Business Beat - Columbia tech startup competes in Kansas City for $50,000 grant

Sep 30, 2015

This piece was produced in conjunction with Missouri Business Alert, a digital newsroom that provides business news from across the state of Missouri.  

Billy Martin did not know what to expect before delivering his pitch on Friday, Sept. 18, to a group of judges and fellow entrepreneurs at the Techweek event in Kansas City.

As one of 20 finalists for LaunchKC, a business model competition for technology startup firms, Martin and his company Ulytic were about to take the final step before finding out if it would be one of 10 companies to receive a $50,000 check to support the next phase of his business.

“I expect us to enjoy ourselves. I expect them to give out $500,000 to 10 companies.” Martin said. “I just can’t tell you which ones they are yet.”

Martin’s company Ulytic aims to measure city data and helps make sense of the data through analysis and reports. The team designed a device called Spaci. It is a 14-inch-tall cylinder that can be attached to lamp poles or side of the buildings to collect data in urban areas. It can collect data including vehicle and pedestrian traffic at city intersections, noise level, the amount of UV and artificial light during a set period of time, air quality and more.

Since the company was founded in February, Martin and his team have invested $18,500 into inventing and designing Spaci. Most of this money came out of their own pockets and other grants they won. The $50,000 from LaunchKC would allow Martin to pay himself a salary for a few months and start working with a manufacturer to produce Spaci. So far, Martin and his team have only been able to create prototypes of Spaci due to lack of funding.

Ulytic and the other 19 finalists were chosen from a pool of more than 500 applicants from 17 states and eight countries, all competing for funding to develop their businesses in Kansas City. Ulytic was the only finalist from the mid-Missouri area.

Martin hopes to install Spaci in various cities and sell data to potential buyers, including city managers. Currently, cities are limited to physically sending someone to stand by the side of the street and count how many cars go by to get this kind of data.

“It’s very labor-intensive right now, and it’s very costly,” Martin said. “Honestly, the data that is collected from that method is far from comprehensive, and is really not very accurate.”

Ulytic has obtained permission in Columbia to start testing at certain intersections. The company has also reached out to cities including St. Louis, Las Vegas, Chicago and Boston.

Getting started

“I personally always wanted to be an entrepreneur, so to speak,” Martin said. “I always wanted to run a business.”

But with no computer science or technology background, Martin knew he would need a team to help him get there.

He participated in school competitions and teamed up with students with business and computer science backgrounds. Four of Ulytic’s six-person management team, chief information officer Gabe Owens, chief technology officer Georgi Angelov, chief operations officer Barron Roberts and chief marketing officer Patrick Ruppert, came from this group Martin gathered in college

Martin called this “friend-sourcing,” recruiting friends at the beginning stage of development for their specialties and talents.

“People stay along for the ride, generally.” Martin said. 

Martin’s teammates were with him on stage on Friday when they pitched Ulytic at LaunchKC, but they were not one of the teams to win the $50,000.

“We would have liked to have won. Definitely, but we met a lot of the type of people we were hoping to meet here,” Martin said. “I think there’s a lot of prospect here in Kansas City for us, and I think regardless of the outcome of the competition, this is where we’re going to be.”

The team’s next stop is St. Louis, where it has also been selected as a finalist for the Arch Grants, a similar program to LaunchKC. When they return to Columbia, they would like to carry on with their projects.

“We are hoping to deploy our networks and our technologies in cites very soon, starting with Columbia,” Martin said. Ulytic plans on launching its pilot program in Columbia by end of this year.