Wednesday night, an enthusiastic crowd watched as a days-old company advanced to the finals of the Venture Shark competition. Founder Phil Brun, in his deep Southern drawl, credited his Startup Weekend team for helping him advance the idea for Lifebit and win Startup Weekend.
“I’m the idea guy,” he said, noting that his eight team members were some of the smartest people he’d ever met. Most of the team was in the audience, as were a number of their family members.
Lifebit, which was created for Startup Weekend 10 as a mobile app that serves as a fire alarm for people who are deaf or are hearing impaired, was one of four of nine companies that advanced to the final round where the winner receives a prize package worth $37,000.
Brun said that he had the idea for the app just a little over a week ago while he was lying in bed and thinking about how deaf people are notified when there’s a fire.
This is the second year in a row where the Startup Weekend winners have advanced to the Venture Sharks finals, although last year Kartik Kamat’s Compassionote team had much more time after Startup Weekend to work on their company.
The Venture Sharks semifinals were held at the Muhammad Ali Center Wednesday to a nearly packed theater. The two-hour event was judged by LouVino owner, Chad Coulter; Mightily founder, Lesa Seibert; and ARGI Financial relationship manager Mike Skura and emceed by Flying Axes COO Zack Pennington.
The other three winners were:
• META Construction Technologies: A software as a service company that calls itself the “Uber for asphalt trucks.” META has created a software called BlackTop that allows contractors to request and track trucks. The software is in beta testing with Louisville Paving Company. The co-founders are UofL Entrepreneurial MBA students who have won several pitch competitions in the circuit.
• Herelancer: Connects local organizations, businesses and entrepreneurs with local freelancers. The service has 200 freelancers enrolled and has hooked up freelancers with 20 projects thus far. The founder, Rachel Dickey, is a lawyer and has partnered with Pennington to lead this startup. She said that she imagined rolling out the product in other cities as well but that the key differentiator between Herelancer and other online freelancer matchmaking services is the emphasis on keeping it local.
• Toggle Health: This concern has created a two-piece sterile computer controller for use in the ER. The technology allows surgeons to view images on a computer during surgery without having to scrub back in after using the computer mouse. The Toggle has a removable and disposable sterile outer shell. After the pitch competition, several audience members remarked that founder Jake Miller hadn’t really explained what the device did, but clearly, the fact that he was working with a $75,000 grant from Nucleus showed that he is onto something.
In addition to the main prize, two special cash prizes will also be awarded. The total raised through a new audience participation crowdfunding campaign will go to a company chosen by the audience via a text message vote during the finals event. The minimum suggested donation is $5 and can be made in person during the finals or online
Other competitors were:
- Credit Fair-E: A provider of affordable loans up to $500. To date, the company has made 177 loans averaging $475. Chris Blakeley, founder, went through the final Velocity program two years ago with this product.
- 502 Fit Pass: With a monthly membership fee, members can access classes at some 40 gyms in the Louisville area. Founder Cynthia Williams said that she had partnered with several apartment complexes to offer their residents discount memberships. She said that the memberships allow customers to tailor their workouts to their locations, moods and needs.
- G3 TriTech: This company has created a product called the Infinite Swim to help people train for long-distance swims for triathlons like the Ironman. It is a harness that is anchored to the side of the pool with a bladder full of water and is small enough to be transported in a carry-on bag. The founder, Phil Gambrell, is a veteran and a triathlete. He travels a lot and conceived of the Infinite Swim because he found it difficult to train for the swimming portion of the Ironman when he was on the road.
- NightSaver: With the motto, “Better sleep for both of you,” the NightSaver is a face mask that helps with sleep apnea and related snoring by preventing the wearer from rolling over on his or her back during sleep. Founder Tom Barito demonstrated the product on a dummy. It looks like a wrestling mask with a kickstand at the back of the neck. Barito said that he created the product to help his own problems with sleep apnea and snoring.
- Stuccco: An online marketplace on which people can shop for interior designers and receive online interior designing consultations. Founder Matt Langan’s fathers are interior designers and he originally began to create the site for them. So far, he has 80 designers signed up for the service.
Judges for the 2017 Venture Sharks final round are Bob Saunders, general partner, OCAVentures; Elizabeth Rounsavall, growth capital consultant, Rounsavall Investments; Lou Kelmanson, president, Kelmanson Holdings; and Vik Chadha, managing director, GlowTouch Technologies.
The finals will be held during the Venture Connectors’ May luncheon on May 3 at the Muhammad Ali Center. Details and tickets online.