9Mile Labs Startups Tackle Out-Dated Business Processes

If there was a common theme among several of the nine business-to-business companies finishing Seattle startup accelerator 9Mile Labs this week, it was modernization.

From booking a campground to verifying employees’ credentials to managing suppliers, these startups aim to take cumbersome or out-dated business processes in a range of industries and give them a technology makeover, saving their customers hours of work.

Pingle, for example, is building a technology platform to help employers in industries such as maritime and oil and gas verify that their workers are up to date on training and certification.

A merchant marine officer might have up to 70 separate certifications for things like ship-board firefighting, said CEO RedWolf Pope at the Milestone 9 demo day at the Showbox SoDo Thursday. But verifying that those certifications are legitimate and up to date is often done with a series of phone calls to the trade schools that issued the certifications.

It’s a time-consuming, inaccurate process that exposes companies to significant risks. A worker found to be out of certification has to be removed from a ship and replaced, which can cost thousands of dollars in transportation costs and downtime for key positions, Pope said.

Pingle is automating the verification process with a cloud-based service that works with employers, certification schools, and employees to verify training and remind people when key certifications are coming up for renewal.

Fasterbids, meanwhile, aims to save home remodeling contractors hours of pen-and-paper work in drawing up bids for replacing products such as windows and doors. The company says its software can dramatically cut the time a contractor spends looking up products and prices from multiple vendors, and pulling them together into an estimate for homeowners.

Variat.io is also replacing a largely paper-based process, this one in the manufacturing supply chain. Its software is designed to help manufacturers ensure that their parts suppliers are building to their specifications before the parts leave the factory with a digital documentation system. The system is also capable of automatically reviewing parts specifications against what the manufacturer orders to help with quality control, said CEO Andrew Crowell.

Camp Native is helping private-lands campground operators move on to the modern, mobile-friendly web. The company is building a searchable platform for campgrounds to better show off their amenities and enable online reservations—something only 25 percent of campgrounds offer today, said “Chief Camper” David Woodbury. Camp Native plans to make money by charging a 10 percent fee on each campground reservation. It has 150 campgrounds signed up so far.

9Mile Labs, a home-grown startup incubator focused on companies that seek other businesses as their customers, just completed its fourth session and now counts some 44 startup companies as its graduates.

Like other startup accelerators, the companies apply to the program and, if selected, receive 15 weeks of mentorship, coaching, business resources, technology, and $35,000 in funding. In return, 9Mile Labs gets 8 percent of a company’s common stock.

The culminating demo day is an opportunity to publicly introduce the companies to potential investors, customers, and others. This year, 9Mile Labs partners and the presenting companies scrupulously avoided any mention of fundraising, lest they run afoul of rules barring general solicitation of investment.

9Mile Labs itself is also becoming more active as an early stage investor, not just in companies that go through its program. Co-founder and partner Sandy Sharma said an affiliated fund is making seed investments, with a group of investor partners, and plans to have made more than 100 such bets by 2017.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • Sanjay Puri

    Ben, you nailed it! The trend we’re seeing is digitization of verticals and industries that have been untouched by technology. Thanks for the thoughtful article!