Two local startups stole the stage at Seattle Startup Week’s IBM SmartCamp competition

During Seattle Startup Week, Bellevue-based Doghead Simulations and Seattle startup Prolaera participated in IBM SmartCamp, a live-pitch competition that provides two winning startups the opportunity to advance to the world’s largest pitch competition in Silicon Valley, LAUNCH. Doghead Simulations, the creator of rumii — a virtual reality solution where remote teams can collaborate and communicate as if they were in the same room — and Prolaera, a software provider that aims to make continuing professional education more convenient, flexible, and valuable, were selected to move on to the next level.

The IBM SmartCamp competition, held in November in Seattle, was one of several SmartCamp events that took place in major cities across the globe. Hosted by IBM and LAUNCH, IBM SmartCamp showcased startups from various sectors that are doing innovative things to disrupt their industries.

In April, Doghead Simulations and Prolaera will travel to join other up-and-coming startups from across the world for the 2017 LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco.

We recently sat down with Doghead Simulations and Prolaera to learn more about how they’re disrupting their industries.

Doghead Simulations

When Mat Chacon founded Doghead Simulations with co-founders Elbert Perez, former senior software prototyper for HTC, and Chance Glasco, co-creator of the multibillion gaming franchise Call of Duty, it was because the three had a shared frustration. “We all experienced the very real pain points of working with remote work teams,” said Chacon, whose other company, Ruckworks, has clients and employees stationed across the globe.

“We all kind of put our heads together and said, ‘There’s got to be a better way to collaborate with remote teams,’” said Chacon. “We thought it would be really cool if we could just look over and join a meeting with someone in Sweden, someone in Tokyo, and someone in New York and all meet in the same room at the same time.”

To remedy this problem, the three men developed rumii, a virtual reality solution that transports business leaders, employees, and their clients into the same room, at the same time, no matter where they are in the world.

Chacon said once Doghead Simulations’ vision was clear, it took only a few days to develop rumii, and things haven’t slowed down since.

Less than six months old, Doghead Simulations already has garnered a lot of attention. “We went from an idea on a napkin to customers all over the world, employees all over the world, revenue, and a working reality solution in 19 weeks,” said Chacon. “It’s (moved) exceptionally fast. We’re fortunate to work in an explosive market.”

One thing that differentiates Doghead Simulations from other VR startups, however, is its target market. “We’re not focused on gaming or entertainment,” said Chacon. “We’re only focused on business-to-business play.”

The company also has a strong social media presence, which Chacon believes helped it land an invitation to this year’s IBM SmartCamp event, an experience he described as exceptionally wonderful.

For Chacon, however, the biggest takeaway from the event wasn’t advancing to the LAUNCH Festival; it was gaining exposure to startups in the area and networking with other like-minded entrepreneurs, like fellow IBM SmartCamp winner and Prolaera CEO Evan Hiner.

Prolaera

Hiner always knew he’d be an entrepreneur. Growing up in Minnesota as the son of a small-business owner, Hiner got the entrepreneurial bug from his dad. But when it came time for him to head to college, he didn’t study business as one might expect; instead, he studied aerospace engineering. After graduating, he relocated to the Pacific Northwest for a job at Boeing.

Prolaera’s software allows for better tracking of professional education courses and certificates by consolidating it in one place, along with simple language and graphs to show your progress.

Prolaera’s software allows for better tracking of professional education courses and certificates by consolidating it in one place, along with simple language and graphs to show your progress.

“I worked as a configuration design engineer,” Hiner said, “which is similar to project management in the software world.”

After two years with Boeing, Hiner started to feel the entrepreneurial itch. Luckily, his job with Boeing had brought him to the land of startups. He left his job and started attending various startup weekend events.

It was during one such event in 2015 that Hiner met two men who would become Prolaera’s co-founders, Jassen Bowman and Gary Knopp. At the time, Bowman was working as a continuing professional education instructor. His job took him to cities across the country, and he was interested in finding an online platform where he could more easily deliver his coursework. Hiner understood Bowman’s frustration from a slightly different perspective. Hiner’s girlfriend, a CPA, often lamented the difficulties of tracking her continuing professional education hours. There had to be a better way.

Hiner, Bowman, and Knopp developed the first version of what would become Prolaera during that startup weekend in April 2015. Today, the software streamlines the process of managing, completing, and tracking continuing professional education for licensed professionals. For individuals and larger firms, it’s a useful tracking tool, and for continuing professional education providers, it’s an easy way to deploy curriculum.

Prolaera entered the IBM SmartCamp competition after seeing a flier about the event posted at Galvanize, the Seattle coworking space where Prolaera is based. Hiner saw the competition as less of a contest and more of an opportunity to tell Prolaera’s story to a new audience, all while networking with smart, driven entrepreneurs.

During the event, Prolaera delivered a focused presentation that won approval of the judges. Now Prolaera, like Doghead Simulations, will be heading to San Francisco for the LAUNCH Festival.

Chacon and Hiner come from very different backgrounds, but when it comes to operating startups, the two share a similar view: believe in your product, practice grit, and surround yourself with a supportive team.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of “425 Business.”

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