With the CRV-backed Liftoff List competition and prize, student entrepreneurs get rewarded
By Bernice Clark on May 13, 2020
Justine and Olivia Moore, the twin investors behind the CRV-backed Liftoff List have long believed in the power of student entrepreneurship.
The twin sisters were among the early architects of Stanford University’s student investment program, Cardinal Ventures, and even back then they’d noticed that it was hard for student entrepreneurs to get press and coverage for their companies without raising significant capital in the Bay Area.
The Liftoff List, which launched with its inaugural batch earlier this month, is the twins’ effort to highlight student entrepreneurship across the country with an award of $100,000 going to the top student-run startup from the applicants for the list.
“I think the idea was actually a thirty under thirty style list for student entrepreneurs,” Justine said.
The two women spread the word about the new list to readers of their newsletter and Slack group, Accelerated.
“Accelerated has 15,000 mostly college students reading it every week,” Justine Moore said. “We’re positioned to find the best student startups. We ultimately picked four and one of them ended up winning a $100,000 convertible note from CRV.”
In all the inaugural Liftoff List received 225 applications from 68 schools across the U.S. After applicants filled out the initial form to enter, the women culled the list down to a 60 companies that had products and conducted interviews with the founders to get a better sense of the teams.
Eventually that pool was narrowed down to four finalists out of twenty five featured companies. Those finalists: ChefMark, whose founders hailed from Wharton; Atomus, a company from the University of Southern California; IndieHub, from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business; and Arist, from Babson College, all pitched before a panel of judges.
The veritable sharks who determined the winner included Dream Machine founder (and former TechCrunch editor) Alexia Bonatsos; Saar Gur, a managing partner at CRV; Hunter Walk, the co-founder of Homebrew; and ProductHunt co-founder and architect of the Weekend Fund Ryan Hoover.
The ultimate winner of the competition was USC’s Atomus Printing, a company that solves the complex problem of rights management for component parts made using 3D printers.
The Los Angeles-based company has managed to crack the code on a problem that’s bedeviled the 3D printing industry for years. And it already has a marquee first customer in none other than the U.S. Department of Defense.
The company actually came together as part of a new initiative from the Defense Department that tries to use undergrads and graduate students at the country’s top schools to develop solutions to some of the military’s most intractable problems.
“Our problem came from the Marine Corps revolving around 3D printing,” recalled Joel Joseph, Atomus’ co-founder. “The military spends billions of dollars on 3D printers but they weren’t seeing the uptake that they were expecting.”
The issue was that the military had the capacity to make the component parts that they need to keep multi-million dollar pieces of equipment from becoming stranded assets in a theater of operations because of a small mechanical error or a part breaking or malfunctioning. “If you’re missing one part of a tank, you can’t use that tank,” said Joseph.
However, they didn’t have access to the design files owned by original equipment manufacturers, because selling replacement parts is a huge revenue generator for military suppliers. Atomus broke the logjam by becoming essentially “the iTunes of 3D printing”, according to Joseph. “It’s a digital rights management for 3D printers, allowing them to get paid every time the military or an outside manufacturer 3D prints their design file.”
Atomus may have been the ultimate winner of the first Liftoff List competition, but each company had a compelling pitch.
Here are the 25 companies that made the cut.
Eat Makhana makes delicious, nutritious, and allergy-friendly snacks from popped water lily seeds. The company’s products are stocked at 75 stores in the Bay Area and 20+ corporate campuses (including Facebook, Palantir, and LinkedIn), and are also sold online. Eat Makhana saw a 14x revenue increase last year, and is backed by Dorm Room Fund and Arrow Capital.
Cloud Agronomics is a global analytics platform providing predictive insights for agriculture. The company has 5+ pilots for its digital agronomy solution, and is also testing its carbon sequestration and verification solution with Microsoft AI for Earth and Indigo Ag. Cloud Agronomics is backed by Dorm Room Fund, Rough Draft Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, and the Lightspeed summer program.
Team: Jack Roswell (Brown), Alex Zhuk(Brown), David Schurman (Brown)
Sike Insights is a communication platform for remote teams. The company’s first product, Kona, is an AI-powered Slackbot that enables teams to work together more effectively. Kona is being used in private beta with 20+ companies, including Buffer and RainforestQA, and has several paying customers. The platform collects information from employees about their preferred working style, analyzes Slack channels, and produces recommendations to improve collaboration. Sike Insights is backed by Arrow Capital and Dorm Room Fund.
Team: Siddharth Pandiya(UCLA),Andrew Zhou (UCLA), Corine Tan (UCLA)
WindBorne provides high resolution weather data through a new kind of smart, long-endurance weather balloon. WindBorne’s founding team of four Stanford students are all former SpaceX interns, and have broken the world record four times for the longest latex balloon flight. WindBorne is backed by Khosla Ventures, Pear Ventures, and Ubiquity Ventures.
Team: Paige Brown(Stanford), Kai Marshland (Stanford), John Dean (Stanford),Andrey Sushko (Stanford)
City Health Tech is an IoT hardware and software solution that teaches and tracks good hygiene habits, starting with hand washing. The company has installed devices on sinks across five elementary schools in the Chicago area (and is generating revenue from these deployments), and has pilots upcoming with restaurants, factories, and Northwestern University.
Team: Ibraheem Alinur(Northwestern), Irewole Akande(Northwestern), David O’Sullivan(Northwestern)
Stride Funding offers income share agreements (ISAs) as a flexible, affordable alternative to traditional student loans. The company was founded in 2018 and launched in July 2019 with an end-to-end platform from origination through funding and career support, and has received over 1,000 applications. Stride targets students from top graduate programs to create a portfolio that offers above market returns with low volatility. Stride is backed by GSV Ventures and Slow Ventures.