If you joined the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) for its inaugural Dancing With the Start-Ups (DWTS) competition at the 2016 Global Board Leaders’ Summit, you heard from 12 cutting-edge start-ups in the financial, energy, and health care industries. Founders and CEOs from each start-up had four minutes to pitch their companies to a panel of expert judges. NACD recently caught up with the winning companies—Vital Vio, BoostUp, and Disease Diagnostic Group—to see what they have been up to in the past seven months.
Illuminating the War on Germs
Vital Vio created a lighting system that kills bacteria using its proprietary white light continuous disinfection technology. Their products currently are used in major hospital systems, pharmacies, public restrooms, athletic facilities, and—starting in 2017—even your home.
Vital Vio’s under-cabinet light illuminated in eco-mode.
Colleen Costello, president and cofounder of Vital Vio, explained that refining Vital Vio’s disinfecting technology to VioSafe, a single LED light, was a game changer for the company, allowing them to use the technology in the home. VioSafe lights continuously kill germs and, when used in combination with regular periodic cleaning, significantly reduce the number of germs on surfaces. “The individual LED is smaller than a thumbnail,” she noted. “This expanded the opportunities of where continuous disinfection lighting can be placed.” Some popular areas to place the light in the home are under cabinets in kitchens, bathrooms, and offices. These are some of the most-touched surfaces, which also make them the most likely to be covered with a multitude of bacteria.
Vital Vio began to take shape in 2012 when Costello’s grandmother contracted a MRSA infection during a routine hospital stay. Costello, who at the time was studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, did some research and found that one in 25 patients contract a health-care-related bacterial infection in hospitals. She and a team of researchers worked to develop a better way to control bacteria levels, and Vital Vio was born.
In 2017, Costello’s focus is not only on innovation, but on identifying potential new licensees. The company is working with several strategic partners to increase utilization of Vital Vio’s technology in their products. Vital Vio also was selected as a finalist for the Edison Awards, an annual competition that honors excellence in innovation, creativity, and ingenuity in the global economy.
While Vital Vio has broadened adoption of its products, it faces new challenges. “We’ve moved from the disruptor stage to focusing on further adoption in different markets,” Costello said. “We’d like our technology to be similar to a LEED certification, so it’s a standard practice for facilities.”
Saving Money Made Simpler
Most of us have saved for a major purchase, and we know that saving isn’t easy. BoostUp is an app that helps people establish a daily savings plan and crowdsource additional savings from friends and family, making saving for those big purchases more achievable. Users are further incentivized through special offers from partners. BoostUp founder and CEO John Morgan noted that the app has about 55,000 users who are typically aged between 18 to 34 years. The company also sees other opportunities to engage younger savers, potentially through a parent/child joint savings relationship.
One of the new features that the BoostUp app has added is RoundUp, which is a microsavings tool. Savers connect their most-used credit or debit cards to the app to pay for every-day purchases. RoundUp then automatically rounds up the purchase price to the nearest whole dollar and saves the spare change into the connected BoostUp account.
Morgan suggested that this extra money can be great for vacation funds. “It’s like finding that $20 bill in the pocket of those jeans that you haven’t worn in a few months,” Morgan said. “You set the account up, go about your daily life, and six months later you have extra money in your account. It’s another night out in Vegas, or an upgrade to first class on the plane.”
Morgan noted that BoostUp is partnering with some travel companies to identify related savings incentives. BoostUp is also working with some new partners—including Redfin—and has renewed a multiyear partnership with Hyundai. A new type of partner the company hopes to engage is auto lenders. “The lenders could help consumers who have auto loans through RoundUp,” Morgan explained. “It’s setting money aside passively and getting to a point where you can skip a monthly payment because your RoundUp had enough funds to cover it or you can make an extra loan payment.”
Curing Disease Through Technology
Left to right: Mark Lewandowski, Alphonse Harris, and Founder John Lewandowski.
