Startups give update on their efforts to come to market


SCHENECTADY — Video games, helmets and water-flow sensors went under the spotlight Wednesday, as the startup business community gathered for one of its meetups.

StartUp Tech Valley typically meets in Troy, but this month Transfinder played host in its State Street headquarters. More than 100 people crowded into the top floor meeting area for the event, which serves as a forum to exchange ideas, share expertise, and seek and give support.

Six presentations were offered:

  • James Land explained the Vorpal Board system, which creates a digital portal for tabletop board games. Board games remain popular in the age of electronic games, and Vorpal Board allows them to be played by people not physically in the same room. Target audience is not just hardcore gamers but families hoping to connect distant members. The team plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign April 22 to raise funding for the effort.
  • Janet Tanguay of Amsterdam explained her Biz Idea Shower as a businessperson’s equivalent of a wedding registry: a place where entrepreneurs just starting out can list things they need for their office or business. There are 543,000 new businesses opening nationwide each month, she noted. Early-stage startups are the target market.
  • Hunter Moffat of Rotterdam gave an update on his new app, Trophecase, which he compared to a LinkedIn for athletes, a place where they can stockpile and share their statistics and histories. The public beta test version would launch that night, he said.
  • RPI student David Pierce showed off Cubed, a three-dimensional geometric puzzle game for multiple electronic platforms. He and his partners in Six-Faced Studios believe the $138 billion gaming market is oversaturated with shooter and multiple online battle arena games, and with free games infested with ads and in-game purchases. Pierce said they hoped to find a market among gamers frustrated with free games; Cubed will run $3.99, with no followup costs.
  • Founder/CEO Jason Kirshon and President Donald DeVito II gave an update on Kirsh Helmets, a tenant at the New York BizLab in downtown Schenectady that has attracted significant investment. Kirsh has sold about 2,000 of its helmets so far, they said, and is building a Warren County facility ramp up production. They plan to expand from motorcycle helmets to bicycle and workplace helmets as well.
  • Chief Technology Officer Dan Sexton, who works from his home in Niskayuna, discussed Boston-based Vata Verks’ water- and gas-flow reporting systems, which launched in December. Target audience is the managers of the 7 million commercial buildings in America, only 15 percent are equipped with such sensors, he said. Nationwide, damage from water leaks costs seven times more than loss to fires, he said. Multiple established companies have devices to detect and alert people to continually running water, he added, but Vata Verks is different and better in key ways, particularly the quality of data and purchase cost. Its sensor can detect flow of as little as a quarter-teaspoon of water.
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Each of the companies presenting Wednesday faces the daunting task of building market share and momentum. Some must create a demand for something that doesn’t now exist, others must compete against much-larger and better-established companies.

Each had an “ask,” a request of the audience. These ranged from advice to feedback to downloads and shares to donations of even $1 on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, because number of donations is important in building momentum.

Pierce, the lead programmer for Six-Faced, acknowledged the gravity of the task ahead: Not only building a fan base for their colorful, dynamic game but convincing people to pay for it if they are using mobile devices, where they are conditioned to free games.

“Our target audience is something that in the mobile market is a little bit of a unicorn,” he said. “It exists very much in PC and console. It’s well-accepted tradition there to pay for game, own the game and be done with it. But on mobile, the current atmosphere and practice lies with having a free game with predatory practices. … Hopefully we can convince people that shelling out $3.99 for one game you own, that we won’t ask for a penny more, ever, and won’t sell ads to you, will take hold in this market place.”

Mobile can’t be ignored, Pierce said: An increasing percentage of games are played on mobile devices. He thinks the mobile market is willing to reject free games, and wants Six-Faced to be at the forefront of the shift to paid games, but also thinks the shift isn’t beginning just yet.

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