envisions. Outside a few of the office doors are framed fact sheets about the companies inside, with photos and bios, plus the company’s mission, relationships within the federal government and former jobs where the workers may still have contacts. These sheets will soon be outside every office, and are a resource for companies looking for partners or advice.

Every Thursday, Eastern Foundry hosts a seminar on issues government contractors face, led by a working expert in the field. These topics have already included GSA scheduling, and the ins-and-outs of Small Business Administration set-aside mandates. Eastern Foundry is also using the 10th floor of the Vornado-owned building — currently a vacant 40,000-square foot space – and turned it into an event space and flexible area for some of its tenants.

A standard Eastern Foundry office“No one has integrated residential, community and business development the way we have,” Orazem told ARLnow.com. He said Eastern Foundry is the first government-contractor-only incubator in the country.

Orazem is a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry platoon commander and graduate of Harvard Law School, but realized he wanted to help facilitate business success while working to set up a “tribally run trucking cooperative with government contracts” in Iraq and Afghanistan around 2009.

“We were having an amazing impact on development and security in the area,” he said. “I had far more influence by creating jobs than I ever did as a Marine.”

He spent three years working for McKinsey & Company in D.C. before he decided to try to start his own contracting firm in January. The process, he said, was far more onerous than he had imagined, and his background as a veteran and his “fancy named” college degree didn’t help.

“It wasn’t hard for reasons I thought were good reasons,” he said. “It was difficulty with the process. It was bewildering, bureaucratic, obfuscating and infuriating.”

Eastern Foundry's kitchen and break roomOrazem realized the opportunity was there to help people like him get through the process. During a meeting with a friend at 1776 in D.C., he saw how collaboration was working for tech startups, and had a “mini-breakthrough.” He realized a cooperative space could have the same impact for contractors as it does for young tech companies.

Orazem hired Andy O’Brien at Jones Lang LaSalle to broker a real estate deal, and Vornado started aggressively pursuing Orazem to consider Crystal City.

“Vornado basically made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” he said. “We’re really excited about the area and the vision of Vornado to recreate it as a technology and innovation center. They were really putting their money where their mouth was.”

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — December 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm 1,390 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.

Two North Arlington teenagers want to help Arlington residents with the hardest part of the holidays: setting up the Christmas tree.

Duncan MacBride and Sam Gonson are sophomores at Gonzaga College High School in D.C. and they are first-time entrepreneurs. Duncan got the idea to start their fledgling business the day after Thanksgiving, setting up his family’s tree with his father.

“My dad and I were setting it up and saying ‘this is not fun. This is difficult,’” Duncan said. “I texted Sam to say I have this idea about setting up people’s trees for them. I figured, I don’t enjoy doing it. It’s hard to set up a tree, I figure most people probably go through the same thing.”

Sam and Duncan have been friends for a year and a half, and Sam said he was immediately on board with the idea. The spent the following week coming up with a business plan, price points and making marketing materials. A week later, they installed their first tree.

Duncan MacBride and Sam Gonson set up a Christmas treeThe duo charges $20 to take a tree from someone’s car into their home, set it up in the stand and hang lights over it. They also hang lights around the house for $15, and charge $10 per hour if their work takes more than one hour.

“We tried to figure out something that was reasonable but not over the top,” Duncan said. “We’re trying to help people, not rob them.”

So far, the pair has set up a handful of trees in North Arlington, but they acknowledge they got a late start this year. With at least two winters left in Arlington before they go to college, this is, for them, more of a testing season.

“This year we’re trying to lay a base,” Duncan said. “Hopefully next year it will turn into a real thing.”

Next year, Sam says they plan to donate 20 percent of their proceeds to the Father McKenna Center, a food shelter affiliated with Gonzaga.

Most people with trees only set up their seasonal decorations once a year, but Sam and Duncan have already learned tips to make their jobs easier.

“Always check the lights before they’re up,” Sam said. “Put them closer to the inside of the tree so you can’t see the cord. Make sure the tree is properly balanced in the stand, and leave enough room at the top for the star.”

The two are also learning how to deal with clients and handle transactions. While they’re expecting business to pick up next year, they’re also prepared for a potential boom in the week leading up to Christmas, when many families buy and decorate their trees at the last minute.

Those interested in Sam and Duncan’s services can email them at duncan.macbride@gmail.com and samwgo@gmail.com.

by Ethan Rothstein — December 8, 2014 at 11:00 am 453 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.

Culdesac founder Spencer JohnsonFor as long as he can remember, Spencer Johnson and his friends haven’t played the same games as a lot of folks their age.

Instead of football, Johnson and five of his friends played “end zone,” a game in which there’s one quarterback, one pass rusher, two receivers and two pass defenders. There are points for touchdowns, sacks, completed passes and everything. The game is fun, easy and totally made up, Johnson says.

“We played made up games more than actual sports,” Johnson told ARLnow.com. “I had a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of all the games we’ve invented.”

Those games are the foundation for the Culdesac app, which Johnson founded and is just weeks away from launching for the iPhone. The app allows users to search for games — both indoor and outdoor — that other users have invented. It also allows them to create their own games, with simple inputs for number of players, teams, scoring and positions.

