When Alchemist Accelerator shifted its Demo Day to virtual earlier this year, Alchemist director and founder Ravi Belani told me it was a move he expected the team to stick with for some time. Nearly half a year later it’s time for another Demo Day — and sure enough, with the pandemic still ongoing, it’s another virtual one.
As an enterprise accelerator, Alchemist focuses primarily on seed-stage companies that make their money from other companies rather than those that sell to consumers. This latest cohort (the accelerator’s 25th) saw nearly 20 companies go through the program, with focuses ranging from physical therapy devices to an AI “coach” for sales reps to productivity tools for software developers.
This afternoon the accelerator is also announcing that Volvo (via the Volvo Cars Tech Fund) has joined Alchemist as an investor. While the two companies did not specify how much Volvo was investing, previous similar partnerships saw companies like GE and Juniper Networks invest around $ 2 million-$ 3 million.
Care to see the companies make their debut to the world? Alchemist will be streaming its Demo Day on YouTube, with programming set to begin at 2 p.m. pacific.
Don’t have time to watch the whole thing? Here’s an alphabetized list of all the companies scheduled to present, along with some notes about what each is working on:
Anda Technologies: A simplified smartwatch with built-in GPS, calling and a quick symbol-based messaging system, meant to help parents and caretakers stay in touch in situations where a full smartphone might be too much. They initially focused on Latin America, and are now expanding support to U.S. and Europe.
Botco.ai: A “conversational marketing platform” — in other words, marketing chatbots meant to increase sales and conversions. Potential customers can chat with these bots over SMS or messaging apps, and their AI will use its growing understanding of what it knows about your business to respond.
BreachRX: A platform meant to help streamline your company’s response when a security breach happens. They provide response playbooks, help assign tasks to the correct team members and help capture records of how and when your company took action.
ClearQuote: Computer vision-based vehicle inspections. The company says it can scan an entire vehicle for damage using a smartphone camera in around 60 seconds, calculating cost of repair on the fly. Focusing on end-of-lease inspections, used car inspections and rental car return inspections first.
Copilot: An AI-powered “coach” for sales reps. As reps make phone/video calls, Copilot analyzes the conversation and generates “cue cards” with relevant information.
Evolution Devices: A wearable electrical stimulation device meant to help in the rehabilitation process for those with lower limb weaknesses (including stroke survivors or individuals with multiple sclerosis). The device adapts to each user’s own walking pattern, and helps with remote care by reporting data (such as step counts) back to the patient’s therapist.
Faucetworks: An “artificial neurologist,” meant to help more quickly identify neurological emergencies while a patient is in an ambulance en route to a hospital, or at hospitals where no neurologist is on site. Their hardware system asks patients a series of questions, then walks them through a physical exam.
HR Messenger: An HR/onboarding chatbot built to work over WhatsApp/Facebook Messenger, helping to automate things like pre-screening questions, interview scheduling and referral requests. The company says it’s working with clients including KFC and H&M.
Hopthru: Data analysis platform for public transit agencies. Hooks into the data these agencies already collect, cleans it up, then pipes it into a dashboard to help these transit agencies find ways to improve their routes and ridership.
Hubly Surgical: Building a smarter drill for neurosurgeons performing “skull puncture” operations. The company says that many surgeons still use basic, standard (hand-cranked!) drills, which can lead to high complication rates. Hubly’s drill helps to precisely angle the drill and is built to prevent the surgeon from drilling too deep. Expects to see FDA clearance in 2021, and launch in U.S. hospitals in 2022.
HyPoint: Working on high-power, high-density hydrogen fuel cell systems for aviation, meant to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions from air transportation.
Mobiz: A platform for sending personalized marketing messages to your established customer base via SMS, building “personalized micro-sites” for each user based on the brand’s existing data. The company says it’s already working with companies like Burger King and Woolworth, and is currently seeing $ 6 million in ARR.
Node App: A marketplace for connecting brands with influencers. Node helps to verify each influencer’s audience, then connects brands with these influencers with pre-negotiated deal terms.
Rectify: A tool meant to automatically detect and redact sensitive information when sharing documents outside of an organization. Focusing on the insurance market at first. Founder Melissa Unsell-Smith says the Rectify founding team previously worked together for 15 years in AT&T’s corporate legal department.
RubiLabs Inc: A platform focusing on making on-demand deliveries of medical products (vaccines, medications, etc.) to hospitals and pharmacies in Africa via drones, motorcycles and other dedicated vehicles. The company estimates that it has already saved 7,000+ lives.
Seventh.ai: Pitching itself as “Carta for intellectual property,” Seventh.ai helps founders identify which parts of their business can/should be patented, to better understand what the competition has patented, and to work through the patenting process. The company says it’s currently seeing around $ 250,000 in ARR. Founder Alex Polyansky says he spent 10 years as a patent examiner at the USPTO.
