June 2, 2020

With the CRV-backed Liftoff List competition and prize, student entrepreneurs get rewarded

By Jonathan Shieber

Fitted

Justine and Olivia Moore, the twin investors behind the CRV-backed Liftoff List have long believed in the power of student entrepreneurship.

The twin sisters were among the early architects of Stanford University’s student investment program, Cardinal Ventures, and even back then they’d noticed that it was hard for student entrepreneurs to get press and coverage for their companies without raising significant capital in the Bay Area.

The Liftoff List, which launched with its inaugural batch earlier this month, is the twins’ effort to highlight student entrepreneurship across the country with an award of $100,000 going to the top student-run startup from the applicants for the list.

“I think the idea was actually a thirty under thirty style list for student entrepreneurs,” Justine said.

The two women spread the word about the new list to readers of their newsletter and Slack group, Accelerated.

“Accelerated has 15,000 mostly college students reading it every week,” Justine Moore said. “We’re positioned to find the best student startups. We ultimately picked four and one of them ended up winning a $100,000 convertible note from CRV.”

In all the inaugural Liftoff List received 225 applications from 68 schools across the U.S. After applicants filled out the initial form to enter, the women culled the list down to a 60 companies that had products and conducted interviews with the founders to get a better sense of the teams.

Eventually that pool was narrowed down to four finalists out of twenty five featured companies. Those finalists: ChefMark, whose founders hailed from Wharton; Atomus, a company from the University of Southern California; IndieHub, from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business; and Arist, from Babson College, all pitched before a panel of judges.

The veritable sharks who determined the winner included Dream Machine founder (and former TechCrunch editor) Alexia Bonatsos; Saar Gur, a managing partner at CRV; Hunter Walk, the co-founder of Homebrew; and ProductHunt co-founder and architect of the Weekend Fund Ryan Hoover.

The ultimate winner of the competition was USC’s Atomus Printing, a company that solves the complex problem of rights management for component parts made using 3D printers.

The Los Angeles-based company has managed to crack the code on a problem that’s bedeviled the 3D printing industry for years. And it already has a marquee first customer in none other than the U.S. Department of Defense.

The company actually came together as part of a new initiative from the Defense Department that tries to use undergrads and graduate students at the country’s top schools to develop solutions to some of the military’s most intractable problems.

“Our problem came from the Marine Corps revolving around 3D printing,” recalled Joel Joseph, Atomus’ co-founder. “The military spends billions of dollars on 3D printers but they weren’t seeing the uptake that they were expecting.”

The issue was that the military had the capacity to make the component parts that they need to keep multi-million dollar pieces of equipment from becoming stranded assets in a theater of operations because of a small mechanical error or a part breaking or malfunctioning. “If you’re missing one part of a tank, you can’t use that tank,” said Joseph.

However, they didn’t have access to the design files owned by original equipment manufacturers, because selling replacement parts is a huge revenue generator for military suppliers. Atomus broke the logjam by becoming essentially “the iTunes of 3D printing”, according to Joseph. “It’s a digital rights management for 3D printers, allowing them to get paid every time the military or an outside manufacturer 3D prints their design file.”

Atomus may have been the ultimate winner of the first Liftoff List competition, but each company had a compelling pitch.

Here are the 25 companies that made the cut.

Eat Makhana

Eat Makhana makes delicious, nutritious, and allergy-friendly snacks from popped water lily seeds. The company’s products are stocked at 75 stores in the Bay Area and 20+ corporate campuses (including Facebook, Palantir, and LinkedIn), and are also sold online. Eat Makhana saw a 14x revenue increase last year, and is backed by Dorm Room Fund and Arrow Capital.

Team: Mallika Chawla (Berkeley Haas), Amruta Gadgil, Vineet Sinha


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Fitted

Fitted is a laundry pickup and delivery service that operates on three campuses in the Northeast. The company is profitable on a customer’s first order, and has a subscription plan with 90%+ retention after four months. They also recently launched a buy/sell clothing marketplace through their mobile app. Fitted plans to launch on 35 more campuses this fall.

Team: Reid Moncada (Penn State), Brian Vargas (Penn State), Sean Ryan


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Fuego

Fuego is a D2C brand reinventing the dance sneaker through a patent-pending outsole with pivot points engineered for both dance and streetwear. The company launched in summer 2019, and has sold thousands of pairs of shoes to customers in 24 countries. Fuego is used by dancers of all styles and ages – 25% of the brand’s customers are over the age of 55! The company is backed by Dorm Room Fund and the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund.

Team: Kevin Weschler (Wharton)


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Hallow

Hallow is a Catholic meditation app that offers more than 500 prayer-based meditation sessions, as well as a spiritual journal. The company has more than 200,000 downloads and users have completed 1,000,000 prayers, with a 4.9 star rating on the App Store and Google Play. Hallow’s user base is doubling every three months.

