Pear, a popular seed-stage venture firm whose early bets include Guardant Health, Memebox, and Branch, hosted its fourth demo day in Woodside, Ca., last Thursday, and though it was a scorchingly hot afternoon at a largely outdoor venue, a veritable who’s who of VCs showed up: Bryan Schreier of Sequoia Capital was there. So was Brian O’Malley of Accel Partners, another frequent guest. Others of the 120 other VCs in attendance included Shawn Carolan of Menlo Ventures, Shahin Farshchi of Lux Capital, Ann Miura-Ko of Floodgate, Maha Ibrahim of Canaan Partners, Bobby Yazdani of Cota Capital, Semil Shah of Haystack, Hunter Walk of Homebrew, James Currier of NFX Guild, and Josh Elman of Greylock Partners.
What everyone came to see was 15 teams, all of them roughly six months old or younger, and all led by current college students or recent graduates who’d been invited by Pear to build companies over ten weeks in its airy but cramped Palo Alto offices. It’s a nice deal for the founders, who receive an uncapped note of between $25,000 and $40,000, along with advice from people who know how to grow companies. Among those to speak with this summer’s crop: Dropbox cofounder and CEO Drew Houston.
These demo days are also a chance for Pear to showcase its ability to spot talent at the earliest stages. Satellite company Capella Space got its start in Pear’s summer program; it raised a $12 million Series A round in May.
Viz, a startup that helps physicians identify anomalies in brain scans using machine learning and which landed $7.5 million in Series A funding in May, was part of the line-up last year. (Pear asks to invest up to $250,000 when its summer teams raise these first rounds.)
Because we know some of you like learning about these companies as prospective investments, to identify future trends, or simply to better understand the competition, we’re written up some of the nascent startups that presented. Meanwhile, here is the full line-up of companies, and a quick snapshot of what the show was like.
This startup, cofounded by a Korean founder with Ph.D. in bioengineering from Stanford, is working on an ambitious but super interesting customized drug test for cancer patients. The focus is on delivering personalized drugs, quickly. The whole thing is still very much in the prototype phase, but what the six-person team has built is an inkjet printer that will be capable (it says) of testing exponentially more drug combinations than is possible now — 96 drug combinations in 7 seconds, versus the average 16 combinations that can currently be tested in 30 minutes time. Further, the printers are small enough to stored at hospitals, meaning physicians would no longer need to send patients’ cells to a lab for testing — a time-consuming endeavor.
The company said it plans to focus on blood cancers initially. It expects to expand into other cancers and infectious diseases later.
Fitbod for iOS is trying to equip gym-goers with a deeply personalized workout plan, allowing them to maximize the use of indoor gym equipment and practice effective strength-training by building personalized workout routines for them. It assigns different values for fatigue, for example, or, if a user can’t perform a suggested exercise, that person is shown the next four exercises. If a user misses a workout, it will adapt how many sets of reps that person should do.
It doesn’t seem like a big idea, considering the many fitness apps already on the market. But Fitbod insists that by using machine learning to track someone’s workout data and tailor a strength-training plan in real time for that individual’s physical capability, it can capture competitors’ users, as well as a slice of the market that isn’t using anything.
For some perspective on that market, there are 57 million people in the U.S. who work out at gyms and another 25 million who buy equipment at home. The founders, who include one former high frequency trader and an experienced product experience designer, say they’re starting with the 30 million people who work out in weight rooms.
This company is trying to supercharge teachers’ work by providing them with automated feedback on the discussions that are happening in their classrooms. The idea here is that there isn’t a lot of active learning happening, in elementary schools, in high schools, and especially at colleges, yet a lot can be learned by tracking the frequency of questions an instructor asks, or how long he or she pauses, or who in the class is volunteering to speak and who isn’t.
TeachFx, started by one former high school English teacher (with a Stanford MBA), hope to address all of these issues via its its app, which uses machine learning and open source technologies to analyze a teacher’s class, then deliver metrics on aspects of their pedagogy. It looks for how much of their class was lecture versus discussion, for example, and how much each student is participating. TeachFX is even trying to identify unconscious biases, something the technology should get better at doing as it builds up a database of classroom-related inputs.
This company is building an AI-driven medical records platform that takes notes about patient encounters with doctors as might an observing nurse. The idea, as you might imagine, is to save doctors time so they can meet with more patients, shaving off the two hours spent documenting their visit with each patient (who they spend comparatively little time with right now).
The team, which includes one AI researcher at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and another AI researcher at the Stanford Natural Language Processing Group, says it’s targeting veterinarians first, as they’re unfettered by the same regulations as apply to doctors who treat people. They also say that after running tests for the last six months, their first medical records platform is rolling out in Bay Area clinics this fall.
Via is a global marketplace for short-term work experiences that last anywhere from four weeks to six months. The problem, as laid out by its founders (who happen to be sisters) are that young professionals aren’t fulfilled by their jobs. According to a 2016 Deloitte study, 25 percent of millennials would leave their job this year just to do something different, and 66 percent would leave within the next three years. The reason, ostensibly: millennials crave experiences above all else.
Via’s solution? Short-term work experiences, often in far-flung cities, that complement millennials’ careers. Toward that end, the two-month-old company is already partnering with grad schools and U.S. companies to find opportunities for the talented people who might otherwise be at risk of leaving for good. Current options range from a project for a fintech unicorn in Brazil to work at the largest solar energy company in Uganda.
The team is building what it’s calling a targeted outdoor ad platform — an “AdWords for the offline world.” How? By slapping internet connected screens atop ride-share vehicles. HotelTonight, for example, has been testing out a campaign that it runs between 8 pm and 2 a.m. on streets dotted with bars and restaurants. DoorDash and Instacart have also launched campaigns. In the future, say Ozzy’s founders, you can see a wealth of scenarios, including a brand that’s opening its first retail store in town and wants to raise awareness that it’s coming, so advertises in the surrounding area of its new storefront.
Whether the service will take off is a question mark. Advertisers have become more metrics driven than ever before and it’s hard to imagine how Ozzy can prove that it’s converting passersby into customers. Still, outdoor ad spend is currently a $10 billion market, and with smart execution, Ozzy can probably scale quickly. After all, there are one million freelance drivers in the U.S. alone. A healthy percentage of them would undoubtedly be willing to throw some hardware atop their cars if doing so produces meaningful extra income for them.
Siren is a new food brand, one that’s trying to make room for itself in the crowded candy and snack bar industry. Its catch? Its products are made using only natural, gluten-free, grain-free, and non-GMO ingredients. It’s packaging is attractive, too, unsurprisingly.
For its inaugural line of products, Siren has developed a line of bite-sized snacks using a blend of protein derived from peas. (We sampled three flavors — lemon poppyseed, cookie dough, and snickerdoodle, and we loved them, though our kids were slightly less keen on them.) The company said it sold out of its first production run of 10,000 snack bags within a matter of weeks; now it’s offering its “bites” online through SirenSnacks.com.
Interestingly, Siren, like, Via, was founded by sisters. In this case, one sister, a graduate of both Brown and Stanford, formerly worked at Sonoma Brands, a food incubator and investor. The other has a degree in product engineering from Stanford and formerly worked for Google; Farmigo, a maker of software for CSAs; and Immaculate Baking, a “natural” brand known for its cookie dough. Immaculate was acquired by General Mills from several private equity investors in 2012.