Pear, the eight-year-old, Palo Alto, California-based seed-stage venture firm that has, from its outset, attracted the attention of VCs who think the firm has an eye for nascent talent, staged its seventh annual demo day earlier this week. Although it was virtual, one of the startups has already signed a term sheet from a top-tier venture firm.
To give the rest of you a sneak peak, here’s a bit about all of the startups that presented, in broad strokes:
What it does: Video conferencing platform for enterprise workflows.
The pitch: Video has emerged as one of the prominent ways for enterprises to communicate internally and externally with their customers and partners. Current video conferencing tools like Zoom and WebEx are great for standalone video, but they have their own ecosystems and don’t integrate into thousands of enterprise workflows. That means that API tools that do integrate, like Agora and Twilio, still require manual work from developer teams to customize and maintain. AccessBell is aiming to provide the scalability and reliability of Zoom, as well as the customizability and integrations of Twilio, in a low-code integration and no-code extensible customization platform.
It’s a big market the team is chasing, one that’s expected to grow to $8.6 billion by 2027. The cost right now for users who want to test out AccessBell is $27 per host per month.
What it does: Unlock financial opportunities for farmers to create sustainable farms and improve their livelihoods.
The pitch: Over half of American farms don’t have the tools or bandwidth they need to identify ways to improve their farms and become profitable. The startup’s API links to farmers’ bank accounts, where its algorithm assesses financials to provide a “farm read,” scoring the farms’ financial health. It then regularly monitors farm data to continuously provide clean financials and recommendations on how to improve its customers’ farms, as well as to connect farmers with capital in order to improve their score. (It might suggest that a farm invest in certain sustainability practices, for example.)
Eventually, the idea is to also use the granular insights it’s garnering and sell these to state governments and other outfits that want a better handle on what’s coming — be it around food security or climate changes.
What it does: Re-engineering life’s essential products — starting with tampons.
The pitch: Founded by student athletes from Stanford, Sequel argues that seven out of 10 women don’t trust tampons, which were first designed in 1931 (by a man). New brands like Lola have catchy slogans, but the primary difference is in the material and not the design and performance of the product. Sequel has focused instead on fluid mechanics and specifically on slowing flow rates so a tampon won’t leak before it’s full, instilling more confidence in its customers, whether they’re in the “boardroom or the stadium.”
The company says it has already filed patents and secured manufacturing partners and that it expects that the product will be available to buy directly from its website, as well as in other stores, next year.
What it does: Unlocking the therapeutic potential of the microbiome with a high-throughput pipeline for characterizing microbes, metabolites and therapeutic response, based on years of research at Stanford.
The pitch: The microbiome plays a major role in a wide range of human diseases, including heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and cancer. In fact, Interface’s founders — both of whom are PhDs — say that microbiome-influenced diseases are responsible for four of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. So how do they better seize on the opportunity to identify therapeutics by harnessing the microbiome? Well, they say they’ll do it via a “high-speed pipeline for characterizing metabolites and their immune phenotypes,” which they’ll create by developing the world’s largest database of microbiome-mediated chemistry . . . which the startup will then screen for potential metabolites that can lead to new therapies. (We spilled our coffee during this pitch so missed some details, but presumably you can learn more from the startup’s founders and site.)
What it does: Gryps is tackling construction information silos to create a common information layer that gives building and facility owners both rich and permanent access to document-centric information.
The pitch: The vast size and complexity of the construction industry has resulted in all kinds of software and services that address various aspects of the construction processes. That has led to data and documents being spread across many siloed tools. Gryps says it picks up where all the construction-centered tools leave off: Taking delivery of the projects at the end of a construction job and providing all the information that facility owners need to operate, renovate or build future projects through a platform that ingests data from various construction tools, mines the embedded information, then provides operational access through owner-centered workflows.
What it does: Automation infrastructure for supply chain businesses, starting with AI-powered freight forwarder solutions.
The pitch: Freight forwarders take care of all the logistics of shipping containers, including financials, approvals and paper work for all the local entities on both sides of the sender and receiver geographies, but communications with these local entities are often done through unstructured data, including forms, documents and emails, and can subsequently eat up to 60% of operational expenses. Expedock is looking to transform the freight-forwarding industry by digitizing and automating the processing and inputting of unstructured data into various local partner and governmental systems, including via a “human in the loop” AI software service.
What it does: A new way to share praise.
The pitch: The process of thanking people is full of friction. Paper cards have to be purchased, signed, passed around; greetings on Facebook only mean so much. Using Illume, teams and individuals can download its app or come together on Slack and create a customized, private and also shareable note. The nascent startup says one card typically has 10 contributors; it’s charging enterprises $3 per user per month, ostensibly so sales teams, among others, can use them.
What it does: Quansa improves Latin American workers’ financial lives via employer-based financial care.
The pitch: Fully 40% of employees across Latin America have missed work in the past 12 months due to financial problems. Quansa wants to help them get on the right track financially with the help of employers that use its software to link their employees’ payroll data with banks, fintechs and other financial institutions.