Team: Alex Jones (Stanford Graduate School of Business), Alessandro DiSanto, Erich Kerekes


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Highkey

Highkey is a social app that helps Gen Z’ers find local events, starting with college students and growing with them as they graduate. The app is live on seven campuses, with 35K users, 15% WoW growth, and more than half their users logging on weekly. Shortly after launching on a campus, Highkey becomes the go-to platform for organizers to list their events and for students to answer the question “What should I do tonight?”.

Team: Vili Vaananen (USC), Max Prokopenko (USC)


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IndyHub

IndyHub provides company-funded benefits for independent contractors, enabling workers to purchase insurance and savings products most relevant to their lives. The company is live in five fitness studios in the Bay Area, and is launching with two major gig economy platforms in Q2. IndyHub is also working with several leading platforms to provide emergency compensation for workers impacted by COVID-19.

Team: Alissa Orlando (Stanford GSB), Owen Ensor


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TRILL

TRILL is an app for discovering and buying streetwear from independent brands around the world. The company integrates with retailers’ existing infrastructure to make sales and fulfillment seamless. TRILL was founded in summer 2019 and has since scaled to tens of thousands of monthly active users, more than 90 brands onboard and upwards of $100K in GMV transacted. TRILL is backed by XRC Labs.

Team: Rahul Tiwari (NYU), Cesar Augusto, Filip Mitrovic


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Sleek

Sleek is reinventing the way users wait in lines. The startup has launched pilot programs with six of North America’s most-loved festivals, with many more signed up to deploy Sleek later this year. The company’s patent-pending AI technology relocates physical lines to a digital mobile medium—saving customers the inconvenience of waiting in lines, and unlocking new streams of revenue for event producers. Sleek is backed by investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners & BAM, and will be in the StartX Summer 2020 class.

Team: Spandana Nakka (Stanford), Gaurav Aggarwal (Stanford)


Enterprise

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Arist

Arist is a text message-based learning platform that allows organizations to create and deploy courses via SMS. The company’s courses have completion rates of 90%+ and are significantly easier to create than comparable video or Web courses. Arist is currently being piloted by 30 organizations (including a dozen Fortune 500 companies) across a variety of use cases, from employee onboarding to sales training.

Team: Michael Ioffe (Babson), Ryan Laverty (Babson), Maxine Anderson (Babson), Joe Passanante (Quinnipiac)


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Assured

Assured aims to disrupt the insurance industry by modernizing its most archaic component: claims. Currently, 300,000 claims adjusters spend their days talking on the phone and typing into unstructured text fields. By combining logic, inference, and modern computer vision tools, Assured is able to both increase efficiency and improve customer satisfaction – impacting the core of a trillion dollar industry. Assured is backed by Global Founders Capital, Neo, Henry Kravis, and others.

Team: Justin Lewis-Weber (Stanford), Theo Patt (Stanford)


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Atomus

🎉Atomus was the winner of the Liftoff List $100k pitch competition!

Atomus is a digital rights management platform for 3D printing, enabling users to share design files in a secure and safe way, and get compensated every time their file is 3D printed. Atomus technology works with every major 3D printer. The company launched their prototype with the U.S. Military, and has contracts with the Marine Corps and the Air Force, where Atomus tech is operational at four sites.

Team: Joel Joseph (USC), Kaushal Saraf (USC)


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Board Off

Board Off creates booking & planning software for action sports, starting with watersports centers. CEO Philippos was previously a kitesurfing instructor, and experienced the unique challenges of managing a center. The team piloted its management software last summer and released a more comprehensive booking software in January 2020 – 50 centers are signed up to use it this season.

Team: Philippos Tsamantanis (Georgia Tech), Zach Panzarino (Georgia Tech), Talib Kateeb (Georgia Tech), Sudharshan Venkatesh (Georgia Tech)


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Chefmark

Chefmark is a marketplace for used restaurant equipment, aggregating fragmented supply and demand in a $28B industry. A beta version of the marketplace launched in January 2020, with hundreds of users (ranging from independent bakeries to chain restaurants and caterers) and $200K+ in listing inventory within the first eight weeks of operation. The company will eventually offer value-add services like shipping, installation, quality verification, and “blue book” appraisal services.

Team: Austin Simon (Wharton), Austin Madden (Wharton)


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Cloud Agronomics

Cloud Agronomics is a global analytics platform providing predictive insights for agriculture. The company has 5+ pilots for its digital agronomy solution, and is also testing its carbon sequestration and verification solution with Microsoft AI for Earth and Indigo Ag. Cloud Agronomics is backed by Dorm Room Fund, Rough Draft Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, and the Lightspeed summer program.

Team: Jack Roswell (Brown), Alex Zhuk (Brown), David Schurman (Brown)


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Expedock

Expedock solves the inefficiencies in communication between organizations in the international cargo supply chain using artificial intelligence. The team is starting with a product that automates documentation in the pre-shipment process, allowing operations teams to double the number of customers each person can manage. The company has several paying customers, and thousands of cargo containers are moved internationally via Expedock every week. Expedock is backed by Pear, Bain Capital Ventures, and angel investors.

