After a Couple of Late Changes, Gener8tor Graduates Its Newest Class
Radiologists today are drowning in a figurative sea of images. Since 1999, there has on average been a five-fold increase in the number of scans a radiologist must interpret, says Peter Wakahiu Njenga, co-founder and CTO at Behold.ai. But these experts at image-reading have not gotten five times more efficient during that time, says Njenga, whose New York-based startup is developing software that uses machine learning algorithms to look for abnormalities in medical images, and which he says is aimed at making radiologists more efficient.
Behold.ai was one of four early-stage companies that pitched to a room of more than 500 onlookers, including scores of investors, on Wednesday. The organizations are newly minted graduates of Gener8tor, a startup accelerator in Wisconsin.
Gener8tor’s just-concluded 12-week program—along with its “Premiere Night” pitch event—took place in Madison, WI. Njenga says that he will soon return to Manhattan to resume working from the Columbia Startup Lab. However, he says that his co-founder Jeet Raut, who serves as Behold.ai’s CEO, will be staying in Madison a while longer.
Raut was inspired to create Behold.ai after a physician misdiagnosed a lump on Raut’s mother’s breast as benign. The family sought out the opinion of a second doctor, who diagnosed the lump as malignant. The cancer was treated, and today Raut’s mother is doing OK.
Njenga says that one of the startup’s near-term goals is to obtain a 510(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. While the path to regulatory approval is never smooth, Njenga has been watching IBM (NYSE: IBM) lobby for artificial intelligence technologies to be regulated differently than medical devices, as Bloomberg has reported.
“We are hoping a company like IBM that has deep enough pockets to lobby Congress will have done that heavy lifting by the time we get to stage of actually selling,” Njenga says.
Behold.ai expects to raise a seed round by the end of September, he says, and it already has funding commitments from multiple investors.
The startup is also seeking to pilot its software at three or more hospitals during the next 12 months. Njenga says he and Raut have had multiple discussions with large hospital systems based in the Midwest. Introductions to some of these organizations came about thanks to Gener8tor’s network of advisers and investors, Njenga says.
“Getting in front of anybody in a hospital system—a radiologist, a physician of any kind—is incredibly hard,” he says. “Gener8tor has gone above and beyond what we expected. It’s about the connections more than anything.”
gBETA expands, StartingBlock moves forward
Maggie Brickerman, who directs gBETA—a no-strings-attached accelerator run by Gener8tor for early-stage companies affiliated with colleges and universities in Wisconsin—says it will hold its first program in Milwaukee this summer, which is scheduled to run for six weeks starting on July 8. The first three gBETA programs have been in Madison, and there’ll be one there again this summer, she says.
Gener8tor co-founder Joe Kirgues says that it’s uncertain whether the accelerator will be able to hold multiple gBETA programs in Milwaukee each year, as it expects to do in Madison, owing in part to support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and American Family Insurance.
“We’re hoping to find partners to anchor gBETA in Milwaukee,” Kirgues says. “Part of what we’re trying to do is be accountable. We all claim we want innovation, so let’s take a stand. Either we want to back something like this, or we don’t.”
Troy Vosseller, another Gener8tor co-founder, announced that the groundbreaking for StartingBlock Madison—the future home of the accelerator, along with some of its portfolio companies, and others, including Xconomy Wisconsin—will occur sometime this year. (Disclosure: Gener8tor is a supporter of this site, but our coverage is determined independently by our editors.)
A dropout and a swap
One startup that was notably absent from Wednesday’s Premiere Night festivities was 23VIVI, which is a virtual storefront for limited edition fine art. 23VIVI, whose technology involves creating certificates of authenticity using blockchain encryption techniques to ensure users don’t have artwork stolen or purchase fakes, had graduated from gBETA in December before being accepted into Gener8tor’s core program. Kirgues says that about a month ago, 23VIVI’s co-founders decided they were no longer going to be a part of the accelerator’s most recent class.
“They decided they wanted to go on other pursuits,” Kirgues says, adding that Gener8tor had not invested in 23VIVI before the startup decided to drop out.
23VIVI arguably had generated the most buzz among the startups in its class, having received in-depth coverage from news outlets like the Huffington Post and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. On Thursday, co-founder QuHarrison Terry uploaded a YouTube video asking viewers to consider supporting 23VIVI by purchasing a custom-painted Amazon Kindle for $250.
Kirgues says that to compensate, he anticipates Gener8tor will accept six startups into its next program, which will be based in Milwaukee and likely kick off in August.
The other big change to Gener8tor’s newest class involved Curate, which took the place of Exis. The connection is that Dale Willis and his wife Taralinda are co-founders of both startups. However, she directed Exis-related questions to Suman Banerjee, another co-founder of that company and a professor in the UW-Madison’s engineering and computer science departments. Banerjee says that Exis is not defunct, but it’s too early to say what the plans are for it going forward.
Curate and Exis are quite different, and Dale Willis says that the change happened within the past week. Exis’s focus is on making tools and services to help software developers manage an application’s “back end,” which can include things like authenticating users and storing and syncing data in the cloud.
Meanwhile, the idea with Curate is to provide web-scraping services—seeking out and retrieving intel on what and where competitors are selling, for instance—and package the information in an easy-to-understand, actionable format. “Curate is like Google Alerts on steroids,” Taralinda Willis says.
Gener8tor’s Kirgues says that the Willises were the ones who suggested changing course.
“They came to us with this new concept and collectively, we saw a better opportunity,” he says. “At Gener8tor, we’re investing in you as an entrepreneur. We’re not investing in your idea.”
Rounding out the class
The other two startups who pitched were Allergy Amulet and Dattus.
—Indianapolis-based Dattus equips machines with sensors that can share data with Web-connected servers, and with each other. The company’s devices can detect any irregularities in things like temperature, weight, and vibration, and automatically shut machines down. Dattus’s sensor technology has applications in industries like manufacturing, mining, energy, and life sciences. Anurag Garg, the company’s co-founder and CEO, says Dattus projects its monthly revenues will increase to $100,000 by the end of 2017, from $5,700 today. Its list of customer commitments includes the likes of Harley-Davidson, Rolls Royce, and Faurecia, which Garg says is the sixth largest automotive parts manufacturer in the world. Dattus plans to charge customers $2,500 per machine annually, he says.
—Boston-based Allergy Amulet makes food allergen detectors that can be attached to jewelry, smartphones, and other accessories. These sensors use a disposable test strip made of patent-pending polymer film to analyze the chemistry of a sample. Abigail Barnes, co-founder and CEO of Allergy Amulet, says that the startup is initially focusing on testing for peanut allergies, and from there it may go on to almonds, milk, soy, eggs, and other foods. Customers will likely be charged $100 to $300 for the detector, and $1 to $3 per disposable strip. Barnes says she is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish, and that her allergies have landed her in the hospital on six different occasions, making the problem she’s working to address a personal one.