Jet City Improv co-founder Andrew McMasters offered a little comic relief Thursday at the 9Mile Labs Demo Day event in Seattle, noting the challenges that each of the nine presenting entrepreneurs faced in making the startup leap.
“Why do this? It seems really difficult, and a lot of heartbreak,” noted McMasters to laughs from the crowd.
Startups are hard work. But as keynote speaker and Concur co-founder Raj Singh noted in his remarks, they can also be enormously gratifying. Citing advice from his father, Singh said you absolutely should take the startup plunge if the opportunity presents itself. “Don’t work for anybody else,” he said.
With those words of wisdom in the air, nine entrepreneurs who participated in the 4-month-long accelerator program took the stage at the Washington State Convention Center, pitching their ideas to the crowd of more than 500.
Each entrepreneur had a different story to tell and project to pitch, from group gifting platform Giftstarter to structured note-taking service KustomNote to draft beer inventory system MetaCraft. (In my discussions with attendees afterwards, these three were some of the favorites).
9Mile Labs is different from other incubator programs in that it focuses on cloud and software startups in the business-to-business arena. It also stresses customer traction, one of the reasons why each of the presenting companies started their pitches with testimonials from actual customers. (A nice twist). As part of the program, companies receive a $35,000 investment and hands-on mentoring from venture capitalists such as Bill Bryant and tech execs such as John Hansen.
It was hard to pick favorites among the cohort, so I am going to hand out my top awards in self-selected categories. Enjoy.
Most surprising pitch: Who likes to waste beer? No one, especially bar owners. Well, here comes MetaCraft, a real-time inventory management system for draft beer. Co-founder and CEO Gabe Ingram, a craft beer nut and former Microsoft engineer, says bar owners typically waste 20 percent of their draft beer, the equivalent of $1 billion across the industry. “The journey that beer makes as it travels from the brewer to the frosty pint glass in your hand is much the same today as it was in the 1970s,” said Ingram. “The process is labor intensive with a bunch of paperwork, and little or no automation, and almost no data to get the job done. Literally, you had to lift and shake 100-pound kegs to guess how much beer you had left. Our objective is to save beer, to make money.”
Biggest business opportunity: BuildPulse. After watching Brice Kosnik pitch BuildPulse, I leaned over to Concur president Raj Singh, who was seated next to me, and said that Kosnik had a lot of moxie. Certainly the most confident of the group, Kosnik explained how his company’s network appliance was going to save building owners big money, by helping them reduce heat and track building issues. Investors’ ears perked up when Kosnik said that they’ve already got 300 buildings online, and they will break even once they hit 400. The company is working with several school buildings in Washington state, and it is in talks with Washington State University and the University of Washington. “Your tax dollars should be going to education, not wasted energy,” Kosnik said. Throughout the pitch, I kept thinking about another fast-growing Seattle area company: Optimum Energy. Kosnik said that BuildPulse’s technology is cheaper than the competition, noting that to cover the entire Seattle school district would cost just $60,000 annually. “If you know anybody who owns or manages commercial property, do them a favor and introduce them to BuildPulse,” he said.
Best chance to be used by GeekWire: Fastbar is developing a technology — an intelligent wearable wristband — that allows guests at events or parties to quickly and seamlessly pay for drinks. We’ve yet to give the service a go at one of our big signature events, though the folks at Fastbar certainly want us to give it a try. We all know that drink lines suck — one of the headaches we try to avoid at our events. In fact, I just held an hour-long conference call with our event planning team at GeekWire, with 45-minutes devoted to drink tickets and bar lines at the GeekWire Gala. Fastbar is hoping to solve that issue with its cashless payment system, with entrepreneur Brenton Webster saying it typically takes 45-seconds for a customer to buy a drink when Square and credit card is being used. “The way that you and I pay for stuff at an event in ten years time is going to be radically different from what it is today,” said Webster. What’s holding us back from adopting Fastbar? For one, anytime you implement a new payment system, especially around someone’s cocktail or beer, it must be done very carefully. After giving Fastbar a try at the 9Mile event — yes, they got to do a live demo during the reception — I’d be curious to get more info on whether the system could save our guests time and headaches.
UPDATE: Here’s a look at all of the companies in the cohort.
- buildpulse: Plug and play analytics solution for commercial buildings, active in more than 200 buildings today, helping building owners save money and time.
- PikWorx: Mobile-enabled solution for general contractors to improve communication, effectiveness and efficiency in project delivery.
- FastBar: Proven cashless payment system for events that eliminates long lines, reduces staffing requirements and improves profitability for bar operators.
- Giftstarter: Group-gifting platform with exciting partnerships with popular brands like butter LONDON and B&H Photo.
- Informion: App retention platform to unlock new revenue for app marketers that has won more than 50,000 users with targeted personalization strategies.
- Jydo: Solution connecting displays, phones, calendars and conferencing services to eliminate frustration and wasted productivity in conference rooms.
- KustomNote: Structured note-taking capabilities already used by tens of thousands of small business customers.
- MetaCraft: Real-time inventory and cost management solution for bars and restaurants serving draft beer that eliminates waste and improves profitability.
- Myanumber: Mobile innovations integrated into new products from some of the most visible technology and entertainment brands (to be revealed soon).