NC IDEA announces six North Carolina startups as spring grant winners and recipients of a collective $300,000. This story is part of a series of profiles on the winners.

The constant flow of new brands and brews into the craft beer industry has built a cult following of beer lovers. It has also created a competitive environment for breweries, distributors and beer sellers.

And where there is growth and competition, technology and service companies typically follow, offering cheaper, faster and more efficient ways of doing business. That’s the idea behind BruVue, an IoT startup with beer inventory and sales tracking capability, just named NC RIoT Championship Belt winner and NC IDEA grantee.

BruVue was inspired by the industry experience of co-founder Mike Mitchell, a beer distributor.

At the end of closing shifts, distributors measure kegged beer inventory for bar owners. They do this by lifting up heavy kegs, one by one, and shaking them to guess how much beer is left. Not only is this process practically begging for inaccuracies, but it’s also time consuming. And it still doesn’t provide the necessary data distributors need to assess the popularity of their products versus those of their competitors.

Mitchell encountered this problem on a regular basis, and it eventually inspired a phone call to his longtime friend and engineer Chris Lorkowski.

“I know you like designing things and solving problems,” said Mitchell when he asked his friend for help designing a solution.

Lorkowski, who was working as a R&D engineer at TransEnterix at the time, took on the challenge and aimed to fix what he calls an “archaic method [that] plagues the entire three-tier beer supply chain.”

The men (pictured in the photo above) have since developed a prototype for a sensor-based tracker that attaches to beer taps and measures consumption in real time. Bar and restaurant owners and their distributors can view inventory, sales trends and loss patterns via a BruVue dashboard and make quick decisions about what beer to order before the bar runs out. Breweries can use the data to determine the flavors and types of beer that sell best, informing future product decisions.

The device won’t impede normal operations for any given tap. Servers and bartenders drop the sensor onto the handle and pour as normal.

BruVue is an IoT-enabled device that can be attached to a beer tap handle to measure inventory and gather consumer data. Credit: BruVue

BruVue is in a fast-growing space. McKinsey & Company estimates that business-to-business applications will account for more than 70 percent of the total value of IoT supply and adoption over the next 10 years, which would amount to about $5 trillion. And in the beer industry, BruVue believes it can offer a simple solution at a fraction of the cost of its competitors.

Beer inventory tracking systems are typically priced between $1,000 and $6,000 and require complicated professional installation, the founders said. Taking that into account, the two thought a cheaper strategy to set them apart.

BruVue closed an $80,000 round from undisclosed investors in March, allowing Lorkowski to quit his full-time job designing instruments for the surgical robotics company and focus on refining the idea through Durham-based Groundwork Labs After Hours, a part-time business development program funded by NC IDEA. There, he validated the product through customer interviews, business model testing and pitch practice.

The experience provided enough prep for BruVue to win top honors at the annual RIoT pitch night earlier this month. He got to share the vision before top local Internet of Things startups, investors and aficionados and international company representatives.

BruVue owner and CEO, Chris Lorkowski, wins the NC RIoT Pitch Night Championship Belt. | Credit: Caitlin Penna/NC RIoT

Four of the five companies that pitched at last year’s competition went on to raise seed capital, including the 2016 champion ProAxion, which also won a NC IDEA grant in the program’s spring cycle last year.

Landing an NC IDEA grant in the spring 2017 cycle provides a deeper sense of validation, the co-founders say. They’ll allocate the funds toward customer pilots and building out a supply chain, work that will be done in the full-time Groundwork Labs program this summer. Already, BruVue has pilots lined up with national franchises, a stadium complex and one of the largest brewers in the U.S. (These names are undisclosed for the time being.)

The team is also seeking a $750,000 seed round to hire team members to help fuel this growth. Full launch will happen early next year.

For NC IDEA President and CEO Thom Ruhe, BruVue’s product solves a compelling problem. It addresses the 20 percent of the average keg that goes to waste, which factored across a number of kegs leaves a sizable money and inventory management problem.

“What we are funding is 100 more prototypes to get into field testing,” Ruhe says. “It’s an elegant design and implementation unlike (more expensive) alternatives.”

Lorkowski calls the NC IDEA win a “stamp of approval,” giving his company a boost that hopefully leads to more innovation, efficiency and traction in the high-growth craft beer industry.