Team: King Alandy Dy (Stanford), Rui Aguiar (Stanford), Jeff Tan (Ateneo de Manila University)


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Glimpse

Glimpse connects brands to hospitality spaces looking to provide amenities to their guests. The company provides a channel for D2C brands looking to reach prospective customers offline without setting up a brick-and-mortar store. Glimpse launched in February, and is live in 200 properties across the country, with 10 paying brand customers.

Team: Akash Raju (Purdue), Anuj Mehta (Purdue), Kushal Negi (Purdue)


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Grow

Grow is a free Slack and Microsoft Teams app that lets you easily give and request high-quality feedback with your team to achieve more together. People love how Grow helps them feel connected to the team (especially if they’re working remotely)! All feedback is stored in one place, improving 1:1s and performance reviews. Since launching in February, Grow has been installed by more than 650 teams across 62 countries and is generating revenue through premium subscriptions. Grow is backed by Cornell Tech and Dorm Room Fund.

Team: Ryan Sydnor (Cornell Tech), Richard Hill (Cornell Tech)


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Mesa

Mesa helps school districts manage their students’ academic progress. The company’s software increases graduation rates, improves college and career readiness, and let educators focus on the most impactful parts of their job instead of busywork. It is currently being used in 89 high schools around the country across 125K students in four states. Mesa has raised a seed round from investors in the edtech space.

Team: John Kennedy (UNC), John Ruff


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Nilus

Nilus is a B2B food marketplace that matches community kitchens with food retailers & producers who have excess inventory. The company is live in Argentina and Puerto Rico, and has 200+ kitchen customers that interact with suppliers including Walmart, Marriott, Hyatt, and Mercado Libre. Nilus transports 100+ tons of food each month.

Team: Nicolas Manes (Harvard Business School), Ady Beitler (Harvard Law School)


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Sike Insights

Sike Insights is a communication platform for remote teams. The company’s first product, Kona, is an AI-powered Slackbot that enables teams to work together more effectively. Kona is being used in private beta with 20+ companies, including Buffer and RainforestQA, and has several paying customers. The platform collects information from employees about their preferred working style, analyzes Slack channels, and produces recommendations to improve collaboration. Sike Insights is backed by Arrow Capital and Dorm Room Fund.

Team: Siddharth Pandiya (UCLA), Andrew Zhou (UCLA), Corine Tan (UCLA)


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VINCI VR

VINCIVR enables teams working with critical, high-value equipment to train together in immersive virtual reality at lower risk and cost than traditional training. VINCIVR is also pioneering Codex, a platform that enables training teams to edit and create new VR simulations without the need to code, thus cutting down turnover time for new simulations and placing content control directly into the hands of users.The company has been deploying its VR training platform across several military and industrial customers, generating high six-figure revenue.

Team: Eagle Wu (Babson), Tim Clancy (UPenn), Tiffany Yue (UPenn)


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WindBorne Systems

WindBorne provides high resolution weather data through a new kind of smart, long-endurance weather balloon. WindBorne’s founding team of four Stanford students are all former SpaceX interns, and have broken the world record four times for the longest latex balloon flight. WindBorne is backed by Khosla Ventures, Pear Ventures, and Ubiquity Ventures.

Team: Paige Brown (Stanford), Kai Marshland (Stanford), John Dean (Stanford), Andrey Sushko (Stanford)


Healthcare

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City Health Tech

City Health Tech is an IoT hardware and software solution that teaches and tracks good hygiene habits, starting with hand washing. The company has installed devices on sinks across five elementary schools in the Chicago area (and is generating revenue from these deployments), and has pilots upcoming with restaurants, factories, and Northwestern University.

Team: Ibraheem Alinur (Northwestern), Irewole Akande (Northwestern), David O’Sullivan (Northwestern)


Fintech

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Kaoshi

Kaoshi is a fintech company revolutionizing diaspora banking. It provides a platform (POS) and tech infrastructure (APIs) that enables banks in the home-countries of immigrants to directly provide services that address the financial needs of immigrants in their home-countries. The company is in alpha testing, ahead of a Q2 2020 launch with Sterling Bank, a Nigerian bank with over 1M customers, and pilots with several other large African banks. The launch will feature Nigerian banks providing their own remittance services, for the first time ever, to Nigerian immigrants. Kaoshi is backed by Dorm Room Fund, UChicago, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Team: Chukwunonso Arinze (U Chicago), Princess Oti


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Stride Funding

Stride Funding offers income share agreements (ISAs) as a flexible, affordable alternative to traditional student loans. The company was founded in 2018 and launched in July 2019 with an end-to-end platform from origination through funding and career support, and has received over 1,000 applications. Stride targets students from top graduate programs to create a portfolio that offers above market returns with low volatility. Stride is backed by GSV Ventures and Slow Ventures.

Team: Tess Michaels (Harvard Business School)

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