The results are in: Evansville-based startup Utiliz won first place in the Spring 2022 Crossroads Pitch Competition! The Utiliz app uses machine learning to predict pipe failures for water utilities. CEO Jackson Bolek and his team will receive $10,000 in cash and a package of startup and business services.
The finals were held Saturday, March 5, live at The Mill for the first time in two years. It was great to watch the Event Hall fill up with people excited to watch four outstanding Hoosier startups pitch.
Utiliz won by unanimous vote from our judges:
- Alex Shortle, Partner at EO Advisors, who are also our spotlight sponsor for the spring competition;
- Julie Heath, VP of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems at the IEDC; and
- Elise Young, Director of gBETA Bloomington-Columbus.
UTILIZ: Machine Learning, Human Design
Utiliz solves a critical problem for water utilities: how to know which pipes are most likely to fail next. Many utilities don’t have data, or useable data, to predict breakage. As a result, they’re forced to guess which pipes should be replaced next. In his winning pitch, Jackson explained that the age of a pipe is a poor predictor for breakage. Nonetheless, utilities often rely on age. This highly inaccurate system of risk assessment results in huge expenses: unnecessary replacement of sound pipes, and emergency response to failed pipes. And then these costs are passed along to consumers.
The subscription-based Utiliz app aggregates data from various sources, including from their partner Frontier Geospatial. The app provides a user-friendly asset management dashboard that shows which pipes are most at risk. Jackson told the judges Utiliz achieves 75% accuracy out of the box. Over time, as utilities collect and add their own data, accuracy rises to 87%. Directors can use the app to map out liabilities, plan for future replacement, and manipulate data to examine the impact of various scenarios.
MVP Coming Soon
Bolek, a data engineer, first began exploring the problem of how to predict pipe breakage as an 18-year-old undergraduate student. Utiliz CTO Jon Kline is a software engineer, and their advisory team brings expertise in GIS and water utility operations. Utiliz has enrolled three utilities in a private beta that begins in April and plans on releasing its MVP (minimum viable product) in May. As data security is essential, the MVP will be SOC 1 and SOC 2 compliant at launch.
“I think we all understand the urgency of ensuring reliable access to water,” Andy Lehman, our Head of Accelerator Programming, points out. “Utiliz is creating a user-friendly, essential solution. It benefits not just their customers, but also communities and citizens as a whole. Utiliz delivers actionable insights on one of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing cities across the county.”
A panel of over 30 entrepreneurs, investors, and business experts selected four finalists. The other three finalists were:
- NanoBio Designs (CEO Ryan Skaar, Indianapolis)
- Paradise Spreads (CEO Emily D. Edwards, Schererville)
- WayZada (CEO Adam Ward, Bloomington).
NanoBio Designs: Genetic Detection
NanoBio Designs is on a mission to make genetic detection “no big deal” for grains. Ryan did an amazing job of making the complex science understandable. Essentially, NanoBio Designs’ technology offers a quick, on-site confirmation of whether corn in a grain elevator contains GMOs, allowing buyers and sellers to move forward with confidence.
This kind of testing has other applications, Ryan explained. A company purchasing corn to make ethanol might want to confirm its variety, for example, since certain strains of corn convert more efficiently to ethanol. Looking beyond the plant kingdom, NanoBio Designs’ tech may have potential for medical genetic detection as well.
PARADISE SPREADS: Sweet healthy snacks
Emily Edwards had a secret weapon in presenting Paradise Spreads, her organic, plant-based, gluten-free, high protein, low sugar, sustainably packaged sweet spreads: she brought samples. And those in attendance can now confirm that in addition to being healthy, Paradise Spreads are delicious!
A graduate of the Good Food Accelerator, Emily is already making inroads into a $627 million market and had just met with a certain beloved national retailer to discuss distribution. Her product is made in Valparaiso, Indiana, and she’s got copackers lined up to help her scale for broader distribution. (Consumers can also buy them online at the Paradise Spreads website.) As a result of Crossroads, Paradise Spreads will receive priority consideration to pitch at Elevate Nexus.
WayZada: Visualizing Epic Achievements
The $12 million beachhead market for WayZada, according to CEO Adam Ward, is “the most crazy athletes.” You know, the ones who post pictures of every training, every day, leading up to the big race, marathon, triathlon, or Iron Man. They’ve achieved something amazing, and they want to celebrate their accomplishments.
WayZada translates data about the experience (the sort captured by Garmin or FitBit, or recorded on Strava) into shareable visualizations. They offer digital visualizations to share on social as well as custom 3D-printed sculptural visualizations for tabletop. WayZada streamlines customer acquisition through strategic relationships with event organizers.
Crossroads is one milestone of many yet to come for these finalists. They’ve made already remarkable progress in terms of patents, partnerships, product validation, sales, and other measures. It’s truly thrilling to see the range of innovation coming out of Indiana. Congratulations to our winner, our finalists, and all the 2022 competitors!