Tocca: A platform meant to help B2B companies throw branded virtual sales events, providing things like virtual lobbies, stages, breakout rooms and person-to-person networking tools. Integrates into tools like HubSpot and Salesforce to make post-event followups more efficient.
Veamly: A “unified inbox” feed for developers that brings threads and messages from Slack, GitHub and Jira into one view, as well as a unified search that can dig in across these tools. Founder Emna Ghariani says the company’s “proprietary prioritization engine” helps to sort tasks and tickets by importance, and to analyze the time they’re spending in each tool throughout the week.
Impact Creative Systems (formerly Imagine Impact) is bringing a startup accelerator-style approach to finding fresh creative talent, and it announced this morning that, with funding from venture capital firm Benchmark, it’s spinning out from Imagine Entertainment — the production company founded by director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer.
Right after the news broke, the accelerator’s founders — Howard, Grazer and CEO Tyler Mitchell — joined us at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference to discuss their vision. Grazer (whose films with Howard include “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind” and the upcoming “Hillbilly Elegy” for Netflix) recalled the Hollywood of 25 years ago, which he described as an “opaque” system where original writers often struggled to break in, and he felt that Impact could “democratize access to Hollywood.”
“How can we create opportunity to have access to epicenter of employment in the media business, which is Hollywood?” he said.
For starters, Mitchell described what he claimed is a scalable system for evaluating 2,000 script submissions every week.
“We were able to build a system that leverages both technology as well as expert systems evaluating not just the writers, but the readers — almost like financial analysts — and try to come up with metrics in world where there aren’t stats,” he said.
Mitchell also noted that in Impact’s first cohort of 87 writers, 39% were BIPOC, 10% were LGBTQ and it was split 50-50 between men and women, with 11 different countries represented.
“If you try to find the most talented writers in the world, they’re going to look like the world,” he said.
Howard made a similar point, saying that this diversity results from an interest in “fresh new voices” with “no statistical goals or agendas in mind — it’s just happening in a really honest way.”
Asked whether they’re interested in finding new talent from social media, Howard pointed to Grazer as the one who’s always encouraging him to “know what’s going on up north” (a.k.a. in Silicon Valley).
“Right now we’re in a creative renaissance with podcasts and Instagrams … finding their way into the center of the narrative,” Howard said.
Grazer said he often looks at YouTube in particular. At the same time, he cautioned that creating content for these online platforms requires a different skillset than writing movies or TV.
“It doesn’t reduce the likelihood of their success necessarily, but it’s a different art form,” he said. “Because writing a teleplay or a screenplay, even the greatest playwrights can’t do that particular thing — you have to be trained.”
Still, Imagine found at least one idea in an Instagram Story, developing a comedic show around an actor (Grazer didn’t want to say who it was, but it’s probably Arnold Schwarzenegger) with a donkey named Lulu and a miniature horse named Whiskey. Apparently the show has attracted multiple bidders, and as for where it will end up, Grazer said, “It sort of seems like Amazon. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Hollywood has been better known for making films and TV shows about the tech industry than it has been for being a part of it, but today a new enterprise is launching, backed by a major Silicon Valley venture firm, that hopes to hit pause on that image.
Imagine Impact, a content accelerator that launched two years ago under production powerhouse Imagine Entertainment to impart a “Y Combinator” approach to sourcing new work and connecting it with production opportunities, has raised a Series A round of funding from Benchmark, the VC firm that has backed Uber, Twitter, Dropbox, Snapchat and many more — funding that it plans to use to continue building out its accelerator model as well as launching new technology ventures, it said.
With the investment, Imagine Impact is effectively spinning out of Imagine Entertainment, and rebranding as a standalone company called Impact Creative Systems.
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, the high profile duo that in 1985 started the film and TV production company that has been behind a string of hits, stay on as founders, but Impact (as the firm calls itself) will be run day to day by CEO Tyler Mitchell. (And all three will be talking with us on the Disrupt stage today about this and more.)
Mitchell says that the amount of the investment, the first outside money that Impact has taken, is not being disclosed but that it’s in line with a typical Benchmark Series A. That would put it between $ 10 million and $ 20 million. The investment is being led by Bill Gurley, who will join the board with the deal.
The funding will be used to help the firm spearhead new ventures that continue building out the idea of taking a new approach to networking and finding career opportunities throughout the entertainment industry, breaking down some of the barriers of how business has always been done — through networks of who you know, lots of lunches and other hobnobbing. The idea is for the projects coming out of Impact to be underpinned not just with a tech ethos, but with actual technology.
