Bek Abdullayev played a long shot, and it hit.
The bet wasn’t on Super Dispatch. The Kansas City business he started in 2013 is growing rapidly, thanks to its mobile app that helps companies that transport cars to shed paperwork, stop false damage claims and get paid quicker for their hauls.
Abdullayev’s hit came when Super Dispatch landed a spot in the Sprint Accelerator run by Techstars. The local startup is among 10 young businesses moving to the accelerator Monday. They are in for 90 intense days aimed at accelerating their progress.
Super Dispatch also is the first locally based company chosen in the program’s three years.
Never miss a local story.
“I’ve always been surprised they haven’t had a company from Kansas City,” Abdullayev said.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying.
The Sprint Accelerator attracts applicants to Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District from across the country and abroad.
“This year our program received applications from companies in 56 different countries,” said John Fein, managing director of Techstars at the Sprint Accelerator. “We evaluated all of them using the same criteria. We’re geography-agnostic.”
This year’s group includes companies from Paris and India.
Many local companies were blocked in the previous two years by the Sprint Accelerator’s original focus on mobile technology and health. This year’s program was open to any mobile business model, which is more in keeping with its sponsor, Sprint. Also, Techstars now has a health-related accelerator in Los Angeles.
Abdullayev said Super Dispatch’s chances of making the Sprint Accelerator also grew thanks to an increasingly mature entrepreneurial environment in Kansas City. A few years ago, the startup ecosystem here was largely celebrating entrepreneurship, startups and technology. Not so much “just doing,” as Abdullayev put it.
“Now, you’re starting to see more companies with traction, interesting products and some funding rounds,” Abdullayev said.
And Super Dispatch is an example of that advanced environment.
The idea for Super Dispatch emerged from a weekend competition at the Kauffman Foundation. It won that Lean Startup Machine workshop, and Abdullayev said the team generated $3,000 in orders from a startup page for an as yet nonexistent product.
The company gained proof-of-concept funding early last year from Digital Sandbox KC and is now serving customers with a total of 600 trucks on the road.
Abdullayev also talked about “coffees with high-level people” who would talk through issues or just help him “mentally and spiritually” during tough moments.
More to the point, all of that help was without charge and without handing over any ownership of Super Dispatch.
Sprint Corp., the Overland Park-based wireless carrier, will get a small piece of each of the 10 companies accepted for the accelerator program. The companies get some funding, access to mentors from all sorts of fields, contact with other potential funders and technical assistance on the mobile side.
The three-month program culminates with a demo day at which each company pitches an audience of investors and others interested in startups.
More than making coffee
The Sprint Accelerator is familiar ground to the team behind Mycroft, a Lawrence-based startup that is also among this year’s class.
Mycroft’s team already spends every Wednesday at the accelerator, armed with “a bag of dry markers” for the white boards in the co-working space. They first visited last fall when Techstars invited the company to apply for the 2016 accelerator program.
“We got to know them a little bit and discovered, regardless of our status with Techstars, that we really liked the startup scene in Kansas City, and we really liked the accelerator,” said Joshua Montgomery, Mycroft’s CEO.
Being in the program means technical help from Sprint, which Montgomery said has technology that converts speech to text. Mycroft uses similar technology, among others, to help consumers manage the emerging Internet of things.
Mycroft is a small appliance, about the size of a clock radio, that listens for its name and responds to commands.
“Mycroft, start some coffee will you?” is how a company video starts its demonstration.
Montgomery said the idea was to build a device that uses artificial intelligence. Consumers would interact with it, speaking and listening. Internet connections within the home would allow Mycroft to turn on the lights, start the coffee, lock the door, turn down the thermostat, pull up a movie on Netflix, etc.
Mycroft also will search online to answer questions, update you on the weather or report on whatever you ask about.
Motor City mover
Backstitch, Jordan Warzecha’s Detroit-based startup, is moving into Sprint’s Techstars-driven accelerator even though Techstars runs one in the Motor City, too.
Warzecha was a bit like many Kansas City area entrepreneurs were before Sprint expanded beyond its original health focus.
Ford Motor Co. sponsors the Detroit Techstars accelerator and gives it a transportation focus. Backstitch uses mobile technology to improve communications between bosses and employees.
Companies use its desktop and mobile software to push information to employees. But it’s more than the obligatory open enrollment notices or weekly company newsletter.
Backstitch can deliver information specific to each department or even individual employees. It can draw material from beyond the corporate feed to include articles in industry journals, for example, leaving the curating decisions to clients.
Warzecha said Backstitch is flexible so companies can let employees pick and choose from the company’s menu or pull in other material themselves.
“It depends on the culture of each individual company. They have that choice,” Warzecha said.
Originally, Backstitch targeted consumers when it started in 2012, the same time Google was dropping its own version it called iGoogle.
Warzecha said the two offerings were somewhat different, but the Backstitch team ended up migrating to its current business-client model. Users, he said, were asking how they could put the app to use at their companies.
The company name, however, still fit.
“We’re stitching together all this different information into a unique tapestry,” Warzecha said. “We’re in the background stitching things together automatically.”
2016 Sprint Accelerator class
Backstitch, Detroit, makes corporate intranet communications personalized, relevant and actionable.
Karmies, Denver, an Innovative AdTech platform that monetizes emojis by making them smart and branded.
Leka, Paris, makes an interactive, multisensory robotic ball that greatly enhances therapies for special needs children.
Mycroft, Lawrence, an open source, voice-driven, artificial intelligence platform for the connected home and beyond.
Nozzle, Lehi, Utah, a marketing analytics platform that provides on-demand customer acquisition reporting and timely alerts.
Responsive Ads, New York, re-imagining the best possible fluid ad creatives for screen, user and context.
SocialCapital, San Francisco, automatically generates accurate personality profiles by applying artificial intelligence to social and online behavior.
SpaceView, Portland, Ore., a mobile augmented reality platform that visualizes real world products in virtual spaces.
Stride, Bangalore, India, uses advanced sentiment analysis to enable businesses to translate their textual data into actionable insights.
Super Dispatch, Kansas City, enables automotive logistics companies to eliminate paperwork, manage loads, drivers and billing all in one place.