The Power Issue: Who’s at the top?


Charlottesville’s startup scene is packed with clever, shrewd locals jostling for elbow room and funding. We may not turn into an Austin-like innovation hub any time soon, but more and more small, new companies, especially in tech and biotech, are anchoring themselves here, and there are lots of success stories to track. Trying to rank the players in a field that’s so volatile isn’t easy, though. So we let somebody else do it for us.

AngelList is a social networking site for startups and venture capitalists, sort of an OKCupid for entrepreneurs and their potential angel investors. The site uses follower activity and “signal”—an approximate measure of “company quality”—to compile ranked lists of startups in various locations. Arbitrary? Maybe, but it highlighted a few newcomers we hadn’t heard of. We bet you haven’t either. Read on for the area’s AngelList five.

Baron Schwartz (left) and Kyle Redinger. Photo: Elli Williams

Who: Baron Schwartz and Kyle Redinger
What: Monitoring and analysis tools for big tech companies’ server networks
Why you should be watching: Schwartz and Redinger, both area natives, first put their heads together over the idea of developing database management software last summer. In less than a year, they’ve built a business around it, and are about to seal the deal on a major funding agreement with a number of investors, including some big-name Silicon Valley tech angels. In a world where the amount of data created is increasing exponentially, Redinger explains, there’s a growing need for better, faster, and more adaptable tools for managing that data, and Schwartz’s expertise in the type of tools they’re peddling has helped them build a strong customer base right out of the gate.

Phthisis Diagnostics
Who: President and Chief Science Officer Dr. Crystal Icenhour
What: Kits for quick, simple molecular diagnostics—identification of pathogens via DNA—developed from the research of UVA MD and patent holder Eric Haupt.
Why you should be watching: The surest way for docs and researchers to pinpoint just what bug is making you sick is by analyzing its DNA, and Phthisis got an early start on developing technology that makes that process fast, easy, and achievable without a lab. Icenhour, an infectious disease researcher with a PhD in pathobiology and molecular medicine who grew up in a family business, was tapped to lead the infant company in 2006. Since then she’s aggressively—and successfully—attracted grants and venture capital.

Who: Dan Schleifer, founder
What: Technical analysis tools for stock traders
Why you should be watching: Since the beginning of 2012, Schleifer and his two business partners have been creating software for tracking stocks in the marketplace—carefully crafted stock charts that follow every trade to measure the market forces on a particular security. They sell the tools on a subscription basis to traders, and license the software to brokerage firms, and have won praise for their apps’ usefulness and seamless transition from browser to tablet to mobile. They’ve seen strong growth in their subscriber base in the last six months, Schleifer said, and they recently got a stellar writeup in the storied finance weekly Barron’s—a big deal for a small startup.

InSpark Technologies
Who: Erik and Karl Otto
What: Advanced software for diabetes management
Why you should be watching: InSpark’s co-founding brothers already had many years of experience in the medical device industry when they created their company in 2011, and earlier this year, they licensed new technology from UVA and are working to bring it to market. Their small team is developing tools that will analyze blood sugar levels to deliver predictions and analysis to patients whenever they take a blood test, helping them manage their diabetes more effectively. When you’re a diabetic trying to track what’s happening in your blood, “it takes a lot of time and mental energy to figure out what your patterns are,” Erik Otto said. “We tell them what those patterns are, and we tell them when they test.”

Gina Mancuso. Photo: Elli Williams

Who: Gina Mancuso, founder and CEO
What: A web app that lets you virtually try on clothes while shopping online.
Why you should be watching: Mancuso’s idea and startup savvy won her the support of a capital investment company, which supplied her with a team of eight developers to shepherd the concept of an online fitting room from concept to reality. The website they’ve created is free for consumers, and a few retailers have licensed the technology, which will allow users to upload their measurements for comparison with sizing on every item in a given store. And if fashion technology seems like a fluff venture to you, consider just how big a business women’s fashion is. “It’s a $72 billion market,” Mancuso said, “and 60 to 70 percent of purchases are returned due to poor fit, which amounts to a $14 billion loss for the industry. If we can change that by even 1 percent, we’re saving retailers a billion dollars.”

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