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Startups to Watch: PicaSolar, Overwatch raising funds ahead of product launch

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Editor’s note: The City Wire has consulted with people closely affiliated with Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial programs to compile a list of the five entrepreneurial startups to watch in 2014. Our goal with this effort is to document as much as possible about the ups and downs and other directions a new venture may take as it struggles to prove a product, service or both.

Capital is the lifeblood startup ventures, particularly those like PicaSolar and Overwatch that are in the midst of bringing new products to market. Expanding into new markets is also a go for Oh Baby Foods and EcoVet, while DataRank continues to add to its local staff in Bentonville.

“We are presenting to a number of angel and venture groups in the coming weeks. Things are looking positive for closing our next round of funding,” said Douglas Hutchings, spokesman for Fayetteville-based PicaSolar.

He said more money – an estimated $1 million – is needed if the company is going to be able to add four to five new jobs this summer.

“We submitted our application for the next Tier of the SunShot Incubator Program which if successful would provide $1million in additional capital,” Hutchings said.

PicaSolar was one of the SunShot Incubator winners in October 2013. The startup invented the N-type solar cells that are more efficient that tradition solar cell models. The company had been testing the viability of its product with the help of the Department of Energy with plans to bring this new technology to market with a manufacturing site in Arkansas. The first round of tests were good.

The DOE program managers for the SunShot program recently visited Fayetteville, according to Hutchings, who said they gave a talk at the University of Arkansas about other initiatives with the DOE that entrepreneurs could engage.

“We will be presenting our company and results at the SunShot Grand Challenge Summit the week of May 18 to May 22 in Anaheim. We will also be visiting our partner Meyer Burger in Germany on June 3 to discuss technology scaling opportunities and challenges,” Hutchings said.
 
He said the solar industry is beginning another expansion cycle which means this is the time to be selling equipment. 

“We need to be quick to get to that point to take full advantage,” he added.

Hutchings also said the company recently added former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter as a new board member.

“I believe he will be a great help as we progress into the next stages of the company,” Hutchings said.
  
CRUNCH TIME FOR OVERWATCH
High school senior Josh Moody, CEO of Overwatch, is finishing his finals in preparation for his May 15 graduation. In his spare time, Moody works with his partners — Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino, software developers in Bentonville — to get the hardware gaming product prototypes approved and the software application completed in time for a late June, or early July product launch.

Moody told The City Wire he will hit the ground seeking more investors as soon as he graduates next week.

“We are seeking $300,000 in additional capital to bring the products to market in a big way. We have a matching interest of $50,000 from a local angel group and we would like to get all the funds instate if we can to further Arkansas’ entrepreneurial base,” he said.

Overwatch created a real life gaming simulation app for mobile phones and the hardware gun mounts and arm bands that secure the phone during the gaming play.

“In the next two weeks we will be testing sample designs of the arm bands and case mounts and choosing the final selections for manufacturing. The mobile application is 100% complete of iOS and 95% completed for Android.”

He said the backers who signed up to test the product on Indiegogo.com will be getting their promotional packages shipped next week. These contain shirts, stickers and the airsoft guns and gear they ordered. He said the mounts will be shipped later as the manufacturer is still working on them. In the next six weeks, Moody said he and his partners will decide on the final hardware designs, complete the Android application, raise the needed capital and launch the Overwatch gaming experience by early July at the latest.

“Our plans are to launch successfully, grow the Overwatch user community and this as big as we can. Selling the company is also option, but we hope to grow it first,” Moody said.

Overwatch was formed last summer in time to get into the Ark Challenge competition last fall. If the trio is successful they will have taken an idea on a napkin to national market in one year’s time on a budget of $450,000. And for 18-year-old Moody, running his own company, slightly overshadows other events during his senior year of high school at Little Rock Catholic.

ECOVET SALES OUTLET
Drake Vanhooser, founder of EcoVet, said the startup’s furniture struck a chord with Sam’s Club after a few road shows in the past couple of months. The high-end wooden furniture is now being sold on SamsClub.com.

Vanhooser said the company also has been active in providing assistance following the recent tornadoes.

“Some of our veterans went down to the tornado disaster area to help. This week as well, they are working with the Fontanini Meat Company from Chicago to deliver food to the tornado victims,” he said.

DATARANK’S ACCOLADE/ ADDITIONS
Matthew Seubert, who joined DataRank as an intern in 2012 and full-time after he graduated in 2013, was voted as one of NWA's Fast 15, by the NWA Business Journal. Seubert leads all research at DataRank as director of client services.

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CEO Ryan Frazier said over the last six months Seubert more than doubled revenue for his team with the help of Daniel Harris who joined DataRank in October 2013 and wears several hats. 

“Building on his success Seubert recently hired two new analysts graduating from the University of Arkansas Honors College in May; James Brown and Lauren Hayes who will be joining the company in the coming weeks,” he said.

DataRank is a “big data” analytic firm in Bentonville with a growing Fortune 500 customer base. 

GROWING OH BABY
Oh Baby Foods CEO Fran Free said the company moved into a larger office last week, hired a new business manager that began work on Monday (May 5) and on Tuesday (May 6) got word the baby food is ready for sale in 11 more states come August.

The City Wire will have more details in an update from Oh Baby Foods next week.

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