Hanover startups perform well at competition

by Leina McDermott | 10/6/15 8:20pm

By utilizing the College’s strong alumni network, creative work environment and focus on supporting innovation, three Hanover-based startups placed as finalists at the “Rise of the Rest” competition, which took place in Manchester last week. Jack O’Toole Tu’14 and chemsitry professor Joe BelBruno won the competition’s $100,000 prize for their startup FreshAir.

Director of Entrepreneurship and the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network Innovation Center Jamie Coughlin organized the event and acted as emcee during the final round of the competition. Coughlin actively participated in bringing the tour to New Hampshire, and is passionate about how the event highlights talented people in “pockets of the country” besides traditional entrepreneurial hubs like Boston, New York and Silicon Valley, he said.

Coughlin said he was excited to “shed a light” on “good ideas” and “good talent” in places like New Hampshire.

Rise of the Rest is a nationwide project that tours the United States, holding startup competitions in cities with up-and-coming entrepreneurial ecosystems. According to the Rise of the Rest website, the tour was presented by Case’s venture capital firm Revolution, which awards $100,000 to the winning team in each city.

This year, 50 startups applied to the competition. Of those, seven hopeful teams presented their pitches to the judges in the final round of the Manchester competition, the Valley News reported. Three of these seven teams, Calibrater Health, FreshAir, and FliQ, are all startups based in Hanover.

FreshAir is a startup that began at the College as a collaboration between O’Toole and BelBruno around seven years ago. BelBruno said that the company’s product, which is a smoke detector specifically for nicotine, was developed to encourage people to stop smoking around their children. The FreshAir sensor will alert customers, which could potentially include hotels in the future, if it detects nicotine.

After winning the competition, FreshAir’s main priority is “scaling up,” BelBruno said. Already, potential interest of FreshAir’s customer base would require them to produce an estimated 1.5 million devices. While BelBruno said the actual demand would likely be less because not every potential customer will purchase the product, the company will still need to increase its production potential, and it will use its $100,000 prize to reach this goal.

FreshAir is a “totally Dartmouth company,” BelBruno said — everyone who works at the company either works at Dartmouth or has a Dartmouth degree, and most of the company’s initial funding came from people affiliated with the College

Belbruno thinks that the company’s strong connection with the College illustrates the entrepreneurial atmosphere in Hanover.

“If you talk to enough people, you will get pointed to someone who might be interested in what you’re doing and might be willing to be a seed investor to get start-ups off the ground,” he said.

The College also played a large role in the development of another competition finalist, Calibrater Health, co-founder and part-time Dartmouth Institute physician Adam Groff ’99 said. Calibrater Health makes customer service software for health care by using a web-based application to allow health care providers to follow up on their patients’ needs, Groff said. The application texts patients a follow-up survey about the quality of their experience and their likelihood of recommending the provider’s services, he said,

“It’s all about improving patient experience, i.e. customer service in health care,” Groff said.

Groff and CEO and co-founder Tim Dybvig formally launched Calibrater Health about a year ago, and are on track to be cash-flow positive by next year, Dybvig said.

Dybvig said that despite not winning he competition, he enjoyed having the opportunity to speak in front of proven entrepreneurs.

“It was a good way for us to get our names out there a little bit more into the local community,” he said.

Groff added that the company also entered the competition to support the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Both Groff and Dybvig said that Coughlin and DEN have been very supportive. Groff said that they enjoy using the DEN Innovation Center as a workplace because there are many other people working on companies there.

Additionally, Groff said that he was first connected to Dybvig through a Dartmouth alum, and that his relationship to the Dartmouth Institute has also contributed to the success of the company.

Dybvig said that the College’s strong alumni network is also beneficial in locating resources and funding.

Coughlin echoed this feelings.

“We have these wonderful and tremendous resources on campus, but we also have this whole global community of alums, many of which are experienced professionals, creatives, successful entrepreneurs, successful financial people that can contribute,” he said. “That’s the power of Dartmouth.”

Representatives of FliQ did not respond to requests for an interview by press-time.