Today, we are proud to announce the official release of Start Here: a podcast sharing the stories of active, aspiring, and accidental entrepreneurs! Hosted by David Bradbury & Sam Roach-Gerber and produced by Ryan Bahan, Start Here bridges the gap between entertainment and inspiration by showcasing the raw, unfiltered stories of today’s top innovators. It is available on Soundcloud now, and will be streaming on iTunes beginning 12/14/16!
Keep up with the podcast here, and make sure to subscribe!
So here’s your chance to wear a totally different outfit, dress up for Halloween, win some swag, and drink some beer!
Submit your photos by 4pm on Monday, 10/31, for a chance to win some awesome VCET prizes!
There will be an awards ceremony at 4 at the downtown BTV office. Feel free to come in costume! We’ll look through all the entries, drink beers, eat candy!
What’s your story? How did you get here?
Ethan has a fairly extensive professional history in healthcare management and IT. Personally, he’s been working in the field for twelve years, but his family is also involved in the same industry. Because of all of that experience, Ethan knew he wanted to impact patient care, so he started working on solutions to improve healthcare using innovation and his entrepreneurial instincts.
Break down OhMD for us in a one-liner. Go ahead and brag about your successes!
Essentially, OhMD is WhatsApp for healthcare; a secure messaging system for doctors and patients. Ethan and OhMD put emphasis on understanding consumer trends to leverage them for healthcare benefits. One of those trends is that people prefer texting over calling. The other is that patients and healtcare professionals both have universally frustrating experiences with doctor patient communication. For Ethan, combining the two phenomenon seemed a natural choice. Investors agree. Recently, OhMD has raised a seed fund of $1.2million from some very experienced healthcare IT professionals, which is HUGE. He has big plans for how this funding will be used for the benefit of the app, but he did also get some t-shirts made, because swag is important.
What’s coming next down the OhMD pipeline?
The company has found its product, found its product market fit, and secured funding. The next step is making it scalable and getting it in front of people. OhMD is currently taking off and growing efficiently.
What’s your favorite thing about working with VCET?
According to Ethan, “VCET is a place you feel good about going to everyday”. I didn’t even ask him to plug us, but he legitimately had nothing bad to say. He said that it’s easy to want to work at home, but the office is a more productive environment. It’s a great physical space, as well as networking opportunity because almost everyone in this community has some sort of expertise you can leverage.
Finally, if you had to give up either chocolate or cheese, which would you choose?
He must be some kind of monster. He didn’t even hesitate to cut out cheese, because “There is no other chocolate”. We admire your dedication, Ethan.
Hunter is a senior at the University of Vermont working as a Social Media and Communications Associate at VCET. She is majoring in Public Communication with an emphasis in visual communication. At VCET, Hunter works with social media, communication content creation, graphics and visual design, and event planning. When not in the office, Hunter is usually climbing up the side of a mountain, coaching a rock climbing team, or taking pictures of the world around her.
Interested parties please contact Sam Roach-Gerber with cover letter and resume: email@example.com
Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) is seeking a Digital Media and Technology Associate. If you consider yourself tech savvy and self-motivated, this position is for you!
Compensation and Schedule:
Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) is seeking a Social Media and Communications Associate. If you consider yourself a social media expert, and enjoy writing and meeting new people, this position is for you!
Compensation and Schedule:
Interested parties please contact Sam Roach-Gerber with cover letter and resume: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you end up in Vermont?
I studied at ETH Zurich, one of the top three universities in the world for Science and Technology. I then accepted an offer from the Boston Consulting Group. Right after graduation, I went back-packing through Latin America for half a year. I met my spouse in Managua, Nicaragua. As it happens, she was a professor at UVM and traveling to conferences. Eventually, via Zurich, Madrid, Mexico City, and New York City, I moved to Vermont to be with her about 17 years ago now.
Coming to Vermont and having a strong industry background in healthcare, I made it my mission to empower patients. Over the years I started a number of companies to explore innovative ways to give patients more of a voice in their own care. The first one was Patient Empowerment Systems. I hacked into wearable hardware and repurposed it to allow people to track symptoms and behavior. I then spent over 8 years as part of a dedicated team launching Dynamic Clinical Systems.
