Seiva, Argo Bus Share Win Inaugural Launch Milwaukee Hackathon

An online platform for booking buses to events and a startup developing wearable sensor technology to help with physical therapy won the top prizes at the inaugural Launch Milwaukee hackathon held over the weekend.

Argo Bus Share won in the software category, while Seiva Technologies took first place in the hardware category. Each will receive $2,000, discounted legal services from Godfrey & Kahn, and logo design help from Polymathic. Seiva will also get $500 toward prototyping services from Big Systems.

Launch Milwaukee followed the hackathon format made popular by groups like Startup Weekend. The 75 registered participants—including software developers, hardware engineers, and entrepreneurs with business backgrounds—formed teams on Friday night around a product idea, then worked frantically over the next 54 hours to build a prototype and test their concept with potential customers. They pitched their ideas on Sunday to a panel of judges.

Many of the well-known hackathons focus on software ideas, but Launch Milwaukee was open to both digital and physical products. The event combined and replaced the former Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon and Startup Weekend Milwaukee.

The event was held in the new Ward 4 co-working space near downtown Milwaukee. Besides help from volunteer mentors, the 13 teams had access to 3D printers, power tools, and CAD software, among other resources.

Most of the teams worked on new ideas, while a handful made progress on startups or concepts they had begun working on prior to Launch Milwaukee, co-organizer Brandon Alberti said. Teams were judged based on what they accomplished during the course of the weekend.

Some participants pulled an 18-hour day on Saturday, working late into the night, fueled by coffee, soda, and donuts. “It’s really tough to start a company over a weekend,” Alberti said. “We cram a lot into this weekend.”

The ideas were wide-ranging. PanoRambler is developing a beach ball with an embedded camera that would snap pictures during events, like outdoor concerts. The camera would be able to transmit photos to an online database for posting on social media. GudChew makes durable, eco-friendly dog toys. TrukSpot wants to create a mobile app to help hungry consumers locate food trucks. Improovment proposed using Milwaukee-based Scanalytics’ smart floor sensors to track the movement of factory workers and create heat maps that could help manufacturers optimize their operations.

Seiva was founded last fall by Marquette University students Andrew Hampel and Sam Wesley. They began nurturing the idea with help from The Commons, a Milwaukee-area student startup accelerator launched last year. Seiva was a winner of this year’s ImpactNext, Marquette’s business plan contest, and was also accepted into this summer’s session of the Madworks accelerator in Madison, WI.

The startup, which just officially incorporated as a business last Thursday, is developing small sensors, called microcontrollers, that would be embedded in clothing and would provide real-time data about muscle movements. The target market would be for use in physical therapy, Seiva officials said.

Before Launch Milwaukee, Seiva developed a microcontroller embedded in a compression garment worn on the arm, which can link up to a Web-based video game that allows the user to control the character by flexing the bicep muscle.

Seiva intends to finish a prototype device in the next month so it can begin a clinical trial this summer proving the value of the technology in physical therapy, Hampel said. It’s also starting to raise a seed investment round, Wesley said. “We’re excited for the future,” he added.

Meanwhile, the next step for Argo will be creating a functioning version of its proposed online platform for booking buses to events, founder Trevor Marks said. He has run an event planning and transportation service business, Party By Bus, for nearly three years. The idea for Argo was born out of frustration with the current system for booking buses.

Booking a bus to an event might cost several hundred dollars, Marks said. The trip organizer—perhaps a bar manager shuttling patrons to a pro sporting event or a group traveling to a concert in another city—must front the cash, then recruit riders and get reimbursed. If 20 people sign up for an $800 bus trip, they each pay $40; if 40 people sign up, the cost gets reduced to $20 per person. The trouble is, “there’s no way to know until people show up,” Marks said.

The idea with Argo is to better connect event organizers, attendees, and bus companies. Basically, an organizer could book a bus and get a quote for the maximum price that each rider would pay. Riders could reserve a spot on the bus, but they wouldn’t pay until the day of the event. As more people sign up for the bus, the price for each rider decreases.

The website would be open to both public and private events. Argo intends to make money by taking a cut of each ride booked through the website, similar to Uber’s business model, Marks said.

Although Seiva and Argo intend to push forward with their ideas, not every Launch Milwaukee team is expected to become successful startups. For example, the winner of last year’s Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon, Shepherdband, is still operating, but most of the other participants are not, Alberti has said.

That’s OK because it’s more important for Launch Milwaukee to help connect local entrepreneurs with each other and with mentors and successful businesses, co-organizer Chaning Ogden said after the event Sunday. “Products can go away,” Ogden said. “But relationships endure.”

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