Using only a laser pointer and refrigerator magnets, Disease Diagnostic Group is saving lives around the globe—in fewer than five seconds and for less than five cents per patient. Disease Diagnostic’s technology screens, tracks, and diagnoses infectious diseases through a portable, reusable device. The company has focused primarily on malaria but in the past few months has broadened the scope of the technology to address a wider platform of diseases, including dengue fever. “Zika is next on our radar,” CEO and Founder John Lewandowski said.
One additional challenge Disease Diagnostic faces is finding test groups. “These diseases are rare, and it’s hard to get in touch with the right samples and the right individuals,” Lewandowski explained. “You need to find the right authorities to help you on the path toward commercialization. Sometimes you outgrow whom you are working with, or your path and priorities change.”
Over the long term, Lewandowski said he hopes that the company will continue to expand the technology to test for even more diseases. To do this, Disease Diagnostic will continue to focus on finding the right strategic partners. “To pitch a new product, you’re fighting two battles,” Lewandowski said. “One, you’re in a new market and need to convince people [to invest], and two, to prove the effectiveness of the device. On top of that, you need to prove the technique of the device as well.”
The inner working of the simple device that diagnoses malaria.
Disease Diagnostic is prepared to work through these challenges. If successful, the company is poised to be a game changer for global health. Imagine a future where more diseases could be diagnosed less expensively and effective treatment could be administered immediately. Lewandowski said that while the company is only able to work on one to two diseases at a time, the more the company is able to prove the effectiveness of its diagnostic technology, the broader its impact could be. “If we prove the business case, then we can be licensing out to flu, TB, anything a particular partner has of interest, and develop specific applications,” he said. “The solution is potentially here, and you can put it in the hands of almost anybody.”
Join Us to See the Next Generation of Stars
Back by popular demand, NACD will host its second DWTS at this year’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit on October 1 in National Harbor, MD. Participating start-ups will be announced soon. Check our website for the most up-to-date information.
As part of the National Association of Corporate Directors’ (NACD) continuing mission to help directors understand disruptive technologies and trends, I joined more than 175,000 attendees at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. My team was doing a little reconnaissance work on your behalf. NACD will host a director-focused, member-exclusive Technology Symposium this July, and we wanted to get an advanced look at the most pressing governance implications of new technology.
After three days of experiencing more than 3,800 vendors, you start to see past the shine of the latest gadgets and understand how the technology that underpins these products is poised to change the world. How those technologies are leveraged by companies is key to understanding the future of disruption, and as we discussed at last year’s Global Board Leaders’ Summit, convergence is the order of the day.
Voice and Motion-Enabled Artificial Intelligence (AI) Are Here to Stay
A booth showcased one of many partnerships between Amazon and consumer products companies, including Whirlpool.
From controlling the radio volume with a wave of your hand to voice-controlled appliances, AI was everywhere. In fact, the most talked-about company at CES this year didn’t even have a booth. The Amazon logo appeared on products ranging from innovations by Whirlpool to debuting devices from smaller start-ups.
Why? Alexa, Amazon’s AI assistant, was ubiquitous on the show floor.
Alexa is leading the way in enhancing consumer products that implement voice-enabled technology. It is anticipated that Alexa will soon be programmed to power and interact with everything from your toaster to your Toyota.
It became apparent at CES that the future of voice-enabled AI is a person’s ability to speak naturally and rely on the computer to accurately transcribe information. This has significant impact for everyone from office workers to doctors who could rely on the technology to dictate notes to medical records.
John Hotta, a director in the healthcare space and NACD Board Leadership Fellow, was also on hand at CES. “Innovations in voice-activated technology also have huge implications for products, services, and the nature of work, as smart speakerphones or personal assistants such as Google Home or Amazon Dot replace direct user interface with a computer,” Hotta said.
Computer, You Can Drive My Car
CES exhibitors demonstrated the growing sophistication of autonomous vehicle technology. Last year Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields promised to turn the automaker from a car company to a mobility company. That strategy was on full display as Ford partnered with San Francisco-based start-up Chariot to show off one of its autonomous mini-buses, a vehicle that Ford hopes will “reinvent mass transit for commuters, companies, and fun-seekers with reliable and affordable service.”
A wealth of connected, autonomous vehicles were on display.
