A year of incubation from Seahawk Innovation
helped four young Wilmington startups survive “the valley of death,” that early startup phase of negative cash flow but positive momentum.
At a December 16th “coming out party”, the founders of the companies—a baby bottle brand, health analytics startup, SaaS for clinical research and synthetic DNA producer—shared plans for 2016 and celebrated with the community at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNCW, where Seahawk, an investment and advisory firm, is a tenant.
Seahawk started soon after the CIE opened near the UNCW campus. The firm partnered with the university to provide mentorship to companies in the CIE at the same time as it worked to raise a fund
and incubated its own portfolio companies. There's no news of the fund so far, but read on to learn about four companies who've received help from Seahawk.
The businesses are Mimijumi, LifeGait, Inc, CRA360 and SeekerDNA. During the event, each company revealed plans to raise at least $500,000 to further grow their companies in 2016.
Brendan Collins, CEO of Mimijumi, introduced his company, which developed a baby bottle that mimics a natural breast and is meant to improve first-year nutrition for infants. It is formed from a nylon and silicon skin over a polyester membrane and is cast using the same precision machinery used to create ultra precise silicon components for Porsche vehicles. This unique skin-like experience helps to avoid nipple confusion and is also unique in that it allows the baby, rather than the bottle, to control milk flow.
With 250,000 Mimijumi bottles sold and a reported 97% favorability by infants, its approximate $30 price tag seems to be validated in a market where parents must go through three or more cheaper bottle brands before finding one that works for their child. Using data-driven content marketing to target mothers online and selling in specialty boutiques rather than retail centers their mobile-minded target customers are unlikely to enter, Mimijumi has earned $1 million since inception.
The company earned a celebrity endorsement from actress Blake Lively this year, along with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year award. It projects 300% sales growth in 2016 thanks to international expansion and new product development, like the introduction of various skin tones for bottle nipples and other products that don’t involve feeding. Mimijumi will raise capital to accomplish these goals.
A motion tracking technology developed by geriatrician Dr. Mark Williams, LifeGait puts sensors on a person’s ankles, wrists and sacrum and then analyzes the walking gait to look for symptoms or changes in health.
The team led by CEO Chris Newton tracks a biokinetigraph (BKG), which is a summary of motion, symmetry and energy and is essentially a graphical signature of disease or wellness. This non-invasive and easily applied technology is protected by four patents.
There are at least three market applications, and LifeGait has unique products for each: SportGait, SeniorGait and MedGait.
SportGait, the primary application at present, is focused on youth sports, specifically soccer, and represents a $3 billion market. SportGait hopes to unravel the analytics of detection and diagnosis of sports-related head trauma. There is currently no easy way to measure a person’s vulnerability toward concussions or the effect a concussion might have. The product does not replace traditional concussion detection methods, but provides an immediate indication that something is wrong and may be related to concussion or trauma, and using sensory data humans don’t notice or can’t confirm.
About 2,400 data points are collected during a 10-foot walk, a turn and a walk back to the starting point. The subtle details recorded in the resulting BKG can be compared to a baseline performance test recorded prior to concussion. A SportGait app will allow users to crowdsource this data to build a corpus of information.
LifeGait plans to market to youth teams, reaching new ones when they play existing customers. This process can help reach the 13,400 youth soccer players in the state of NC, and eventually three million players in the US.
Partnering with the UNCW research facilities, LifeGait, Inc is raising funding for biokinetigraph research and the development of mobile apps.
CRA360, co-founded by CEO Matt Orr, provides a cloud-based SaaS solution for the clinical research field. There are about 8,000 projects in clinical research a year, Orr reports, and they cost a total of $50-100 million. It costs about $2.6 billion to bring a new drug to market. 30% of these costs are related to the site monitoring and management, the tasks of a clinical research associate or CRA. CRA360 provides a solution for hiring and managing these associates by digitizing their trials’ audit, verifying accuracy of applicant data, ensuring all activities are compliant to protocol, and ensuring the associates meet the necessary standards. You can consider it a digital resume for a CRA, and one that is validated by evidence of past work.
The CRA is the most critical human resource in the clinical trial chain, but their process today requires mostly paper documents and Excel spreadsheets. CRA360 offers the first niche product specifically for them, which is likely to mean increased efficiency and reduced costs for trials.
Orr and his team represent over 70 collective years of experience in the industry. CRA360 will use any funds raised on SG&A expenses and continued development of the application.
Not originally part of the Seahawk Innovation portfolio, SeekerDNA was revealed as a surprise presentation. Founders Erin Porter
and Rob Baratta
have exclusive North American distribution rights for products and technologies from a U.K. company called TraceTag
, which developed a synthetic DNA that can be sprayed or otherwise applied for the purpose of tracing the origin of stolen or lost items, or even tagging and identifying criminals from the scene of a crime.
The application manages to bring a distinctly digital aspect to ownership to the real world—that of metadata. By registering a completely unique synthetic DNA identifier to your name and applying this substance as a spray, grease or glue to your physical property, these items can be traced using genetic tests to tie their synthetic sequence back to you, their registered owner. SeekerDNA’s synthetic sequences have no relation to biological DNA and are attached to a person only by digital registration.
In 2014, property crimes on the UNCW campus outnumbered those elsewhere in the city of Wilmington. Items stolen most often included laptops, bicycles and consumer electronics. SeekerDNA was incubated within the campus ecosystem and will first target university staffers, students, parents, teachers and nearby pawn shops. This will allow students to track and recover stolen items. The company is raising funding for development of an associated web application.
Seahawk co-founder and general partner Tobin Geatz took the floor after the presentations to say how proud he is of the progress these businesses have made. They stand as an example of how startups can and should be operated, he said. First, they identify a real problem. Second, the founders focus time and talent on solving the problem, and finally, they discover the treasure after successfully applying the solution.
Though all of these companies are raising money, in the end, he emphasizes that it’s not about the money, but the people.
“You can’t money your way to the top of Mt. Everest,” he said, “You can’t pay to get carried there, and no helicopter can get you there.”
He sees good mentoring and leadership as the sherpas of the ambitious founder and emphasized the role of passion and human capital in getting entrepreneurs to the top of the proverbial mountain.