News Article

Providence tech start-up gets helping hand from $150,000 federal grant
Date: Jun 11, 2013
Author: Paul Grimaldi
Source: Providence Journal ( click here to go to the source)

Featured firm in this article: AgileQR Inc of Providence, RI

PROVIDENCE — Technology company 121nexus will receive the first portion of a newly earned federal grant on July 1, propelling the start-up's research into the feasibility of personalizing mass numbers of websites.

Founders Albert Ho and Foster J. Sayers III earned notice for their technology when it was used by the Obama campaign in 2012 to target individual prospective voters in the hotly contested state of Ohio during the presidential election. They are now delving into whether the website-creation technology can be adopted for use in the pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing industries as a way to track down counterfeit products and transmit recall notifications.

Having met at a Cambridge, Mass., company, the pair came to Providence in 2012 to take part in the Betaspring business accelerator program. They graduated from the program in May 2012 and maintain office space in the same building at 95 Chestnut St. where Betaspring is located.

"There's so much noise in Boston, you're shouting above the crowd to get people to pay attention to you," Sayers said.

The company was one of the Betaspring participants that received $50,000 from the City of Providence's since-cancelled Innovation Investment Program.

In May, the duo learned that they'd landed a $150,000 grant from a federal program that helps entrepreneurs develop and sell products. The money comes from the National Science Foundation through the Small Business Innovation Research program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The award came with an assist from U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who wrote a letter supporting the application after the duo's previous try for an SBIR grant failed. Whitehouse stopped by the Chestnut Street office Monday to discuss the company's plans for the new financing.

Whitehouse quizzed them about the technology's potential applications and offered them assistance in connecting with health-care industry companies.

A $100,000 portion of the SBIR grant arrives July 1 with the remainder coming when 121nexus submits its research findings.

The SBIR grant triggers funding from Mayfly Capital, an angel investment firm with an office in Boston. Mayfly invested $500,000 with 121nexus in January, an initial $300,000 investment with the remainder unlocked by the grant award.

"It's definitely putting the wind behind our sails," Sayers said.

Ho and Sayers will travel to Philadelphia next Tuesday for a presentation before a medical-device industry conference. That trip will be followed by more marketing efforts and product-development work.

The duo hired five summer interns to help with that work and looks to add other full-time workers to the company's three-person roster.

They have until Dec. 31 to submit the results of their research into the technical feasibility of the company's technology being adopted broadly by manufacturers. It's possible for 121nexus to qualify for an additional $30,000 SBIR grant during this first research phase.

Success in this phase could lead to future SBIR grants.