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Silicon Prairie companies showcase at CES 2019

CES is the world’s gathering place for all things consumer technology with over 180,000 attendees and 4,500 exhibiting companies including 1,500 startups from 50 countries. It’s the place where trends like artificial intelligence, connected devices, VR/AR, smart cities, 5G and more get center stage.

While there certainly were some showstopping debuts, like LG’s rollable Signature OLED TV R, this year was one of the best turn outs ever of companies showing from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. There’s serious technology coming out of this region, with companies like St Louis based Fybr, who received a CES Innovation Award for the 2nd year in a row. We caught up with a handful of companies at the show to get their take on CES and life on the Silicon Prairie.

mycroft.ai – Kansas City, MO

Josh Montgomery
World’s first open source assistant

What brought you to CES?
The largest gathering of technology companies in the world is here at CES. We’re here to find customers, find new partners, and showcase our tech so that people understand they are not married to Google or Amazon, that there are other options out there.

Why CES?
CES is really the center of universe for consumer electronics. Being here is really essential if you want to be relevant as a startup company and being here in Las Vegas we get to bring the magic of the midwest to folks who might not be aware of all the cool things going on in places like Kansas City or Omaha.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
The Midwest has a really big hidden treasure trove of talent. People who are going to be around for a while and not hop from job to job and the prices for real estate and talent are within reason as in Silicon Valley they no longer are. Its a great place to raise a family and build a business.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
There’s tons of opportunities to be at CES at a low cost. Being in Eureka Park as a startup is very inexpensive. It’s a great place to meet customers and potential investors. Eureka Park is the area of CES that is reserved for startups. You can only do it for the first 2 years that you have a company. It’s very inexpensive and well trafficked by people looking for innovation and a good place to get your company started.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
Silicon Prairie News is a big part of our story. We did our original kickstarter and it was Silicon Prairie News that picked up the story and got us recognized by TechStars in Kansas City. In turn, they brought us to 500 Startups who brought us to MassChallenge and eventually made us global. So the Midwest is great place to start a business and Silicon Prairie News has been a great mouthpiece for the Midwest.

Helium XR – Columbia, MO

Sarah Hill, CEO & Chief Storyteller
Biometrically controlled media channel that allows you to control virtual and augmented reality stories with your brain waves and heart rates.

What brought you to CES?
This year we signed a deal to put Helium’s technology on 28 different airlines. Existing customers like Google, Facebook, Humana have hired us to create virtual augmented reality experiences for them. We’re excited for getting Healium out beyond Columbia, MO with investors and sales channel partners.

That’s why being here is important because it sets us on a global stage. There’s amazing things going on in Columbia, Missouri that nobody knows about and this is the world’s first AR/VR product that’s controlled by a brain computer interface and your heart rate. Doesn’t always have to be on East or West Coast.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
A bastion of digital creatives and storytellers. The Missouri School of Journalism is where I graduated. It’s located in Columbia, MO and it is chock full of digital creatives looking at unique ways to do a story and what Healium is at its core is a storytelling platform. The world’s oldest story telling institution on the planet is located there and continues to put out amazing storytellers.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
Definitely get a booth. Be a part of the partnership programs. Become a member, this gives you access to sales channel partners, investors pitches.

Don’t get discouraged by no’s. You’re going to hear a whole lot of no’s in the course of your company. And no’s are data, they’re fertilizer that help you grow. We’re getting a lot of yeses now but it wasn’t always that way. You have to slather on the no’s like you would cow manure and yeah it stinks, but its something that adds fuel to help you grow.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
Healium reduces stress in as little as 4 minutes.

WOW Watersports – Omaha, NE

Jeff Bock
Maker of various inflatable water toys and the WOW Sound floating speaker

What brought you to CES?
We’re here to display our new product.

Why CES?
When you have 200,000 people come to show its great exposure for all our products and to introduce how our new speaker works best in the water.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
We’re in the middle of the country and can ship anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. One of our founders is from Minnesota and ended up moving to Omaha. Up there it’s lake country and so we built our central nucleus in Omaha. But we also have offices in China, Canada, and Miami.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
Pick a booth. Pick a plan. Wear good shoes. Get ready to talk to everybody because you’ll see anything here from the smallest companies to the biggest. A lot of the small companies have innovative products because they’re trying to get into the market. You’ll see some really good things. Never doubt yourself if you’re small. If you have something to get in, people will notice it.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
WOW Watersports is based in Omaha, Nebraska. We created bluetooth speakers, coolers, lounges, and towable lines like you wouldn’t believe. You can find our products in retailers from Scheels to Walmart, Sams Club, Costco to Omaha Marine.

Cauldryn – St Louis, MO

William Green
Battery-powered smart mugs that cool, heat, blend, even boil your favorite drinks

What brought you to CES?
Two different products. Cauldryn and Fish Logger. Both are app based products. Come from survivalist background. Boil. Keeps coffee, tea, hot drinking at specific temperature you’d like. On the go, battery powered blender

Number6 Brands. 80 years experience in the outdoor, hunting, camping industry. Start our manufacturing company to bring stuff to distribution. Worked for distributor for 25 years. Build our own items. Survivalist type of item. Need to sterilize water. Boiling is a big thing. Evolved through customer demand to work commute, desk all day long.

