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Meet Alchemist Accelerator’s latest demo day cohort

An IoT-enabled lab for cannabis farmers, a system for catching drones mid-flight and the Internet of Cows are a few of the 17 startups exhibiting today at Alchemist Accelerator’s 18th demo day. The event, which will be streamed live here, focuses on big data and AI startups with an enterprise bent.

The startups are showing their stuff at Juniper’s Aspiration Dome in Sunnyvale, California at 3pm today, but you can catch the whole event online if you want to see just what computers and cows have in common. Here are the startups pitching onstage.

Tarsier – Tarsier has built AI computer vision to detect drones. The founders discovered the need while getting their MBAs at Stanford, after one had completed a PhD in aeronautics. Drones are proliferating. And getting into places they shouldn’t — prisons, R&D centers, public spaces. Securing these spaces today requires antiquated military gear that’s clunky and expensive. Tarsier is all software. And cheap, allowing them to serve markets the others can’t touch.

Lightbox – Retail 3D is sexy — think virtual try-ons, VR immersion, ARKit stores. But creating these experiences means creating 3D models of thousands of products. Today, artists slog through this process, outputting a few models per day. Lightbox wants to eliminate the humans. This duo of recent UPenn and Stanford Computer Science grads claim their approach to 3D scanning is pixel perfect without needing artists. They have booked $40,000 to date and want to digitize all of the world’s products.

Vorga – Cannabis is big business — more than $7 billion in revenue today and growing fast. The crop’s quality — and a farmer’s income — is highly sensitive to a few chemicals in it. Farmers today test the chemical composition of their crops through outsourced labs. Vorga’s bringing the lab in-house to the cannabis farmer via their IoT platform. The CEO has a PhD in chemical physics, and formerly helped the Department of Defense keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. She’s now helping cannabis farmers get high… revenue.

Neulogic – Neulogic is founded by a duo of Computer Science PhDs that led key parts of product search. They now want to solve two major problems facing the online apparel industry: the need to provide curated inspiration to shoppers and the need to offset rising customer acquisition costs by selling more per order. Their solution combines AI with a fashion knowledge graph to generate outfits on demand.

Intensivate – Life used to be simple. Enterprises would use servers primarily for function-driven applications like billing. Today, servers are all about big data, analytics and insight. Intensivate thinks servers need a new chip upgrade to reflect that change. They are building a new CPU they claim gets 12x the performance for the same cost. Hardware plays like this are hard to pull off, but this might be the team to do it. It includes the former co-founder and CEO of CPU startup QED, which was acquired for $2.3 billion, and a PhD in parallel computation who was on the design team for the Alpha CPU from DEC.

Integry – SaaS companies put a lot of effort into building out integrations. Integry provides app creators their own integrations marketplace with pre-boarded partners so they can have apps working with theirs from the get go. The vision is to enable app creators to mimic their own Slack app directory without spending the years or the millions. Because these integrations sit inside their app, Integry claims setup rates are significantly better and churn is reduced by as much as 40 percent.

Cattle Care – AI video analytics applied to cows! Cattle Care wants to increase dairy farmers’ revenue by more than $1 million per year and make cows healthier at the same time. The product identifies cows in the barn by their unique black and white patterns. Algorithms collect parameters such as walking distance, interactions with other cows, feeding patterns and other variables to detect diseases early. Then the system sends alerts to farm employees when they need to take action, and confirms the problem has been solved afterwards.

VadR – VR/AR is grappling with a lack of engaging content. VadR thinks the cause is a broken feedback loop of analytics to the creators. This trio of IIT-Delhi engineers has built machine learning algorithms that get smarter over time and deliver actionable insights on how to modify content to increase engagement.

Tika – This duo of ex-Googlers wants to help engineering managers manage their teams better. Managers use Tika as an AI-powered assistant over Slack to facilitate personalized conversations with engineering teams. The goal is to quickly uncover and resolve employee engagement issues, and prevent talent churn.

GridRaster – GridRaster wants to bring AR/VR to mobile devices. The problem? AR/VR is compute-intensive. Latency, bandwidth and poor load balancing kill AR/VR on mobile networks. The solution? For this trio of systems engineers from Broadcom, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, it’s about starting with enterprise use cases and building edge clouds to offload the work. They have 12 patents.

AitoeLabs – Despite the buzz around AI video analytics for security, AitoeLabs claims solutions today are plagued with hundreds of thousands of false alarms, requiring lots of human involvement. The engineering trio founding team combines a secret sauce of contextual data with their own deep models to solve this problem. They claim a 6x reduction in human monitoring needs with their tech. They’re at $240,000 ARR with $1 million of LOIs.

