Two crazy, brand new startups each won $17,500 and six months of free office space at the NYC Next Idea competition held yesterday at Columbia University.
Both businesses have big ideas to disrupt already established markets, but in very different ways. TaxiTreats, a New York City
two-man four person startup with 18 followers and zero activity on Twitter, wants to put vending machines in taxis.
Stylsize, based out of Queen’s College in Kingston Ontario, uses augmented reality to better guess out of how clothes will fit when shopping online. A quick Google search with any combination of “Stylsize,” “fashion,” “Kingston, Ontario” and “Queen’s College” yields not even a whisper, not even a landing page. Apparently when cofounder Dan McCann told Betabeat Stylsize was operating in secret, he really meant it.
The two teams were picked from six finalists who pitched a four-judge panel at Columbia University. For three years running the NYC Next Idea competition has solicited startups who can make a case that their technology can improve New York. Yesterday’s final round of the competition sponsored by the NYC Economic Development Corporation marked the end of months of competition for hundreds of students from over sixty countries and an initial 270 startups. The final round judges were Jonathan Axelrod of Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, Maria Gotsch of New York City Investment Fund, Brian Cohen, Chairman of the New York Angels; and Noah Kroloff at NGN Capital.
TaxiTreats thinks they can sell life’s little purchases—Advil, 5 Hour Energy, Orbit —at a premium and in the back of a cab. This sounds a little strange, say even, a little invasive, like taxi television might have sounded back in the 90s. Especially in New York, is there any place left where we’re not being asked to buy something? But the judges were clear: from a business and convenience standpoint, it’s a mighty fine idea.
With 250 million passengers each year and with half of those passengers making over $100,000 each year, the captive back seat market is ripe for the tap, tap, tapping. Brian Shimmerlik, an MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business, pegged the TaxiTreats concept to the unveiling of new taxis he said are scheduled to roll out next year. The vending machine would fit because of six inches of added leg room in the new cabs, he said.
Mr. Shimmerlik, who said he started his first company at age 19, made the case that TaxiTreats is good for retailers as an added point-of-sale that won’t cannibalize sales elsewhere because of its impulsive nature. He also estimated (conservatively, he might add) that back-of-cab purchases would generate over one million dollars in tax revenue for the city and additional revenue for fleet owners.
Mr. Shimmerlik predicted this, along with other novelties like cupcake ATMs, to be just the start of extreme innovation in the vending machine industry. He said the vending machines, which would accept all forms of payment, could retail for around $2,000. Taxi TVs, which include Wifi and credit card capabilities as well, retail for around $1,600. So buying Altoids while you’re chauffeured across town might not be so far off. Automation nation here we come.
With 40 percent of online clothing purchases resulting in returns, the Canadians behind Stylsize think they can reduce that by helping shoppers try things on virtually. No really—not just an approximation based on height, weight, waist, and bust—but a virtual you and their virtual clothes. It’s kind of like Second Life, except it might actually be useful.
Stylsize, which is a phone app as well as an online platform, markets its product to retailers. Their customers, in turn, use Stylsize by uploading a few photos of their body, then augmented reality magic takes over and voila—an accurate representation of their body on which they can try on different dresses, skirts and blouses and see how a size four falls on them compared to a size 12.
This innovative use of augmented reality—a technology with all sorts of wild potential, they argue—will take the fear out of shopping online and maybe even reduce the wait times in Fifth Avenue dressing rooms. Given the low cost of mapping files of the human body, Mr. McCann believes their business model is incredibly scalable. He already has major interest from major Canadian retailers who would pay to have their products included on Stylsize.
Stylsize does have some problems to solve though. While shoppers will have the option of uploading images or entering their measurements manually, the latter may prove pretty time consuming. Right now it takes half an hour and 47 different measurements to create an accurate representation of an individual’s body.
Wild ideas came from the other four finalists as well. The second pitch of the day came from IDEA NYC (they have a landing page) who want to teach kids in undeserved communities how to take a design from paper and turn it into reality by partnering with social service agencies and taking their workshops into community centers. They would also fund themselves with limited edition T-shirts that they sell online and through local retailers. The judges were a bit skeptical of this one, and so was Betabeat.
After IDEA NYC was the Ana Lyse Technology, who say they’ve come up with a better way for pharmaceutical companies to conduct drug trials on animals. According to Margarita Shinder, the company’s cofounder, the average pharmaceutical company uses 60,000 animals each year, and human error and contamination lead to imperfections in the already-imperfect science of estimating a drug’s effect in humans by testing it on animals. Ana Lyse wants to develop a tool that takes the human out of the tissue homogenization process. They said their tool, which would act like a blender, would cost roughly $3,500 to make and could reduce the cost of tissue homogenization by fifty percent.
Wading into the world of collaborative consumption, one of tech’s hottest trends right now, is CityShare, and they want to be the “mobile marketplace for collaborative use of private goods.” They called it the Airbnb for rentals. Users could scan the barcode of an item they own, CityShare would find it and then the owner could list the day price to borrow the item. From the other side, a user could look for a specific item such as a camera, leaf blower or waffle iron in their own neighborhood, contact the owner, pay online and then meet up for the handoff. The cofounders argued that it also has great social benefits to connect people who live near one another. But who likes chatting it up with their video store clerk (when those existed), even if it is right down the street?
Prevision Camera came on next to present their camera-based technology that takes photos, but only transmits statistical data. These tiny cameras, they say, have great potential in retail and digital signage markets to help marketers figure better understand who their ads reach. Apparently the technology can pick up on faces, gender, race, age, mood and length of time spent viewing. Prevision Camera had trouble convincing the judges though, even after a demonstration in which their camera and technology picked up on and put a square around 40 faces in the audience—including Betabeat’s.
NYC Next Idea is an annual competition that encourages groups to submit business plans that can be launched in New York City. This EDC sponsored contest encourages innovation in green, nonprofit, bioscience, fashion, media and technology, and financial services industries. It’s all part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the EDC’s evil plan to diversify the NYC economy.