The vision of a Silicon Strip is coming along nicely. Just about a year into a concerted effort to build a technology scene in Las Vegas, startups of all types are already forming in Las Vegas and moving to the city.
Last weekend, in fact, SuperNAP data center operator Switch Communications hosted the second-annual Startup Weekend Las Vegas. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund put up $500,000
for the winning team for the upcoming Crowdstart LV competition into which the Startup Weekend winner — which ended up being a password-management app called Launch Key — gets automatic entry. Switch actually has its own venture fund, too, as well as multiple programs designed to bring high-tech jobs to the city.
But Launch Key is less than a week old right now. Here are five of the city’s most-promising startups that are actually doing business:
Think Square, only easier, and you have Counterless. Its app seeks to eliminate the need to wait in line at places like eateries and bars by letting the establishments upload their menus, and letting users order and pay from the comfort of their seats with their mobile devices.
However, Counterless is very young and raw — the idea was first hatched in November 2011 — and its business model requires buy-in from businesses as well as users. So far, Counterless’s only customer is Slidin’ Thru, the city’s favorite food-truck-turned-hamburger joint. But among Counterless’s advisors are a couple casino executives with nightclub businesses that could make ideal testing grounds.
It’s also not alone in this space, as startups such as Storific and Tabula are also trying to use smartphones to streamline the ordering process.
2. Lucine Biotechnology
Lucine Biotechnology is a small, still-unfunded biotech startup that aims to fundamentally change healthcare for women. The current state of affairs, according to Founder and CEO Chandler Marrs, is that it’s pretty much a crapshoot as to whether medicines or treatments will work on women because relatively little attention is paid to their very real hormonal issues. Often times, women end up serving as “their own experiments,” she said.
The idea behind Lucine is to be a version of PatientsLikeMe focused specifically on women. Women join the social platform (which will launch in October) and share everything of relevance about their health situations — age, race, medicines, supplements, hormone levels (Lucine will actually conduct testing), symptoms, etc. Members can learn from others like them what treatments are working or how common side effects really are, while Lucine analyzes their data to draw correlations among the myriad variables.
Given a large-enough user base, platforms like Lucine can do crowdsourced medical studies faster, cheaper and with more data points than can traditional corporate or academic researchers. Although, Marrs acknowledges, that’s just the first step. Hopefully, the next step is that Lucine’s findings will provide enough data to spur scientifically validated studies that change how doctors, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies approach women’s health. With enough data, Marrs said, “I anticipate we’ll find patterns no one has thought to look at.”
Romotive, with its vision to fuse the worlds of smartphones and robotics, might be one of the coolest consumer-tech companies around, not just in Las Vegas. And its vision is catching on. It launched in November 2011, and when I first met the company in February, it had four employees (three of whom were the co-founders), had just closed a $1.5 million round, and was hand-building thousands of robots from inside the condo that doubled as its office.
The team still works from their living quarters (one unit now houses a MakerBot 3-D printer), but it has grown to a staff of 13 and continues to hire. One of its newest additions, former Habit Labs co-founder and CEO Jen McCabe, just spent months in China setting up the company’s new production operation that Romotive hopes will help it have 10,000 of its $99 robots ready to ship by the holiday season in order to fulfill demand from some upcoming retail partnerships.
Although it’s very appealing to geeks and hackers, Romotive will have to make a smartphone-powered robot that’s both easy to program and physically approachable if it wants to appeal to a mass market. Its new design (currently under wraps) certainly meets the latter –McCabe describes it as akin to the first-generation iMac — although she acknowledges the user experience piece is a bit more difficult. Like any application in its first real iteration, there’s a fine line between too difficult for laypersons and too simple for experts.
Here’s a video of an app that lets users draw a path for Romo (shown in its current form) to travel, and a blog post explaining how it was built:
Tracky launched in March as an HTML5-based, one-stop shop for collaboration tools, and it has been on a rapid upward trajectory since. The company is planning for general availability in the coming months, and in June topped off a $1 million angel round with an additional $500,000 from Switch Communications Founder and CEO Rob Roy.
The product does project management, chat, calendars, file sharing and more from a single interface, but tries to be more social than standard business services by letting users invite quite literally anybody to collaborate on projects. So, while a team of co-workers could work together, so could a group of conference attendees who just met, or a bride-to-be trying to coordinate her DJ, bridal party and cake baker.
Walls360 isn’t a tech company, per se, but it’s definitely high-tech — and it’s doing (almost) more business than it can handle. The company’s high-resolution fabric wall prints, which range in size from a small poster to a life-sized Captain Kirk and which can be removed and re-stuck hundreds of times, are proving very popular. The company sells individual prints to consumers, specially designed prints for conferences and events, and has shipped tens of thousands of promotional posters for partners such as EA Sports.
According to Co-founder and CEO John Doffing, literally every time a content creator was able to see and touch the company’s product, Walls360 has closed the deal. The result, he said, is that the company has hundreds of thousands of images that it’s licensed to reprint and sell, although only about 5 percent are currently available on the company’s site. The company can’t talk in specifics about some of its upcoming deals, although Doffing was willing to share that it’s making a move into the realms of sports and music that could prove very lucrative.
In order to meet that presumed demand, the company is looking to double its headcount in the next couple months and probably ramp up its production capacity, too. “We’ve built an infrastructure that’s designed to be huge,” Doffing told me recently. “I want to sell billions [of prints] a year.”
Walls360’s advisors include Guy Kawasaki, Panoramic Images CEO Doug Segal and Facebook Director of Engineering Lars Rasmussen.