Culdesac game creation pageThe app links directly to Facebook, so the feed — once the user base grows — will filter itself to games being played and submitted by one’s peers. For preteens, that means other preteens and fun outdoor games. For college students, it could be drinking games.

“There are so many games out there that are spread only through word-of-mouth,” Johnson said. “There’s really no place you can go to reliably find original games like this.”

Johnson is 24 and works for a family friend at Trusted.com. Johnson said that friend has served as a mentor, and encouraged him to try to start something on his own. The Courthouse resident had already had a pitch deck for an app with the games he and his childhood friends played together.

“I had put money aside to do something weird with it,” Johnson said. Six months ago, that began to take shape, as he did market research to validate his idea and hired developers from MessApps to help refine his prototype into a user-friendly, social app, with tabs, a feed and photo and video sharing tools.

Culdesac profile pageThe app is soon undergoing iTunes App Store review, after which it will become available to download. That’s when Johnson plans to make his big marketing push to grow the users on the site. It will start with friends and family, and he plans on targeting parents.

“Twelve million kids are quitting rec sports because they’re not fun,” Johnson said. While he views everyone as a target audience, he feels the strongest chance he has to find a foothold is in the youth demographic.

Johnson isn’t shy about admitting what he doesn’t know. Although he knows how he and his network would use Culdesac — he’s hounded his game-inventor friends considerably in the last six months for feedback — he doesn’t pretend to know how the larger population will use his product.

“We’re going to have to change as it grows,” he said. “Right now we’re just going to see how people use it and build up content. It’s going to take work. I’ve just got to figure out where and why they’re using it.”

Johnson said he and his friends will play the games others submit, shoot video of themselves and upload it, to help increase exposure for each game. YouTube will be a “big platform” for the app’s marketing.

Johnson is funding the app and company himself, and isn’t seeking investment. The Virginia Tech alumnus hasn’t always wanted to be an entrepreneur — he was a biology major in college — and isn’t of the idea that his technology will change the world, but there is a deeper mission near the core of his business.

“There’s a need to use technology to get people away from technology,” he said. “But, for now, we’re just trying to give people ideas to do something fun together.”

by Ethan Rothstein — December 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm 447 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.

The GoGloveA new invention — by a company with a cofounder living and working in Arlington — allows people to control music and other apps on their smart phone by simply tapping their fingers together.

GoGlove is the product, and it works with a bluetooth remote controlled by sensors in the fingertips of a glove. The sensors are attached via an electrical harness to the remote, which can be used separately from the glove.

The user links the remote to the phone, and can play and pause his or her music, adjust the volume, and even take photos without ever having to take their phone out of their pocket.

The GoGlove is the brainchild of Ben Harris and Eric Ely, two Boston-based entrepreneurs, in the works for two years. Michael Conti, a friend of Ely since the two attended George Mason University together more than a decade together, was brought on about six months ago for his area of expertise: mechanical engineering.

“Ben was on the mountain skiing and wanted to adjust his music, but he had to take off his gloves and unzip his jacket to get to his phone,” Conti said. “By the time he had finished, his buddies were halfway down the mountain. That’s when he thought ‘there had to be a better way.’”

GoGlove cofounders Eric Ely and Ben HarrisConti heard about the idea after Ely and Harris started sending emails to friends and family asking for input. Conti told ARLnow.com near his home in Ballston last week that he sent back a long reply with several ideas for ways to improve the product.

“I told them it has a lot more applications than just skiing,” Conti said. “They asked me about cases and harnesses. They really needed my expertise. I got really interested and they brought me in as a cofounder.”

Conti helped design the magnet in the thumb of the glove, which, when tapped on the sensors on each finger, sends a message to the smart phone to perform different functions. GoGlove has patents pending on the magnet-sensor technology, but it took “multiple iterations” to get the gloves and remote to work the way they envisioned, Conti said.

The original remote prototypes have been built using Ely’s 3-D printer. With the design nearly perfected — Conti said they’re always looking for ways to improve the product — the GoGlove team launched a Kickstarter page last month, and it reached its $40,000 over the holiday weekend. The page is still open for contributions until Dec. 4, and those who pledge $79 or more will receive a pair of GoGloves, at a discount of the $129 the gloves are expected to retail for.

“We’re figuring out ways to bring the price down,” Conti said, although the company is marketing it as a luxury item for dedicated skiers and outdoor types. “You can also buy the remote module for $49, if you don’t want the gloves.”

GoGlove cofounder Michael ContiConti is an aerospace engineer, Ely is an electrical engineer and Harris works in marketing — they did not want to disclose their full-time employers — but the three teamed up for many late nights on Google Hangouts to work out the kinks of the project before going to market.

In addition to controlling music and taking photos, the gloves will have the ability to read texts aloud to Android users. Once the company is fully launched, Conti said they will work on ways to build the technology into leather gloves for more formal settings, and to add functionality.

Those who purchase the gloves through the Kickstarter can expect to receive them in April. If buying the gloves as a Christmas gift, Conti said they can provide a letter telling the recipients that “this is the cool technology you’re going to be receiving in the future.”

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