There was a packed house at iHub today to hear from a panel of CEOs and founders from four of Louisville’s young technology companies:
- Dave Durand of Forest Giant
- Dominic Foster of NicView
- Alex Frommeyer of Beam Technologies and Uproar Labs
- Stacy Griggs of El Toro
Greg Langdon moderated, beginning with the question:
How did the founders land on their product of choice?
Griggs said that initially they thought El Toro’s technology — linking IP addresses to physical addresses — could be used to deter credit card fraud. When that turned out to be less than viable, he pivoted and used the tech to deliver targeted Internet ads.
Frommeyer was already working in dental health with his first product, but as digital health became more popular, he started wondering how digital health will affect dentistry. And he landed on app-enabled toothbrushes.
Durand said Forest Giant is different than the other businesses represented on the panel because it’s a decade-old service company. By focusing on the service industry, Forest Giant is able to generate capital to build their own products.
Foster says NicView’s product was purpose-built. “We saw a need and filled it.”
Where did initial funding came from?
Foster: “It’s hard to bootstrap, but that’s what we did.”
Durand bootstrapped too. He sold an earlier company and used that money to fund Forest Giant.
Beam Technologies has raised around $750,000, and almost all of that money is local. Frommeyer said he was surprised at how much time and effort it took to close a round.
Griggs raised $400,000 from “friends and family,” and then hit cash-flow positive at the end of last year.
And what about Louisville’s talent pool?
Griggs always has his eye on some local talent, and there are people he wants to hire as soon as he can.
Beam did almost 100 percent of their product development in house, Frommeyer said: “We just kept adding to our skill sets.” When they couldn’t find adequate regulatory consulting for the process of being approved by the FDA, Beam sent one of their guys to get certified.
Forest Giant — made up of almost 20 people — has a great relationship with the Speed School, Durand said, and they participate in lots of co-ops. Most of those co-ops turn into full-time employees. “We have had no problem finding people for product design.”
But the talent pool has changed, Foster said; it was very weak but is getting better.
What are the pros and cons of Louisville’s startup scene?
A big pro is that there are not a ton of startups but there is tons of help, Foster said. For example, Tendai Charasika, outgoing executive director of EnterpriseCorp, knows each startup intimately.
The con for Louisville, according to Durand, is that there’s no ocean. The pro is that it’s a good place to be when you’re starting out. The cost of living is great; you can pay people very well. The West Coast is very competitive; here you can get into the limelight fast if you’re aggressive.
Another pro is the community, Frommeyer said. “It’s worlds different than five years ago,” as academia and city government are now involved. The big con, he said, was lack of density.
For many years, Griggs was in Delaware and says we compare pretty favorably. “I’d rather have low cost of living, low cost of employees and a university willing to work with us” than be on the coasts, he said.
Any general advice?
“Everything we learned, we learned together,” Frommeyer said. “It makes our story very fun.” When you calculate sheer man hours, he said, Bean has “sunk a lot of time into catching up with the curve. Once you catch up to that curve things are easier.”
Early on, people asked Durand, “Can you do this?” And he always said yes, and then figured how Forest Giant was going to do it. “Throw yourselves to the wolves,” he said.
“Hustling, risk taking and not knowing the difference between possible and impossible,” was Griggs 2 cents. Sometimes he tells his team that they’ve “burned the ships,” a reference to Cortez, who burned his ships to prove to his people that a retreat from Mexico back to Europe was not an option.
Final question: If you had a magic wand, what would you want to see five years from now?
Towns like Cupertino, Calif., and Bellevue, Wash., are “towns built by one company,” Griggs said. “I would wish for Louisville to have the next Apple or next Google.”
Frommeyer agreed. He said, “All the problems disappear if you get one home run.” He would also like to see the number of engineers graduating out of Kentucky colleges double.
Durand said you don’t need a home run. Things can change with “a couple of singles, doubles and triples.” He’s looking forward to the next wave of leadership.
SpaceAppsLou is next weekend. This is a NASA Data problem solving event on Friday and Sunday. If you’re interested email: [email protected]
WordPress Meetup is Tuesday at 6:15 pm. Mirazon Group, 1640 Lyndon Farm Court, #102
Thursday is Demo Day for the Velocity accelerator program. 3 p.m. at the Grand Theatre in New Albany. RSVP here.
El Toro is having a 99 Day Party on April 9. Details here.
Open Coffee Louisville
8 a.m. Monday
iHub, 204 S. Floyd Street
Free parking: in the Nucleus lot between Preston and Floyd, enter from Floyd St.
Twitter: @startupLou #opencoffeelou
Next week: Kiva Zip Fellow David Taliaferro will talk about the program. Moderator will be Kelby Price.