SPLT Competes at Google Demo Day, Gets Steve Case’s Attention
SPLT, the Techstars Mobility alum now based in Detroit, has spent the past few months crisscrossing the globe to take part in startup competitions and other events as it continues to rapidly grow. This week, the enterprise ridesharing startup that connects employees within organizations to share their commute is out in Mountain View, CA, as one of 11 participants in Google’s annual demo day event, where startups from around the country fly in to pitch investors and network with Silicon Valley power players.
It’s a significant honor to be picked to present at Google Demo Day—SPLT is only the third Detroit-area startup to participate in the event—and one the company earned by beating other local startups at a pitch contest held last month at Grand Circus. Although Minneapolis sports tech startup Player’s Health ended up winning Google Demo Day, the experience has still been amazing, according to SPLT CEO Anya Babbitt.
We reached out to Babbitt this morning for a report from the front lines. She responded by e-mail, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“All of the companies that presented were really at the top of their game in their respective cities,” Babbitt wrote. “To have Google showcase them in Silicon Valley shows how they, along with Steve Case and judges from 500 Startups and Andreessen Horowitz, want to break through the mindset of Silicon Valley as the only place for innovation. There is just as much innovation happening elsewhere in this country, and putting a spotlight on places such as Minneapolis, Durham, and Detroit reveals the true talent contributing to, as Steve Case says, ‘The Rise of the Rest.’”
Case, the CEO of Revolution and co-founder of AOL, challenged the 11 demo day startups to raise $1 million each in 100 days. If they are successful, he pledged to invest $100,000 in each company. Case hopes his challenge will encourage investors and entrepreneurial ecosystems in “Rise of the Rest” regions to support local startups on their quest to raise $1 million—a decision he said he made on the spot in part to get investors and supporters in participants’ home cities “off the sidelines.”
Case, who started his Rise of the Rest tours to draw attention to innovation happening in smaller cities, said that it’s been gratifying to see the burgeoning startup scenes coming to life in places like Detroit—the very first place the Rise of the Rest tour stopped when it began two years ago. “If we can pay more attention and direct more capital to those cities, you’ll see an acceleration of the concept of Rise of the Rest,” he said by phone today. “Some investors still believe that all the best entrepreneurs are in Silicon Valley, but I applaud Google for curating such great regional entrepreneurs.”
Case pointed to Magic Leap, a Florida-based startup that has been getting a lot of media attention, as a good example of the kinds of cutting-edge companies that are flourishing outside of the Bay Area. SPLT, he noted, was another.
“I thought their enterprise approach was smart, and they’ve established some really interesting partnerships,” he said. “Carpooling for companies is going to be important in the future. The question is, can SPLT break through the competition?”
Case is currently touring the country in support of his new book, “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future,” a guide to the technological advances reshaping the economy and world. He plans to embark on another Rise of the Rest bus tour this fall.
As for why Google chose SPLT to compete at demo day, Babbitt said Google has “really taken an interest in multi-modal transportation and ridesharing.” During an interview Monday, she said the demo day competition would set the stage for the company’s future growth because, as part of the event, Google pre-screens participating startups’ needs, and then arranges meetings between the companies and those who might be in a position to invest or otherwise assist. Babbitt joked that the size of the entourage SPLT brought to California—team members, mentors, and supporters–had already piqued Google’s attention.
So far in 2016, SPLT has opened offices in Austin, TX, and the Bay Area, and the company is currently “activating markets with the help of municipal and corporate partners,” Babbitt said. SPLT has made a number of other advances in recent weeks:
—SPLT launched a pilot program with Magna, the global auto supplier, in March to offer the company’s rideshare platform to approximately 1,700 of its employees, who commute to and from four Southeast Michigan offices. SPLT’s technology allows co-workers commuting along similar routes to find one another and carpool to work using their own vehicles, or reserve and share company cars, and is similar to the program it launched last fall with DTE Energy. Babbitt said the arrangement is a “marquee example” of the kinds of hands-on partnerships between startups and big corporations that are needed to foster innovation. Although she couldn’t go into details yet, SPLT is also working to integrate its technology with Lyft’s platform for emergency rides home so SPLT users are never stranded at work if their ridesharing partner has to leave early. (SPLT first became acquainted with Magna after Magna served as a mentor to SPLT’s cohort at the Techstars Mobility accelerator.)
—It was selected to take part in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities Challenge, an initiative that has seven mid-size American cities competing to win $40 million in federal funding augmented by an additional $10 million from Paul Allen’s Vulcan. SPLT will team with a handful of other companies in the connected car sector to service the needs of the cities participating in the challenge. “The only way to lower congestion and CO2 emissions is to have a partnership between cities and startups,” Babbitt said.
—The company won the $100,000 Pritzker Prize in Chicago’s Clean Energy Trust Challenge last month. SPLT used the money to hire three new Michigan-based software developers. Babbitt described the win as “really special” because the prize normally goes to a startup based in the Windy City. “They made an exception for us because they believe in what we’re doing,” she said.
—Inspired by Honda, which already has a significant number of employees carpooling, SPLT is pioneering an initiative where senior company executives use ridesharing time to mentor junior executives. “Every customer has come in and offered advice on how to motivate and incentivize adoption,” Babbitt said. “We’re just helping them do what they already do better.”
—SPLT has hired Kristin Welch to lead its business development and corporate strategy efforts. Welch has a background in processes and implementation, and prior to joining the SPLT team, she worked for Deloitte for more than a decade.