First up is the launch later this year of The Creative Network, which Imagine describes as “an online marketplace and professional networking platform designed specifically for entertainment industry professionals to help bring efficiency and access to Hollywood.” It’s a little like LinkedIn meets Behance.
Up to now, Impact has been focusing its energies on building out its accelerators and securing deals for the writers in its cohorts, with the whole set-up inspired by the famous Silicon Valley accelerator.
The YC playbook is used in two ways. The first is in the model it’s using, where it opens applications to anyone interested to applying, and then provides those selected with mentorship, time and a little financing to do their creative work. The second comes in the form of the mentors having a lot of connections in the industry and using those to help the writers connect with others to produce their work.
The accelerator model has seen an accelerating amount of interest. Impact now has built a second accelerator outside of LA, in Australia; it has started a podcast featuring interviews with famous actors, directors and others (pointing to other kinds of content that it might spin out as business projects). And its inked a deal with Netflix Films to help source and develop content globally.
And perhaps most interestingly for laying groundwork for The Creative Network, it has built up a network of 30,000 writers across 80 countries; it has helped develop 72 projects; and 25 of those are now with major studios.
Those efforts have also had some tech built around them. Mitchell said that a beta of sorts for The Creative Network was built originally to use for the accelerator. “We built it because we were just three people running the accelerator and didn’t have the human resources available to send out or read potentially thousands of scripts” — specifically 3,000 script submissions in 72 hours — “so we built a mobile app.” Features include the ability to push submissions, make watermarks and track emails in the bigger database, the said.
“We talk about ourselves as a dating app,” joked Mitchell. “You have to get four people to fall in love with one story or writer or piece of material” to advance, he said, “the producer, director, star and financier. That involves a lot of phone calls and relationships and phone tag. It can be a very long process to triangulate and build the right teams.”
While efforts so far have been focused on building ways of connecting writers with producers, the bigger picture is to build a network that can bring in the rest of the ecosystem, including directors, actors and the extensive technical and admin talent needed to get a project off the ground and on to a screen. All of these connections up to now have been firmly stuck in the analogue world, making them slow, limited in terms of inclusiveness, and obviously very ripe for technological disruption.
“It takes 500-1,000 people in total to bring a project to life,” Mitchell said. And the bigger opportunity for connecting networks is massive. Mitchell estimates that just in the US, the production business employs 2.6 million people and accounts for some $ 177 billion in wages each year and it’s growing.
“The old way of sourcing talent in the entertainment industry is based on who you know, which presents high barriers-to-entry for the fresh voices we need to hear from,” said Gurley, in a statement. “Impact is knocking down these barriers through a marketplace model that reduces information asymmetry and levels the playing field. Ultimately this leads to more opportunities and better outcomes for everyone involved.”
Indeed, Hollywood has been between a rock and a hard place when it comes to changing up its ways.
On one side, the industry regularly faces criticism for lacking diversity in its ranks and failing to identify with the masses. Complaints include too few women in decision-making roles and the difficulty of finding work if you don’t fit into particular age and appearance types; accusations of racism (OscarsSoWhite being a recurring theme each awards season); and more.
On the other, the media industry — including how consumers watch video — is rapidly evolving. For better or worse, the TV was once the absolute epicenter of how a family came together and saw what was happening in the world outside. Those Happy Days are gone now, so to speak. People watch YouTube and TikTok, Snapchat and Netflix, and while some of that definitely is still tapping into the older Hollywood ecosystem — Netflix, of course, repurposes a lot of traditional TV and film content, and commissions its own — it also speaks to just how rapidly the mediums and their delivery are changing.
While the first efforts of Impact are addressing the first group of these issues, one follow up question — the sequel, you might say — might be how and if Impact chooses to use its networks, tech and strategy to think about the second of these.
Before coming to the entertainment industry (he was been a writer and producer for years before this) Mitchell said he had a background in finance and has “always been entrepreneurial.” The tech scene in LA has definitely been growing over the years — it’s home to Snap and others — meaning its ripe for tapping for hiring more people for the startup.
“We’re talking with data scientists to build better algorithms for the Network and yes we’re hiring engineers,” he said. “We’ve attracted some incredible talent and the majoirty of the investment is going to scaling our team.” Impact now has 11 full time technical staff, he said.
“We could not be more thrilled to be working with Benchmark. They have an unrivaled track record in building marketplaces and companies that have changed the world,” said Grazer, in a statement. “From the moment we met Bill, it was clear that he understood and believed in our vision. Benchmark is not just an investor, but a true partner, whose expertise you can’t put a price on.”
“With Benchmark, we are now in a better place to serve the greater creative community worldwide,” said Howard, in a statement. “Their investment enables us to go wider and deeper in bringing great storytellers to the forefront and connecting them to the entertainment industry.”
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