We introduced Patient Reporting Outcomes tracking in hospital care, especially in the clinical areas of Orthopedics and Oncology, to track what ultimately matters to patients aside from life and death: Their quality of life, ability to function, and severity of symptoms. We answered the questions: What actually works in real-life healthcare today? E.g., who gets better from spine surgery, who doesn’t? Why? And we introduced individual, longitudinal outcomes reporting in the care encounter. Our clients were industry leaders, amongst them Dartmouth, University of San Francisco, and the Cleveland Clinic. We had a successful exit from that company eventually. When the iPhone came out I jumped on the opportunity and made self-tracking apps as a hobby. Turns out my apps received a lot of press and critical acclaim, from the Physician’s Practice Journal, The Doctor Weighs In, #1 features by the Apple App Store, to the Dr. Oz Show. While Track & Share Apps have become a nice lifestyle business, I’m always thinking about what I can do for healthcare next with another catalytic, disruptive startup. That’s why I launched Zeebo.
What is Zeebo?
Zeebo pills are honest placebos designed for focus on symptom relief. Taking pills is deeply anchored in our culture. The placebo effect is well-documented. Interestingly, today it is almost impossible to get new pain medication approved by the FDA because patients’ response to placebos is growing– based on trust in brands and pills fueled by direct-to-consumer advertising. Let’s embrace this phenomenon! There is a place for the skillful use of placebos for symptom relief and performance enhancement in regular care. To deliver the largest placebo benefit with Zeebo, we try to mimic the look and feel of a pharma company with our market presence. We even have an app to let you track if you get better when taking placebos. At this time, Zeebo is a dietary supplement that we sell through Amazon.
Who is Zeebo for?
Taking a placebo pill for symptom relief can work for anyone. You just don’t know if you are a placebo responder until you try. There are certain groups of people that tend to buy Zeebo. Often it’s adults who give them as a present to their elderly parents because they are concerned about them taking too many medications. Staff in nursing homes tell me that some patients take so many different drugs for symptom relief that it is hard to know which ones actually make a difference for the patient. We also get orders from dentists who presumably are offering them for stress relief during dental work.
Do you have anything else coming down the pike?
I always have time to start another company since all of my companies are self-sustaining. I’m interested in working with financial donors next. While I like self-sustaining companies that do the right thing, sometimes it’s good to have a lot of resources available to have a larger impact on society. And given how our healthcare system is set up, money streams are not always aligned with the most relevant startup ideas. So, if you have a million to spare and care about IOS as much as ROI, call me (IOS=Impact On Society).
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
I’ve been working with startups for awhile now and I’ve come to realize that you really need to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you care about what you do, success becomes irrelevant and just happens on the way. Value your freedom. If you can be self-sustaining then you are always free to choose where you’re going next. Initially, stay away from investors. If you want to scale up later to have a larger impact, or simply want to get rich, that is the time to invite investors in. Embrace struggle and failure. You learn most from failure. There is a liberating truth in the embarrassment of failure itself.
How did you end up at VCET?
I was one of the first people here. I used to work from home and in cafes, so when I heard about VCET in the Burlington Free Press, I applied right away. I highly recommend it! I get to ride my bike along the lake to work. It’s a great way to get my day started.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I’m taking Zeebo pills myself. I’ve built pill-taking into my meditation ritual to increase my concentration power and sensory clarity.
VCET@Midd member SchoolHack Solutions recently added Kevin Hytten, Ed.D. as their new Chief Operations Officer. Congrats Dr. Hytten and SchoolHack! You can read the press release here.
Congratulations are also in order to Reconciled It, a Burlington company co-founded by our own Bonnie Reese. Reconciled It has just been named one of the top Global Firms of the Future runner-ups by Intuit Inc. Check out the announcement here.
New VCET member OhMD, led by CEO Ethan Bechtal, has partnered with Vermont Information Technology Leaders, Inc. (VITL) to deliver their secure texting system to Vermont health care providers and patients. Find out more.
Finally, last month VCET portfolio company Pwnie Express welcomed a new CTO, Artur Adib. Artur is a former VCET member and will undoubtedly prove a valuable addition to Pwnie. See what he has to say on the announcement here.
Multitasking millennials are costing us billions
Tips for increasing productivity from The Boston Globe.
The Sharks That Live to 400
Totally unrelated to entrepreneurship or tech, but this is a super cool article about Greenland sharks.
The Basics of SEO
Tips from SurveyMonkey Director of Marketing, Eli Schwartz to optimize your site’s SEO.
In venture capital, company founders and their investors can lose everything. But how big are the risks—and for whom?
Politicians this year are debating whether venture capitalists should pay lower taxes on their income from profitable investments because of the risks they take.
