Genomenon, SPLT, Entrocim Compete to Pitch at Google Demo Day in CA
Three Detroit-area startups are vying for a spot in a national pitch contest at Google’s California headquarters, after winning the third annual Google Demo Day held in downtown Detroit on Tuesday.
The event, organized by Grand Circus, assembled 12 metro Detroit tech startups seeking Series A funding between $1 million and $4 million and let them pitch to a panel of local judges that included Patti Glaza, who leads Detroit Innovate and the First Step Fund; Lauren Bigelow, CEO of Growth Capital Network; Jill Ford, an appointee of Mayor Mike Duggan who leads the city of Detroit’s innovation and entrepreneurship activities; and Xconomist Terry Cross, founder of Windward Associates. Demo day is part of the Google for Entrepreneurs program; Grand Circus is one of nine tech training hubs in the U.S. supported by Google for Entrepreneurs.
This is Genomenon’s second year as a finalist. Last year, Detroit’s LevelEleven ended up winning the trip to Mountain View, so I emailed CEO Bob Marsh to ask what the experience of winning meant to him and his company.
“It was a real honor to be selected to represent Detroit and have a chance to spend some time on the Google campus,” Marsh said. “In addition to just giving us something to be proud of, including winning the Google Game Changer Award, we were able to get a glimpse into the exciting things that Google is working on, which is really inspiring.”
He said there was a side benefit to the experience, as well: While on the trip, Marsh and CTO Kevin O’Hara were able to do some brainstorming and came up with a “significant” new product enhancement that the company implemented a few months later. That enhancement has since gone on to have a profound impact on LevelEleven’s growth, he added.
Now, for some details about the finalists:
—SPLT, the ridesharing company once headquartered in New York City before a stint in Detroit’s Techstars Mobility program last year led to its relocation to the Motor City, is seeking to change the way companies approach commuter programs for their employees. SPLT has been out there hustling hard, and I caught up with CEO Anya Babbitt just after the company had won third place in Wednesday’s Greenlight Business Model Competition in Lansing, MI.
Babbitt said she feels good about SPLT’s chances of winning the trip to California because Google knows firsthand how complicated it can be to get employees to work, as employer-sponsored shuttles have become standard perks in the Bay Area tech community. Google’s Ann Arbor office is preparing to migrate from its place downtown to a new location close to U-M’s north campus, and the company’s many employees who live downtown will have to figure out how they’ll get to work. Many don’t own cars, so Babbitt sees an opportunity to create a commuter program for Google similar to the one SPLT hatched with DTE.
“There were a lot of really great startups at Detroit Demo Day, and we think we were selected because we are solving a big problem around the world,” Babbitt said—that sense of idealism is something she feels SPLT shares with Google. She also said SPLT is currently in negotiations for new partnerships and recently hired a new chief operations officer to begin chasing down West Coast sales leads.
“With Lyft’s entry into Lyft Commute, it proves more than ever that carpooling is hot,” she said. “We plan on launching in the Bay Area with a big player in the shared economy to be named at a later date, once the news is solidified.”
—Genomenon is a University of Michigan spinout startup that wants to automate the organization of genomic sequencing data. To do so, it has developed diagnostics and discovery software tools to quickly and automatically prioritize data for decision-making . The technology wouldn’t be possible without key genomic developments that have only occurred in the past three or four years, said CEO Mark Kiel.
“The first genome to be sequenced took 10 years and $3 billion to do,” Kiel said. “Now, the technology has progressed to the point that we can do it in a day for $1,000. The challenge is that the improvements in the technology have not been matched by improvements in analytics. We’re definitely in the genomic era, but I was frustrated with the software and resources available when I was doing this kind of work academically, so I taught myself to code and developed my own techniques and programs.”
Kiel calls the fact that there are scads of genomic data available publicly without a fast way to organize it for research and clinical purposes a “real pain point that everybody in the industry is aware of.”
According to Kiel, if Genomenon is selected as the winner, he thinks the company will benefit most from learning about how to “really know what the end user is looking for” from the experts at Google. The five-person team has mostly raised money from angel backers and by winning pitch competitions so far.
—Entrocim, the winner of the audience choice award, is a new startup based in Detroit that has created software to manage the infrastructure of data centers. Within the building housing a data center, there are more than 10 systems that need to be controlled, including HVAC, lighting, generators, electricity, water, and leak detection. Entrocim pulls the software controlling all of those different systems into a single place with an accompanying dashboard. Engineers are also able to monitor data center systems remotely. The data centers pay a recurring annual fee to use the software.
Jason Houck said he and his co-founders have lots of experience managing the infrastructure of buildings through a separate company, and customers began asking if they could develop specialized systems-monitoring software for use in data centers, too. A new company was created once Houck saw the void in the marketplace for such a product, and the moneymaking opportunity that might be at hand. After all, Houck said, there is close to $12 billion currently being spent to bring new data centers online in Michigan alone. And Entrocim also sees more opportunity in the Internet of Things industry, which is expected to have a $7.1 trillion market value in less than a decade, he added.
Entrocim would like to spend its trip to Mountain View building a relationship with Google, seeing as it operates plenty of its own data centers. Houck said in 2016, his company plans to continue to scale and hire more software developers.