Ubiquios – Companies building wireless IoT devices waste more than $1.8 billion because of inadequate embedded software options making products late to market and exposing them to security and interoperability issues. The Ubiquios wireless stack wants to simplify the development of wireless IoT devices. The company claims their stack results in up to 90 percent lower cost and up to 50 percent faster time to market. Qualcomm is a partner.

4me, Inc. – 4me helps companies organize and track their IT outsourcing projects. They have 16 employees, 92 customers and generate several million in revenue annually. Storm Ventures led a $1.65 million investment into the company.

TorchFi – You know the pop-up screen you see when you log into a Wi-Fi hotspot? TorchFi thinks it’s a digital gold mine in the waiting. Their goal is to convert that into a sales channel for hotspot owners. Their first product is a digital menu that transforms the login screen into a food ordering screen for hotels and restaurants. Cisco has selected them as one of 20 apps to be distributed on their Meraki hotspots.

Cogitai – This team of 16 PhDs wants to usher in a more powerful type of AI called continual learning. The founders are the fathers of the field — and include professors in computer science from UT Austin and U Michigan. Unlike what we commonly think of as AI, Cogitai’s AI is built to acquire new skills and knowledge from experience, much like a child does. They have closed $2 million in bookings this year, and have $5 million in funding.

LoadTap – On-demand trucking apps are in vogue. LoadTap explicitly calls out that it is not one. This team, which includes an Apple software architect and founder with a family background in trucking, is an enterprise SaaS-only solution for shippers who prefer to work with their pre-vetted trucking companies in a closed loop. LoadTap automates matching between the shippers and trucking companies using AI and predictive analytics. They’re at $90,000 ARR and growing revenue 50 percent month over month.

Ondaka – Ondaka has built a VR-like 3D platform to render industrial information visually, starting with the oil and gas industry. For these industrial customers, the platform provides a better way to understand real-time IoT data, operational and job site safety issues and how reliable their systems are. The product launched two months ago, they have closed three customers already and are projecting ARR in the six figures. They have raised $350,000 in funding.

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FCTRY wants to be a new type of startup studio

Startup Studios are becoming more and more prevalent, with big name companies like Giphy and Girlboss coming from the studio model. The premise is strong: use venture on a small, concentrated number of ideas, fostered by experts and internal resources, to create strong businesses.

But a new startup studio is prepping to launch in NYC with a different idea in mind.

FCTRY, led by Jules Ehrhardt, doesn’t necessarily think that money is always the best way to help startups grow. Ehrhardt thinks of FCTRY as more of a Creative Capital Studio, wherein experts from various fields (with a particular focus on creative, design, and engineering) offer their insight and knowledge to help startups grow rather than venture capital. Of course, these startups would still trade equity in exchange for these services.

Ehrhardt comes from UsTwo, the digital product studio that helped develop the wildly popular game Monument Valley.

The focus of FCTRY won’t be the foundry model, where studios come up with their own ideas in conjunction with smart serial entrepreneurs and build them from scratch in house. Rather, FCTRY will help existing early-stage and mid-stage companies with their creative strategy, processes and culture.

“The typical advisory system is broken,” said Ehrhardt. “Usually the advisory structure comes from a one to five percent equity pool and usually ends up in disappointment, where the advisor was supposed to make introductions or provide actionable insight that never comes through.”

Ehrhardt says he wants to bring more charity to that, tapping into the same pool of expert advisors but with the proper structure in place for offering that expertise and delivering on the task.

FCTRY will focus on three pillars of startup success: product, people, and growth.

“Product” might sound a bit obvious and nebulous all at once, but FCTRY is particularly concerned with building a framework for delivering on product, helping set up the processes and organizational structure that allow companies to build great products. Of course, the FCTRY team will also be contributing directly to the products themselves, but with the added goal of ensuring that the startup can continue to iterate and build great brands and products beyond their time with FCTRY.

Ehrhardt also noticed that recruitment and personal development are two big obstacles for companies trying to develop and express their own culture. Founders suddenly go from being chief product officer to hiring people to take over various roles at the company, requiring a totally different set of skills.

FCTRY wants to help startups develop and express their mission and culture so that it can scale from 10 people to 200 without a lot of friction. FCTRY also wants founders to focus on their own personal development, and that of their employees. Ehrhardt noted that Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of one of the fastest scaling companies on the planet, didn’t scale himself up alongside the company.

“Failures often come down to the human part of a company,” said Ehrhardt. “People haven’t been aware of the need for their own personal development.”

As part of that, FCTRY will not only help with recruitment and hiring but with feedback frameworks within companies.

The last part of the puzzle for FCTRY is growth. The company will help with paid, viral and sticky marketing strategies drawing from a pool of talent in the creative agency space. Ehrhardt says that around 20 percent of the FCTRY team will come from creative agencies, with the rest coming from other fields of expertise, such as machine learning, design, engineering, etc.

