What an interesting batch of companies we’ve invested in this year! As usual, we have a small cohort of just four companies. What’s unusual is that all of them are remote this year, with two from California, one from Florida, and one from New Jersey.
We’ve developed a flexible program in order to attract the best retail tech startups in the land. Instead of insisting that companies spend twelve weeks with us in Dallas, we provide a majority of the content and connections by video conference. This steady stream of content is coupled with an intensive three days with the teams in Dallas each month that is filled with pitch practices, networking, mentor meet-ups, customer meetings, and pitch events. Nine days in Dallas and ninety days participating remotely is proving to be a nice balance for all involved.
Our investments this year range from pure startup to early growth. SpotCart is the youngest of the four companies, but is a next generation effort of the most mature product in our mix. Founder Vin Vajjhala, from Naples, Florida, previously led the development and deployment of a product called StyleBar to over 4,000 jewelry and department stores. This product allows a jewelry store to expand the product selection of a single store to that of the entire retailer and vendor catalog. SpotCart leverages Vin’s experience and is designed to augment selection in an in-store experience.
Accel Robotics is a team from San Diego with an amazing amount of robotics and automation experience, but they are just now at the stage of piloting their front-of-store robots in several trials with national retailers. Led by Brandon Maseda, their pending use cases include promotion of store credit cards, customer assistance, and grab-n-go automation for grocery and convenience store settings.
BottleFly, from San Luis Obispo, California, has developed a wine recommendation engine that pairs consumer taste preferences with a large database of chemical properties of many of the most popular wines. Grocers love the product for the increased sales that are generated; also for the ability to train store associates on the differences between wines. According to CEO, Katerina Axelsson, his is important because a typical grocery store carries 400 or more SKU’s of wine, causing the wine aisle to be the section of the store where consumers are overwhelmed with too many choices.
Birdzi, from Iselin, New Jersey, has the most mature offering of this year’s teams. Their consumer engagement platform for small- and mid-sized grocery chains is already deployed in over 200 grocery stores. With the ability to deliver relevant, digital offers to consumers while they are at home, on the go, or shopping in the store, the company is proving its ability to increase customer engagement by double-digits each year. According to CEO, Shekar Raman, the company’s revenue is forecast to grow by nearly 5x in 2018, with nearly half of that growth coming from existing customers.