Yet data from Dow Jones VentureSource show that in about 70% of venture-backed companies, the founders lose everything. That’s because investors get their money back first.
The data is part of an analysis done by Susan Woodward, a financial economist at Sandhill Econometrics Inc., for WSJ Pro Venture Capital.
She used VentureSource to look at what’s happened to 25,700 companies, which each raised at least one round of funding between 1992 and March 31 of this year. (The money came from U.S.-based venture firms).
So far, 61.2% of the companies, or 15,737, have moved on from being stand-alone private companies—they’ve either gone public, were shut down or got acquired.
Twenty four years is a long time in venture capital, but despite the booms, busts and regulatory changes that have occurred over those years, Ms. Woodward found that certain patterns hold.
— Companies are most likely to get acquired or shut down after one round of funding, and those outcomes are nearly equal—14% of companies were shut down after one funding round and 15% were acquired. Between rounds 2 and 9, the chances of getting acquired are higher, although the likelihood of either outcome goes down with each round.
— Despite the number of highly valued private companies that have raised hundreds of millions in funding, companies are most likely to go public after four funding rounds. By round five, “companies are mostly done with whatever they’re going to do,” Ms. Woodward says.
— Getting acquired isn’t necessarily a good outcome. If the value of a deal isn’t announced—and about half aren’t—the deal is more likely to have some undesirable aspect, such as the company having to raise a bridge round just before it is sold. “We know that the harder we work to find an acquisition value, the lower it is,” she says.
— In about 45% of companies, investors lose everything.
— The 10-times-the-money returns that venture capitalists say they strive for are rare. For all the companies that exited since 1992 (the 61.2% from above), the aggregate value at exit was $1.2 trillion. But venture capitalists in those companies invested $420 billion. That’s an aggregate return of 2.9 times.
I’ll be looking more closely at this data in future posts. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your comments.
Write to Deborah Gage at Deborah.Gage@dowjones.com
Tell us about Sap! What inspired you to start the company?
Three years ago I was working for Senator Leahy in DC. I absolutely loved my time down there, but I was ready for a new challenge. I knew I wanted to move back to Vermont and start my own business, so I came back in 2014 and enrolled in UVM’s Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program (SEMBA). My cousin Nikita and I reconnected that fall and we started talking through some potential business ideas. Nikita and I both come from a Vermont maple background, with Nikita’s side of the family having produced maple syrup for generations (Nikita also owns his own sugarbush in Underhill as well). Many Vermonters like us have had the experience of drinking sap right from the bucket on the tree during sugaring season. A few maple seasons ago, my father was getting tired of boiling our sap all the way into syrup (its takes a long time) and began to can sap in mason jars at different sweetness levels. Just for fun, he tested these different types of sap drinks on some family members at a party and the business idea sort of struck me as I was watching all of the positive reactions to the drinks.
Coinciding with this revelation, we realized that the beverage industry had been changing dramatically over the past five years. Customers were becoming more health-conscious, which explains the popularity of products like coconut water, kombucha, and now Sap!. Traditional sugar-sweetened beverages were, and continue to be, declining dramatically. Customers are looking for healthy, better-for-you alternatives, and we knew we had just the product to capture customers in this changing landscape.
But there was certainly a deeper component for me in starting a business as well. I strongly believe in the power of business to change the world for the better – socially and environmentally – and that the successful businesses of the future will have these thoughts front of mind. So when evaluating our potential business, it had to check all of the boxes. First, and most importantly, it has a path to profitability. Secondly, the products are healthy and support dozens of local maple producers who often rely on maple as their main source of income. Third, we need healthy forests to successfully make our products; supporting the working landscape and a healthy environment in Vermont is crucial to our success. In other words, it has the potential to be a triple-win business.
How did you end up at VCET?
I’ve been connected in with VCET for a while. I was a member as a graduate student at UVM and I know a fair amount of people who work in the space. Since we do not need our own office space yet, I wanted to be in a community with a diverse set of creative people. Ultimately, much of our success will come down to 1. Having a great set of products and 2. Being able to tell the story of our company in a unique and dynamic way to connect with consumers on a level beyond just our products. That’s what many people do here at VCET in their various industries. Even though we’re not a tech company per se, we want to eventually tell our story through different technology channels, engaging people in these new and unique ways. Having access to the VCET network will be helpful for that over time.
Where are Sap! drinks made?