There is strength in numbers, says the firm. By funneling more customers to lenders through employers, for example, these staffers should ultimately be able to access cheaper car loans, among other things.
What it does: Spotlight turns sensitive customer information from a burden to an asset by using NLP techniques to identify, anonymize and manage access to PII and other sensitive business data.
Founder: Austin Osborne (CEO)
The pitch: Data privacy legislation like GDPR and CCPA is creating an era where companies can no longer use their customer data to run their business due to the risks of fines, lawsuits and negative media coverage. Spotlight’s software plugs into existing data storage engines via APIs and operates as a middleware within a company’s network. Using advanced NLP and OCR techniques, it says it’s able to detect sensitive information in unstructured data, perform multiple types of anonymization, and provide a deep access control layer.
What it does: Bennu closes the loop on management communication.
Founder: Brenda Jin (CEO)
The pitch: Today’s work communication is done through forms, email, Slack and docs; the timelines are unnatural. Bennu is trying to solve the problem with communication loops that use integrations and smart topic suggestions to help employees prepare for substantive management conversations in seconds, not hours.
What it does: Playbook automates the people coordination in your repeatable workflows with a simple system to create, execute and track any process with a team, customers and more.
The pitch: Whether you’re collecting time cards from 20 hourly workers every week, or managing 30 customer on-boardings — you’re coordinating repetitive workflows across people over email and tracking it over spreadsheets. Playbook says it coordinates workflows between people at scale by taking programming concepts such as variables and conditional logic that let its customers model any workflow — and all packaged in an interface that enables anyone to build out their workflows in minutes.
What it does: Community-based care for life’s most important transitions.
The pitch: June is a digital health company focused on maternal health, with community at the core. Like a Livongo for diabetes management, June combines the latest research around shared appointments, peer-to-peer support and cognitive behavioral therapy to improve outcomes and lower costs, including through weekly programs.
What it does: Challenge anyone to a friendly bet.
The pitch: Wagr will allow sports fans to bet with peers in a social, fair and simple way. Sending a bet requires just three steps, too: Pick a team, set an amount and send away. Wagr sets the right odds and handles the money.
Users can challenge friends, start groups, track leaderboards and see what others are betting on, so they feel connected even if they aren’t together. Customers pay a commission when they use the platform to find them a match, but bets against friends are free. The plan is to go live in Tennessee first and expand outward from there.
What it does: Intelligence for a new era of risk.
The pitch: Insurance companies are struggling to manage risk as natural catastrophes continue to grow in volume and severity. Reinsurance is no longer a reliable backstop, with some of the largest insurers taking $600 million-plus single-quarter losses net of reinsurance.
Federato is building an underwriter workflow that uses dynamic optimization across the portfolio to steer underwriters to a better portfolio balance. The software ostensibly lets actuaries and portfolio analysts drive high-level risk analysis into the hands of underwriters on the front lines to help them understand the “next best action” at a given point in time.
What it does: A plastic credit platform to help consumer brands of any size go plastic-neutral.
The pitch: Consumers worldwide are demanding businesses take action on eliminating plastic waste, 3.8 million pounds of which are leaked into the environment every few minutes. Yet even as brands try, alternatives are often too expensive or worse for the environment.
Through this startup, a brand can commit to the removal of a certain amount of plastic, which will then be removed by the startup’s local waste management partners and recycled on the brand’s behalf (with rePurpose verifying that the process adheres to certain standards). The startup says it can maintain a healthy margin while running this plastic credit market, and that its ultimate vision is to become a “one-stop shop for companies to create social, economic, and environmental impact.”
What it does: A professional community platform for the next generation.
The pitch: LinkedIn sucks, everyone hates it. Ladder (which may have a trademark infringement battle ahead of it) is building a platform around community instead of networks. The idea is that users will opt in to join communities with like-minded individuals in their respective industries and roles of interest. Once engaged, they can participate in AMAs with industry experts, share opportunities and have 1:1 conversations.
The longer term “moat” is the data it collects from users, from which it thinks it can generate more revenue per user than LinkedIn. (By the way, this is the startup that has already signed a term sheet.)
How it works: Exporta is building a B2B wholesale marketplace connecting suppliers in Latin America with buyers in North America.
The pitch: The U.S. now imports more each year from Latin America than from China, but LatAm sourcing remains fragmented and manual. Exporta builds on-the-ground relationships to bring LatAm suppliers onto a tech-enabled platform that matches them to U.S. buyers looking for faster turnaround times and more transparent manufacturing relationships.
What it does: Via helps companies build their own teams in new countries as simply as if they were in their HQ.
The pitch: Setting up a team in a new country is very complex. Companies need local entities, contracts, payroll, benefits, accounting, tax, compliance and more. Via enables companies to build their own teams in new countries quickly and compliantly by leveraging local entities to legally employ teams on their behalf, then integrating local contracts, payroll and benefits in one platform. By plugging into the local hiring ecosystem, Via does all the heavy lifting for its customers, even promising to stand up a team in 48 hours and at less expense than traditional alternatives. (It’s charging $600 per employee per month in Canada and Mexico, where it says it has already launched.)