I was privileged to be a judge recently at a pitch event hosted by Angelou Economics where entrepreneurs born outside the US pitched their ideas and companies. Some ideas were half-baked, others solved problems too small to be of interest to investors but some startups were very enlightened, polished and tackling big problems.
I strive to be on the bleeding edge of technology and solutions. Three companies stood out for me.
This green/transportation company is further along (closed a $450 million Series D in China) and wasn’t part of the pitch event. Some big players invested in Ofo include Ali Baba’s Ant financial, DST Global, Matrix China and Didi Chuxing, the largest car-hailing app in China which bought Uber’s China division. Depending on the source, this company’s valuation is between $1 billion and $2 billion U.S.
I met Ofo’s representatives through my business partner, Joshua B Lee. Part of Ofo’s big vision is to bring to the US the platform they’re successfully growing already in China. I believe the company’s future and the path to achieve their vision is a variation of what Car2Go has done with cars.
Ofo started in China as an "open sourced” bike sharing program where people could share their own bicycles. Unfortunately, bike owners were slow to share their bikes with the public. The company pivoted and found a better business model was providing bikes to the public for a nominal fee.
Ofo maintains a company owned fleet of bicycles anybody on the app can use. Ofo solved the inconvenience problem with the app allowing a "dockless" bike share program. Riders can pick up and drop off bikes at any bike rack in the city.
One big limitation I see is the American preference for cars. Uban millennials and younger people are bucking this trend but I don’t see bike share having a huge presence in rural areas of the U.S. But it can be a significant reducer of pollution (and cellulite) in urban areas and geographically tight knit communities.
This company caught my eye because it’s in medical care, one of the big three industries I see trending and ripe for technology to disrupt in a positive way.
The big vision for this company is to to give disconnected medical providers (family doctors, pharmacists, nurses, etc.) access to a patient’s information in one secure, central dashboard. I am intrigued by this idea. The main founder was a national sales representative for Merck. The team’s background and accomplishments give me higher confidence they can execute on their vision.
This is another company in the medical care industry. It’s so early they don’t even have a website live yet. It caught my eye because I didn’t know how vast the problem was they’re attempting to solve. According to World Bank stats, around 1 billion people worldwide have some form of disability. A staggering 110 million to 190 million people have significant disabilities. Interlude aims to help disabled people rehab more effectively to improve the disabled person’s functioning and capabilities.
They don’t do this by compelling the disabled person or the insurance company to purchase expensive therapy equipment. The company uses Xbox Kinect technology to monitor the patient’s therapeutic movements. The healthcare practitioner (doctor, occupational therapist, physical therapist, etc.) can monitor the disabled person remotely.
The Interlude system records the disabled person’s movements. The health practitioner can see trends in progress over time. The system also seeks to show the ideal movements and allow the practitioner to see how far off the patient’s current movements are from the ideal path. The practitioner can then coach the patient for even faster improvement.
Startups have a high failure rate. But these industries and trends will have clear winners. From what I saw, these three companies have the best combination of size of the problem, innovative and simple solution plus the team to execute.