Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF), administered by the CMU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has awarded $300,000 to six startup companies to assist them in growing their business ventures. The fund, established by CMU alumnus and Flip Video Camera creator Jonathan Kaplan and his wife, Marci Glazer, provides early-stage business financing and support to alumni who have graduated from CMU in the last five years.
Since June 2012, the OFEF has provided support to 16 startup companies from across the country and a variety of industries. The most recent award recipients operate in medical, technology, consumer and educational fields. The companies’ objectives include everything from reducing back pain and improving pediatric heart surgery to creating a premium gluten-free beer and teaching guitar online. (See information on the award recipients below.)
“Open Field is dedicated to helping Carnegie Mellon graduates dream big and create the next great product or service,” said Kaplan, CEO of The Melt and five-time entrepreneur. “We are pleased to provide these investments and encouraged by the success previous Open Field recipients have experienced in just a few short months.”
Previous OFEF recipients include NoWait, a seating management system used by large restaurant chains including Red Robin, Texas Roadhouse and T.G.I. Friday’s. NoWait recently raised $2 million in funding led by Birchmere Ventures.
“I thank Jonathan not only for his generous support, but also for his hands-on approach to helping future entrepreneurs,” said CMU President Jared L. Cohon. “In addition to the financial support, Jonathan and many of his colleagues, including some former CMU classmates, are providing guidance to help our students and alumni create the types of companies and jobs that serve as the country’s economic engine.”
CMU’s entrepreneurial culture has helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs over the past 15 years, and CMU spinoffs represent 34 percent of the total companies created in Pennsylvania based on university technologies in the past five years.
The OFEF provides $50,000 in matching investment to each recipient, who also gain access to other funding sources, receive personalized mentoring and attend an annual OFEF business workshop. The university will provide legal and accounting support for OFEF recipients. Peter Stern, a CMU classmate of Kaplan, CEO of Bitly and a serial entrepreneur, will be providing advisory support for the fund, as well as serving as a mentor to one of the OFEF award recipients. The fund will select award recipients biannually.
Mentors will be assigned to each OFEF award recipient, including select CMU alumni who are serial entrepreneurs who have helped to create an excess of $1 billion in shareholder value. Mentors also will include entrepreneurs who are based at Carnegie Mellon, including OFEF Managing Director Dave Mawhinney, a professor of entrepreneurship and four-time entrepreneur.
2013 Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund Award Recipients
Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund award recipients are Carnegie Mellon alumni who have graduated from CMU in the last five years. Alumni, their date of graduation and school or college are noted at the end of each company listing.
ActivAided Orthotics, Pittsburgh
ActivAided Orthotics has created a line of postural training apparel to eliminate back pain by training rehabilitative habits and behaviors to address and correct the root causes of spine disorders and back pain. The company developed a product that offers continuous care in a convenient, effective, wearable treatment for long-term relief of back pain. Its first product, "RecoveryAid," was released in July 2012 after beta testing found that 89 percent of users experienced a decrease in back pain. (Kelly Collier, 2011, Engineering)
Aurochs Brewing Company, Pittsburgh
Aurochs Brewing Company uses unique ingredients to provide great tasting craft beers that are naturally gluten-free. The company is commercializing a brewing method that is not currently available in the United States. This technology allows Aurochs to brew with the grains millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth. The product addresses a void for the millions of Americans who follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons and those who choose to follow the gluten-free diet for improved health and well being. (Ryan Bove, 2012, Business)
PECA Labs, Pittsburgh
PECA Labs’ Masa Valve is the first valved conduit to be specifically designed for pediatric heart conduit reconstruction. The valve is specifically designed with the needs of pediatric patients in mind, unlike current options on the market, and reduces the need for additional surgeries. With implantation in 49 people for more than four years and excellent results, the Masa Valve is fully developed, clinically validated and is currently going through the FDA approval process. Clinical results have shown that the Masa Valve should save children from one-to-two open-heart surgeries over the course of their pediatric years. (Doug Bernstein, 2012, Engineering)
Pixite, San Diego
Pixite is a software development company focusing on delivering high quality photography apps to the market. Pixite is developing a revolutionary service that will provide a seamless photo management and viewing experience across computers, tablets and smartphones. Unlike current solutions, Pixite's app-centric approach will offer an elegant user experience for sharing and organizing albums, ultimately allowing users to do more with their photos, be more organized and save time. (Scott Sykora, 2012, College of Fine Arts)
StatEasy provides a free and easy-to-use platform to high school and collegiate teams to manage statistics and video of their sporting events. Current sports information systems and coaching software programs are expensive, difficult to use and labor intensive. StatEasy’s platform makes the process more efficient, and the company generates revenue by selling highlight videos to players, parents, recruiters and television stations. StatEasy currently serves more than 120 teams. (Tom Matta, 2007, Business and Engineering; Mike Ressler, 2002, Computer Science)
Tunessence, Pittsburgh (https://tunessence.com/)
Tunessence offers a virtual guitar teacher in your Web browser. While millions of Americans at any given time are trying to learn how to play the guitar, 70 percent of them quit within two months. To make the learning process more engaging, Tunessence combines advanced audio processing software with instructional video in order to replicate the experience of an in-person lesson in an online setting. The company’s software gives note-by-note feedback to the user, tracks progress and generates personalized lesson plans. Lessons are also taught in the context of popular songs as a way to keep users interested. (Alexander Soto, 2011, Engineering; Matthew Bauch, 2012, Engineering)