757 Accelerate, Hampton Roads’ startup accelerator program, has been keeping busy despite the coronavirus economy.
In addition to holding its entire 2020 program online, 757 Accelerate recently announced a grant-funded partnership to find and engage new entrepreneurs and is making progress toward establishing a permanent physical space in Norfolk.
The nonprofit program, which connects early-stage businesses with resources to grow, has faced numerous challenges this year as it transitioned to an online model, said Evans McMillion, 757 Accelerate executive director.
“2020 has brought unexpected adversity and hardship for so many, and we at 757 Accelerate are no different,” she said during the program’s annual community pitch event on Nov. 5.
The accelerator announced a partnership program designed to connect undiscovered entrepreneurs to community stakeholders and resources during the event. 757 Accelerate will join forces with the Boulder, Colorado-based Techstars seed accelerator through its yearlong startup ecosystem development program.
In a keynote interview, Techstars Senior Director for Ecosystem Development Ian Hathaway described the program as a way to establish a framework for an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Hampton Roads. The firm will be hiring a local director of ecosystem development who will help create the road map, “try to drive entrepreneurs out of the woodwork” and leverage the area’s network of academic institutions, businesses, governments and other organizations.
Techstars will also be holding local events and programming for entrepreneurs, McMillion said in an email, and will “conduct the stakeholder and founder interviews needed to assess the current state of entrepreneurship in the Hampton Roads region.” The program is being funded through a $240,000 GO Virginia grant awarded to the 757 Angels network, a 757 Accelerate partner, in 2019.
During the 757 Accelerate showcase event, audience members heard pitches directly from this year’s participating company founders.
Secret Chord Laboratories CEO David Rosen discussed how his Virginia Beach company’s music app would use neuroscience to be able to predict the effect a piece of music would have on the brain of a listener. Rosen said the company was already attracting the interest of representatives from Universal Music Group and other major labels.
Mayfair Project CEO James Chapman said his company’s product would help insurance companies and defense attorneys process claims more effectively through machine learning.
“(Problems) include really challenging workflows, very high levels of uncertainty about what to do with claims lawsuits, and, as you might appreciate, very high legal costs,” Chapman said.
Grid Fruit CEO Jesse Thornburg wants to use artificial intelligence to help convenience stores, supermarkets and other clients reduce food waste and power bills through managed temperature control systems on freezers and refrigerators. Thornburg said his system would reduce operational costs and could save the electrical grid up to 15% in peak demand and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The more data we have, the more value we provide, so the AI essentially provides more savings year-over-year for the stores,” Thornburg said.
ChowCall CEO Todd Waldemar plans to use his Chesapeake company to fix the hurdles food and grocery delivery companies encounter when traveling on military bases. His company has already set up credential approval from the bases and knows how to interpret the often-esoteric addresses used by the military.
“ChowCall is already doing what our competitors could not do,” Waldemar said.
The company is operating in Fayetteville and Jacksonville, North Carolina, and plans to launch in 10 other markets, including Hampton Roads, by the end of 2021.
Finally, Canduit CEO Greg Lewin wants to help employers access the best college graduates of color and first-time college graduates though project-based learning. Employers would post projects on the website, which would connect them to recent graduates with ideas about how to complete them.
“Our technology helps students identify and follow potential employers’ career tracks, and sequentially develop skills toward a chosen career path,” Lewin said.
Construction is also progressing on 757 Startup Studios, part of the Assembly building on Granby Street in Norfolk where startups will be able to meet and work. Up to 35 entrepreneurs will be able to work in the space, according to Inside Business reporting. McMillion said the space should be available when Assembly opens in March, subject to federal and state guidance on the pandemic.