Princeton eLab Demo Day

Investors and entrepreneurs filled the Friend Center's auditorium last Wednesday for eLab's Demo Day, the culmination of a 10-week startup incubator. This year, nine teams participated and developed their businesses in a co-working space with m…
On Campus · Raymond Zhong

Angela Zhou

Investors and entrepreneurs filled the Friend Center's auditorium last Wednesday for eLab's Demo Day, the culmination of a 10-week startup incubator. This year, nine teams participated and developed their businesses in a co-working space with mentorship and financial support from the Keller Center. The teams arrived with everything from technical prototypes to sketched-out business plans, and left the incubator sometimes with completely different products, industry contacts, and clear goals for the future.

Some teams demonstrated their products like better bottled water or barley tea, while others outlined plans for services like 3D-printing for metal manufacturing and mobile fresh produce trucks. They developed their startups with the Lean Launchpad methodology, getting real data from customers by "getting out of the building" to drive their product development, usually conducting more than 80 customer interview. Some teams, like Pearl's Barley Tea or Comet Motorcycles, completely rehauled their original ideas - the team behind Pearl's set out to create a nutritious, fruit-based energy shot, but found that there was no market need. Instead, they started looking for new ideas and found inspiration in the foreign-but-familiar taste of barley tea.

Ecliptic Industries:

Industries presented first, showcasing its 3D printed patterns for faster, cheaper metal manufacturing. Traditional casting requires a pattern, usually built in wood, which is used to form a mold. Metal is poured into the mold for the final cast, but the real bottleneck in the process is the time required to build a pattern by hand. Ecliptic was able to halve the production time for typical casting, generating 3D printed patterns faster and cheaper than current alternatives. Their advisor was more than impressed with what they were able to produce, noting that being forced to get out and visit foundries was essential to understanding the market's needs, and ended up being one of the most memorable aspects of the summer.

Freestyle Montessori:

Freestyle Montessori is an educational reform startup aiming to make Montessori's alternative, creative form of education accessible to underrepresented minorities and poorer communities. Montessori education emphasizes the child's freedom in interacting with materials and independence. Freestyle Montessori decided on deploying a summer Montessori program after its 85+ interviews with academics highlighted that the summer is a key target for equalizing educational opportunities. Unequal access to summer opportunities ends up accounting for 50% of the so-called "achievement gap". They've already secured a location, Princeton’s Carl A. Fields center, and have been contacted by interested teachers. Team member Amina Yamusah, who also participated in Entrepreneurship Club's business plan competition last year with a commercial venture, notes that in contrast, as the only nonprofit in this year's crop of startups, they were in a unique position with different objectives from the other teams. But, she concludes that the focus on a valid business model ensured the fiscal security of their nonprofit, a definite attraction for potential donors.

Comet:

Comet originally set out to create an electric motorcycle, but found that there just wasn't the demand they expected. But an electric version of the classic Harley Davidson-style cruiser? Perhaps surprising, but they found that a sizeable section of Harley riders were in the market for a more comfortable, convenient cruiser. They've already lined up dealers and state-of-the-art parts providers excited for the opportunity to develop the first electric cruisers. With the first four prototypes, they'll road trip across the USA and offer test rides with anyone and everyone, sharing the electric cruiser experience. The goal? Nothing less than producing the Tesla Model S of motorcycles. By the sound of it, they're well on their way.

PHog water:


PHog Water is creating better bottled water literally from thin air, setting up nets to passively harvest water from low-lying clouds, a technique inspired by Incan methods that mimic plant mechanisms. Their pilot project on La Soufriere volcano on St. Vincent was more than successful - the biggest problem was that their storage tank wasn't large enough. Andrea notes that the Jeremy and Michael had developed and deployed a prototype through Dell's Social Innovation contest last year, but the installation fell apart without the funds to maintain and care for the large nets. This time around, they're positioning themselves as a luxury, locally-sourced water brand with a profit pledge to support humanitarian water conservation efforts: a truly ecologically and economically sustainable water aid venture.

fitSense:

There’s many fitness and health applications out there, but most of them deliver the same numbers: heart beats per minute, steps per day without providing any context or insight. fitSense aims to revolutionize personal fitness tracking by using sophisticated machine learning algorithms alongside data from physical fitness sensors. For example, whereas other sensors report bpm, mph after a run, fitSense could tell you how much further you could have run. fitSense develops a personalized workout and lifestyle suggestions based on your data, ushering in a new age of analytics. fitSense originally started out targeting medical purposes, but soon realized fitness tracking was a better fit for a larger consumer market.

Princeton Beverage Company:

Princeton Beverage Company's developed and tested the next big thing in bottled tea beverages:

Pearl's Barley Tea. Barley tea, popular in East Asia, is hard to describe, with a primarily "nutty" flavor, and a complex taste profile different from anything else out there. When they set up a table and gave out samples in Princeton, 15-30% of their over 50 customers and testers ended up buying their product, soon to be stocked at local grocers. Though they initially set out to create a healthy, fruit-based and nutritious energy shot drink, the original customer research didn't show any market need, but it looks like they've taken a seeming obstacle and ruan with it!

greenRoots:

greenRoots has its roots in four-year-old Sara's hatred of spaghetti: growing up with her mother in Cleveland on welfare, canned spaghetti was on sale one week. After a week of Chef Boyardee dinners, she vowed never to eat canned spaghetti again. Sara's story highlights the overarching problem of "food deserts" in America, areas where there isn't fresh produce available within a mile of households without transportation means. These families have had to rely on nutrient-deficient and expensive convenience stores and fast food. greenRoots's mobile marketing solution consists of food trucks visiting neighborhoods during the week with fresh, affordable produce. A pilot run in New Brunswick, even parked next to other food trucks, sold out of what produce they brought and was enthusiastically received. Russell, in addition to working on a solution to a real food availability problem, enjoyed the interactions and shared camaraderie with other teams.

Photorankr:

Photorankr provides an integrated social network, marketplace, and portfolio service for photographers, calculating a rank for users and their photos. The growth of their userbase has been nothing short of "explosive" this summer, with over 5500 photographers uploading photos that, among other things, they can "battle" with other photos, populating Photorankr with some truly stunning, professional-quality shots. Product development took the bulk of their time, all leading up to the final demo day where they can share and celebrate how far they've come - and what exciting opportunities the future holds for them.

Firestop:

Firestop's team is developing a cloud-based, mobile app to deliver essential, up-to-date property information to firefighters on the go. By empowering them to make safer and effective decisions, their goal is to stop fires 90 seconds earlier, before it gets the entire building, and save hundreds of millions in damage. Firestop is refreshingly easy-to-use for firefighters overburdened by separate software modules for different tasks, and since there's no current industry standard for data, fills a definite need. They've been able to implement their solution, revolutionizing the industry and saving buildings, all the while getting to apply what they've learned in school and get to make a difference.