Autonomous vehicles also buzzed high above the heads of CES attendees. As drone technology continues to evolve for both commercial and industrial use, autonomous vehicle technology is being applied to those vehicles as well. In a convergence of these trends, Mercedes exhibited a fully autonomous delivery vehicle equipped with two roof-mounted drones that facilitate package delivery from the van to the doorstep.
Another trend emerged at CES: the use of autonomous vehicles as a tool for vehicle safety. Thanks to the convergence of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), vehicle-to-vehicle technology has enabled cars to talk to their passengers and to other vehicles on the road. As attendees at the 2016 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit may remember, Chris Gerdes, head of innovation at the Department of the Transportation (DOT), discussed how DOT is piloting this technology in cities across the U.S. to slash traffic fatalities, and nearly every major automaker is now getting in on the act. Hyundai and Cisco announced a partnership to leverage IoT technology to improve safety and improve congestion by connecting vehicles to municipal infrastructure.
Collaboration is Key
Consumer products and technology companies are forging essential partnerships.
As technology becomes more ubiquitous and innovation becomes decentralized, companies are realizing they can’t go it alone. Consumer products companies are linking up with leading technology companies to build resilience to innovation. In addition to the proliferation of Alexa-linked products, Honda Motor Co. has teamed up with VISA to enable vehicle-based mobile payment systems that allow passengers to conduct transactions without leaving their cars. Apparel companies like Tory Burch and Fossil—companies that seem more at home at New York Fashion Week than at CES—also had large booths touting their new lines of wearables. And finally, in-house labs at big brands like Whirlpool are partnering with crowd-funding platforms like IndieGogo to launch new products. Like the auto companies profiled above, this is another example of convergence that directors would be wise to anticipate.
Private Eyes Are Watching You
The act of welcoming devices into our workplaces and homes that listen and watch our every move could revolutionize the way we live and work—and opens us to unprecedented privacy and security concerns. Coupled with a proliferation of smart products aimed specifically at tweens and children, smart devices present a whole host of liability issues that technology, legal, and regulatory experts are just starting to grapple with.
Amazon’s Alexa and Mattel have already made news for the unintended consequences of giving children access to this kind of technology. Additionally, U.S. courts are considering the legal implications of using recordings from these devices as evidence. One such case pits Amazon against prosecutors in who believe that data from an Amazon Echo might be key in solving a murder case.
In this rapidly evolving climate, directors should be asking questions about whether or not security is being integrated into product development now and in the future—from research and development, to plant upgrades, to policies that allow employees to use their own smart devices for work.
The Future of the Workforce
Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and a 2016 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit speaker, recently said, “Technology will surely create jobs. But virtually none of the people displaced will have the training for them.” The changing nature of the global economy threatens to make some American jobs obsolete. If CES made one point clear, it’s that the current concern over the decline in manufacturing and coal jobs pales in comparison to the potential changes that will come with widespread automation of jobs.
Volkswagen exhibits its electric, autonomous I.D. concept car.
Remember the self-driving delivery van with the automated drones that deliver packages mentioned above? Think about that technology and then look at this interactive map of the top jobs by state. Last August, Uber Technologies acquired Otto, a self-driving truck company, further showing how 1.7 million middle-class jobs could disappear in short order. The American economy is facing a potential employment crisis the likes of which may be unprecedented.
It’s not just delivery drivers who are in danger. As Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup’s Latin America business said at Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit in October, “we are expecting 500 billion objects to become connected to the internet and this automation is going to hollow out middle and working class jobs.”
This shift has huge implications for the American economy and its ability to compete on a global scale. Consider, for instance, that automated delivery of packages is only helpful if your company has a customer base that can afford to spend money on products. A recent report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers lays out the dual challenges of educating a workforce that is ready for the jobs of the future, and the uphill battle of transitioning to an AI-based economy. This report is great reading for directors as they consider the role of the corporation in society, and could help the board shape individual company strategy in critical areas like innovation, talent development, and long-term value creation.
You can see, hear, and learn more about these trends at the 2017 Global Board Leader’s Summit.Stay tuned for information about our new director-focused, curated tour of the 2018 CES show next January.