Ehrhardt stressed that one of the greatest opportunities with the Creative Capital model is offering a new path to wealth creation for some of the leading experts in their respective fields. These experts, though they may not be able to write a big check to a VC firm or even as an angel to a startup, can exchange their own insight for equity through the Creative Capital model.

“Traditionally, LPs are people who can cut a check, who tend to be white men who have benefitted from their privelege,” said Ehrhardt. “We can do a lot to open up the chance for wealth creation to far more people than the usual suspects.”

While FCTRY is in its early days, Ehrhardt envisions gathering around 20 people to join the FCTRY team, with plans to work with around 10 startups over the course of a year, with engagements varying in size and duration.

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EarthNow promises real-time views of the whole planet from a new satellite constellation

A new space imaging startup called EarthNow aims to provide not just pictures of the planet on demand, but real-time video anywhere a client desires. Its ambition is matched only by its pedigree: Bill Gates, Intellectual Ventures, Airbus, Softbank, and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler are all backing the play.

Its promise is a constellation of satellites that will provide video of anywhere on Earth with latency of about a second. You won’t have to wait for a satellite to come into range, or worry about leaving range; at least one will be able to view any area at any given time, so they can pass of the monitoring task to the next satellite over if necessary.

Initially aimed at “high value enterprise and government customers,” EarthNow lists things like storm monitoring, illegal fishing vessels (or even pirates), forest fires, whale tracking, watching conflicts in real time, and more. Space imaging is turning into quite a crowded field — if all these constellations actually launch, anyway.

The company is in the earliest stages right now, having just been spun out from years of work by founder and CEO Russell Hannigan at Intellectual Ventures under the Invention Science Fund. Early enough, in fact, that there’s no real timeline for prototyping or testing. But it’s not just pie in the sky.

Wyler’s OneWeb connection means EarthNow will be built on a massively upgraded version of that company’s satellite platform. Details are few and far between, but the press release promises that “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined.”

Presumably a large portion of that will be video processing and compression hardware, since they’ll want to minimize bandwidth and latency but don’t want to skimp on quality. Efficiency is important, too; satellites have extremely limited power, so running multiple off-the-shelf GPUs with standard compression methods probably isn’t a good idea. Real-time, continuous video from orbit (as opposed to near-real-time stills or clips) is as much a software problem as it is hardware.

Machine learning also figures, of course: the company plans to do onboard analysis of the imagery, though to what extent isn’t clear. It really makes more sense to me to do this on the ground, but perhaps a first pass by the satellite’s hardware will help move things along.

Airbus will do its part by actually producing the satellites, in Toulouse and Florida. The release doesn’t say how many will be built, but full (and presumably redundant) Earth coverage means dozens at the least. But if they’re mass manufactured standard goods, that should keep the price down, relatively speaking anyway.

No word on the actual amount raised by the company in January, but with the stature of the investors and the high costs involved in the industry, I can’t imagine it’s less than a few tens of millions.

Hannigan himself calls EarthNow “ambitious and unprecedented,” which could be taken as an admission of great risk, but it’s clear that the company has powerful partners and plenty of expertise; Intellectual Ventures doesn’t tend to spin something off unless it’s got something special going. Expect more specifics as the company grows, but I doubt we’ll see anything more than renders for a year or so.

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Here’s what you’ll learn at Atrium’s fundraising workshop

Justin Kan is qualified to teach you how to pitch, and isn’t shy about it. Having raised about $90 million for a few companies and sold his startup Twitch to Amazon for almost a billion dollars, not being shy is actually part of what Kan teaches. His legal services startup Atrium today officially launches Atrium Scale, its free Series A fundraising workshop that’s helped 8 startups raise $100 million since it started in beta 5 months ago. The two-day in-person seminar includes pitch coaching, intros to investors and mentors, follow-up online pitch deck help, legal advice, Amazon and Google Cloud credits, and tax and accounting services.

I went through Atrium Scale myself, pretending I was the founder of a hypothetical startup that replaces your phone’s Contacts app. While the lectures were full of valuable tips, you can get a lot of those from instructional blog posts by Kan and other VCs. But the small group Q&A and coaching with entrepreneurs who’d successfully raised did a remarkable job of improving attendees pitches and the esoteric song-and-dance necessary to get investors to part with their cash.

Atrium co-founder Justin Kan

Here’s a breakdown of how Atrium Scale works:

  • When: Once per quarter over a saturday and sunday
  • Where: Atrium’s offices in downtown San Francisco
  • How Much: Free, but Atrium hopes you’ll end up using its legal services
  • Who: Startups planning to raise their Series A in the next six months, the sooner the better, who fly themselves in from all over the world
  • Who Gets In: Atrium selects the 10 percent of applicants most ready for venture funding. Applications can be submitted here
  • Investors Involved To Date: Sequoia, General Catalyst, Accel, Venrock, Social Capital, Signia, KPCB, Lightspeed
  • Mentors: Justin Kan (Atrium, Twitch), Holly Liu (Kabam, Y Combinator), James Richards (Teleborder, TriNet), Andrew Trader (Zynga), Ashu Desai (Make School)


What Atrium Scale Teaches

The Atrium Scale method revolves around the concepts of how to pitch and when. While there are plenty of ways to show off a business, Kan recommends a calculated approach to storytelling. “When should you raise? When you can convince investors to give you money and when cash is the constraint to scaling your business” Kan said to kick off our program.

