How EcoATM Became San Diego’s Hottest Startup Deal, If I Say So Myself
For a company that was founded by three wireless industry veterans only about a year ago, ecoATM ended 2009 with some pretty impressive results. If there was a yearbook for San Diego startups, you could say we were voted most likely to succeed:
Out of more than 100 local start-ups that entered the San Diego Venture Group’s 2009 PitchFest, ecoATM was voted winner—which included a $20,000 award—during the group’s annual dinner in December. EcoATM also won the $10,000 award that Bellevue, WA-based Coinstar offered at its KioskCom Self-Service Expo in New York for the best new concept in retail-based kiosks. We won Connect’s 2009 “Most Innovative Product” award in the cleantech category. We won the “Best Content Pitch” in the TechCoast Angel’s QuickPitch competition and second place in Qualcomm’s Q-Prize competition. Our startup was among the first handful of companies selected for EvoNexus, the technology startup incubator formed last year by the local telecom industry group CommNexus. Our company was featured on ABC News, and in Inc. and Fast Company magazines.
Today we even have some news to announce: At a time when the capital markets have nearly dried up, San Diego’s Tao Venture Partners is leading our first round of venture funding. Our investors include Jens Molbak, Coinstar’s founding CEO.
We started ecoATM with the idea of rewarding consumers who recycle their “retired” mobile phones by providing an automated kiosk that makes it easy for them to get a “trade up” discount coupon, gift card, or to make a charitable donation to certain organizations.
Our momentum has snowballed very quickly since October, when we conducted a field trial of our first prototype kiosk in Omaha, NE. Our kiosk immediately created a sensation with consumers and the press. Consumers were so eager to use our machine that they waited up to 45 minutes to get their turn. We were completely surprised by the response, and felt like we had definitely turned the corner.
It would have been hard to imagine such enthusiasm when it all started in late 2008.
It began at the Starbucks in Del Mar, CA, where I met daily for two months with Michael Librizzi and Pieter van Rooyen. We would sip coffee and contemplate ideas for our next venture. Surrounding us at other tables were other groups of unemployed techies who also were carefully scheming their next moves in the wavering economy of 2008. The three of us were all 15-to-20-year veterans of wireless, mobile, and semiconductor technology start-ups. Between us, we had started … Next Page »