All the maple sap is sourced from Vermont maple trees, mostly out of Franklin County. As of now, we are only in production during March and April (when the sap runs). Sap! is packaged at Woodchuck Hard Cider in Middlebury, Vermont. Since we produce all of our inventory during a small window of time to preserve the quality, it’s difficult to know how much to make for the year. And although our products have a long shelf-life (two years), the limited canning window is certainly the biggest difficulty in our current business model.
However, we have seen our products strongly resonate with consumers who understand that these drinks are completely natural and cannot be made out of thin air (normal soda is made in batches from syrup concentrate, as needed to stock the shelves). While we are experimenting with ways to store and freeze sap to extend our canning window as a long-term necessity of the business model, connecting the dots for customers on the seasonality of the maple season, where the maple sap is from, and how exactly the products are made really helps to build consumer understanding and loyalty.
What has been your biggest challenge starting your own company?
There’s a learning curve with any new business. It’s important for me to remember how far we’ve come in the last 18 months. We didn’t even have a product on the shelf a year ago. Now we are getting close to 300 stores and working with Whole Foods. I think initially the biggest challenge for me was more mindset and confidence in the products. Having a consumable product means that every time someone tries your product, you feel like you are being judged. And that is just part of the deal. I have seen thousands and thousands of people try the products now and I have sales numbers to tangibly show me people love the products and buy the products in large volume. I have tremendous faith in the products. I think the biggest challenge now is to handle the growth in a strategic way. There is still so much I need to learn about the beverage industry, and minimizing mistakes is crucial. Success will really be directly linked to how hard we work, how well we tell our story, and how smart we are with our resources.
Do you have a favorite Sap! product? What is next for Sap!?
It depends on the day, but I really drink them pretty interchangeably. Sales of both products are actually 50/50. We don’t yet have a complete theory about why that is. The maple soda, which is the sweeter one, is actually a little healthier because the maple is more concentrated.
Our next product is a pure birch sap beverage. People drink birch sap all over the Northern Hemisphere. especially in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, but it hasn’t become popular yet in the United States. Birch sap is even lower calorie and has less sugar than maple, and is arguably a little healthier due to its complex nutritional profile. Whereas our maple products have a sweet finish, the birch product has a slightly more tart, floral, raspberry-ish taste. Our birch product will be the first commercial birch sap beverage sourced from birch trees in the United States. It’s especially exciting because if it takes off and does well, it will represent a new industry for Vermont.
We currently have a partnership with UVM to study our products. More and more research is being conducted on maple, revealing its health properties and functional benefits. Maple sap has long been consumed as a medicinal tonic by Native American tribes all over the Northeast, and now modern science is backing this up.
On a lighter note, but still actually pretty serious, we are also currently researching the effects of maple sap on alcohol metabolism. There are a few research studies so far that show that if you drink maple sap before you drink alcohol, or with alcohol, the enzymes in the sap help the liver break down the alcohol more quickly, putting less stress on your liver overall. Not only does this have the potential to help prevent liver disease, it also helps to prevent your hangover the next day! It has certainly been anecdotally proven to work. While we joke about this a lot, it could be a further angle to the business that has major potential in giving a customer yet another reason to buy Sap! We will be conducting a research study this fall if anyone wants to participate (free drinks!).
FreshTracks Capital’s RoadPitch 2016 concluded this past week. Sam and I were able to make it to the North Hero and Hyde Park stops to hear some really awesome entrepreneurs give their pitches. We look forward to hearing some of those entrepreneurs pitch again in October!
Congratulations are in order to former coworker Aimee Marti, who successfully sold her company, Starboard Collections, to Architec Products of Delray Beach, FL. Aimee is looking for new opportunities in the Burlington area, bringing with her her love of marketing and her startup experience.
These Are the Must-Watch Events Each Day of the Rio Olympics
Make sure you know which events to keep an eye out for!
Why It’s Not Enough Just to Be Disruptive
Self-explanatory title, but an interesting article on competitive advantage from The New York Times
How to Think Like Elon Musk
Should we be focusing on a specialized field or leave ourselves open to learning across industries?
5 Essentials to Becoming a Millionaire Before You’re 30
For the under-30 set at VCET. Spoiler alert: Career first, everything else second or not at all.
Become an IBM Global Entrepreneur! Find out how IBM can help you grow your startup here.
Inside a plain brick building in Burlington lies the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, a buzzing hipster incubator that looks as if it could be in Silicon Valley. Read more.