The Song

“It all starts with a narrative — 99 percent is the work of building the business, but an important 1% is convincing people” Kan relays.

First, explain how the world is a certain way. Describe the problem, why it’s big, and who in the market would pay for a solution. Demonstrate that you’re an expert.

Second, explain how the world is changed by your solution to the problem. Frame what’s possible for businesses or consumers once they have your product.

Third, explain how the world is new now that your solution exists. Provide metrics on traction and mechanisms for growth, and show why your team is uniquely equipped to succeed. Identify adjacent markets your product will conquer.

Unlike the frothy days of yore, “people are no longer willing to lose money on a per unit basis” says Kan. VCs will demand to understand your unit economics and scalable customer acquisition strategy that turns cash invested into more cash earned.

Perhaps the most important part of the pitch is practice, though. Pitch to fellow founders, investors, or angels but explicitly tell them you want feedback, not money. Running through the pitch over and over boosts confidence, A/B tests narratives, and unearths questions. Know your numbers by heart so you always seem sure of where the business is heading, and define a personal pitching style that plays to your personality strengths.

Kan says it all comes down to making investors see your vision for how you’re going to become a massive company.

Atrium Scale helps here by letting you pitch in groups as well as one-on-one with mentors. Simply being surrounded by people all trying to improve creates an atmosphere conducive to progress rather than getting defensive about criticism. There could be better homework or takeaway materials to help startups continue to improve after the workshop ended. But I heard entrepreneurs work out kinks and trim off tangents that could have derailed their pitch during a real meeting.


The Dance

Where Atrium Scale shined brightest was digging into the cadence of the fundraising process. Anyone can work out a decent pitch in their garage, but it takes special know-how to navigate turning that pitch into money in the bank. This is the kind of in-group knowledge that often makes it tough for outsiders to break into Silicon Valley.

You should pitch wide, planning to talk to at least 10 to 20 investors but knowing it can take 100 ‘no’s to get a ‘yes’. Pick investors not based on their firm’s name recognition but their expertise and track record in your industry. Contact investors at least three to four weeks out and schedule meetings in as rapid succession as possible. The goal is to be able to get term sheets back at the same time so you can play firms off each other and pick the best deal.

You’ll start with single partner meetings. You’ll hear back within 24 to 48 hours if they go well, and you can assume they didn’t if you don’t hear back soon. Those that like you will set up multi-partner meetings, and you should ask them what their colleagues will want to know. If that goes well you’ll be brought in for an exhaustive full-partnership pitch where they’ll try to poke holes in your business. Lots of questions means lots of interest, while few questions and VCs bored on their phones means you’re toast.

If the partnership believes in you, you’ll quickly receive a term sheet, but you don’t have to sign it right away. Since you can’t fire your investors, be sure to call their references so you’re sure which you want to work with forever. This also gives you time to go back to other firms you’ve pitched. Don’t say who it’s from but use your existing term sheet as leverage to get them to give you one or one with a better deal.

Aim for a lead investor that will put in at least 25 percent of the round volume and then fill it out with other firms, strategics, and angels. Know that the median delay for investor due diligence is 41 days, so make sure you have enough runway to wait that long after you complete the pitch process. The fundraise should last you 12 to 18 months, but be careful since your spending will expand to take up what in the bank. Be ready by then to show you’ve hit new milestones that de-risk your business.

The program also reviewed more advanced topics like raising money from strategic investors, equity vs SAFE financing, crooked deal terms like ratchets and liquidation preferences, and how to manage your board. That one-size-fits all info is certainly helpful, but thanks to the small class size, Atrium Scale’s Q&As let founders get answers to industry-specific questions and their own edge cases.

There are plenty of people looking to help startups in Silicon Valley, but few are giving away this high quality of education for free. Accelerators can charge 7 percent of equity and advisors can charge a percentage point or two. That can be worth a lot if the startup does well. Consultants want cash that pre-A startups rarely have. But Atrium is merely looking for lead generation and it needs them to raise money to be able to afford its legal services. That aligns the workshop well with the outcomes for the companies.

If you have a dumb business idea, no amount of turd polishing will get you legitimate funding. But for startups on to something that just need help communicating, Atrium Scale could be a quick and cheap way to boost their chances of getting picked from the crowd.

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