Colorado Stereo Gear Makers, Accelerator Grads Kickstart Growth

Colorado tech companies old and new have turned to Kickstarter to raise money, attract attention, and build their user base. But while hot startups might attract the most attention, it’s a pair of stereo equipment makers that perhaps unexpectedly made the most money in 2014.

Xconomy is looking at Kickstarter funding trends across our 10-region network to learn how the growing crowdfunding platform reflects the character of technology innovation clusters around the country. In the case of Colorado, two things jumped out about 2014: it was the year of startups and stereos.

Sounds good: For many years—in some cases decades—a handful of entrepreneurs and small companies that make high-end speakers and gear for audiophiles have called the area around Boulder home. That legacy lives on on Kickstarter.

1964ADEL is example No. 1. The startup raised $649,000, which was the most successful campaign for a Colorado tech or electronics company last year. The money will be used to make earbuds that fit into the ear canal and are designed to protect listeners from hearing loss by creating a “second eardrum.” They work by blocking the pneumatic pressure in-ear earbuds create, and the lower pressure allows listeners to keep the volume down.

The idea and product have been vetted during proof-of-concept trials supported by the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. A study at Vanderbilt University also found that music played on 1964ADEL earphones sounds louder despite being played at lower and safer volumes.

The technology is the brainchild of Stephen D. Ambrose, who has been designing innovative earphones used by the recording and music industries for decades, including the wireless in-ear devices used in most concerts today. His company, Asius Technologies, participated in the 2013 Wall Street Journal startup of the year competition.

Music lovers also flocked to support Sprout, a small high-fidelity stereo amp that works with everything from phonographs to smartphones. The company raised $415,000, making it the third most successful campaign by a Colorado company last year.

Sprout’s maker, PS Audio, has been building expensive stereo gear for decades, but with Sprout it downsized the technology to a device that’s the size of a thick book and relatively cheap, at $799.

The company bills Sprout as the powerful but easy-to-use amp needed to connect digital music players and computers to sophisticated speakers to get the most out of your music. It comes with Bluetooth and a USB connector, along with advanced digital coax inputs and old-fashioned phono and analog jacks.

1964ADEL and PS Audio were the second- and third-best funded campaigns by Colorado companies last year. For the record, the most successful campaign was for a board game, which raised $1.15 million.

Accelerated growth: Startups that head to accelerators often are looking for money and publicity. They were able to find both last year on Kickstarter.

Last summer, Denver-based startup Loop Labs turned to Kickstarter to raise money and launch Notion, its smart home system built around multi-function sensors. The company was in Techstars at the time, and it ultimately raised almost $282,000, well above its $50,000 goal.

Recent grads of the new Boomtown Boulder accelerator also received a boost from crowdfunders. Bitsbox launched a campaign late last year that raised $254,000 by the time it closed in January. Bitsbox has a website where kids can learn how to code and create apps, and every month the company will mail a box with suggested projects to users. After kids pick a project and make the app, they can download it to their smartphones or tablets.

Wuf raised almost $91,000 for its smart collars for dogs. The collars use GPS and an accelerometer to track dogs, but they also come packed with a microphone, speaker, Bluetooth, and a GSM cellular connection. While the dogs are pretty unlikely to use Wuf to make a call, their owners can check in and say hi, work on voice commands, or find out if their dogs’ are barking and possibly upset while they’re away.

Notion, Bitsbox, and Wuf are following a path blazed by a few other Boulder startups that turned to Kickstarter after leaving Techstars. The most notable is Occipital, which in the fall of 2013 raised $1.29 million that went toward developing the Structure Sensor, a 3D scanner that’s added on to iPads.

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