Fish Logger – Digital fish scale. Records location, temperature, barometer, wind speed and keeps database of your catches. Next time enter your weather information. You need to go to West side of island as that’s where you caught all your fish.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
That’s where we grew up. Good Midwest values. I’ve been all over the world, but love the midwest. That’s where home and heart is. You just don’t want to live anywhere else.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
If you have a great idea it doesn’t really matter where you’re from or what your background. If you truly believe in your product in your heart and soul you’re going to do well with it. Love what you do and be happy with it you never have to work a day in your life.

With our background we have a lot of experience and knowledge approaching those stores. I come from wholesale distribution, we sold to those people. So we already had contacts, the people, sales reps, the buyers. Industry is really tight. We already had knowledge coming in.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
Cauldryn has been on the market for 9 months and is available in stores like Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Duluth Trading Company, REI, and on our own website www.cauldryn.com with interest from major retail chains for 2019. Fish Logger will be released later this year.

Starting a new company takes a lot of capital. We’ve raised $3 million amongst ourselves to launch the company and are now actively looking for outside investors.

PowerFilm Solar – Ames, IA

Kip Johnson, VP of Marketing & Sales
PowerFilm specializes in the design, engineering, manufacturing and assembly of custom solar solutions.

What brought you to CES?
CES is the largest trade show in the world in terms of technology. Our focus the last few years has been IoT and industrial IoT. IoT devices are proliferating with a potential for a billion of these on the planet in the next 10 years. All of these devices require power. Power is predominately provided by coin cell lithium ion batteries. They are inexpensive, however they require maintenance and replacement. So our niche is to provide a solar cell that can be companion to that battery or replacement for it to extend battery life of replace altogether. So we’re looking for the companies that manufacture IoT devices to help them solve their customer’s power problems and battery maintenance problems.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
We call Ames the solar capital of the Midwest. One of our cofounders is an Iowa native. Company was founded just over 30 years ago by 2 KC physisists working at 3M. They developed a deposition process for the semiconductor layer on our film. 3M said they don’t want to pursue that commercially, the deal we said. Here’s a grant if you want to pursue commercially go ahead. So they came down to Ames and started the company.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
Be prepared to walk. Be prepared to meet lots of people. Bring extra business cards. And have fun. There’s a lot of innovation. A lot of really interesting things going on. Be prepared to tell your story to lots of folks.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
Our material is like a piece of paper – super thin, super flexible, and super lightweight. We’re the only company left on the planet that manufacturers flexible amorphous silicon aSi on a plastic substrate. We compete against companies like Panasonic, Sanyo, TDK, however they make it on glass, we make it on plastic.

Prenatal Hope – Wichita, Kansas

Tammy Dorsey
First non-lacerating fetal oxygen detecting device

What brought you to CES?
This show is the best way to get some traction. Applied to be able to exhibit, and given congratulatory letter from the competitive pool of applicants that CES was super excited about our innovation and wanted to give us some space on the floor.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
I’m going to quote Case Cook on that, we have “great people, great culture, and no traffic.” We have a really good innovation hub going right now. I’m a graduate of Wichita State University. I got my Biomedical Engineering Degree there and then I started my Masters in Innovation Design there as well. They’re just creating this environment for entrepreneurs to come together with a really good supporting network. It was my Director at the Institute for Interdisiplanary Innovation that directed me towards CES. Go check this out. Never once did I think I would get selected from everyone else who was trying to get in here.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
Network. Network. Network. That is the key.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
United States is the costliest, most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth. As a mother of 5, my middle child was born blue. He had a normal heart rate so they had no idea he was under stress. We can do better. Prenatal Hope is currently in our FDA process, but FDA has said they have nothing else out there like this. So we’re looking to disrupt the prenatal care industry and change the standard of care.

flipstick – St Louis, MO

Jessica Austin / Martin Penton
World’s first reusable, eco-friendly gravity defying mounting accessory for your phone and beyond.

What brought you to CES?
To get more exposure. Brand awareness. Let people know about our Nasa technology. Akeem, our founder, has worked with his uncle who works at Nasa and has developed an adhesive that he’s patented that called Synthetic CT adhesive. Allows you to stick and restock your phone or any device up to 5 pounds onto multiple surfaces. So we want to get the lipstick name out and have everyone have access to it. We want distributors to come, pick it up, and retail it all over the world.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
St Louis is our home. That’s family. That’s everything. St Louis is on the ground when it comes to entrepreneurs and innovative companies. Great area for kickstarters. We are in a store called We The People that has 6 locations and chose St Louis as hub. We’re the number 1 selling product in their stores.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
You have to sacrifice. You have to be willing to put in a lot of time, a lot of manpower sweat, blood tears to get here. We were in the Galleria [Mall] for the past 2 months and grossed $15k in sales the first month, $20k in sales the second month. But we weren’t sleeping. We were working on a lot of coffee. So its all about sacrifice.

Aloha Boomboxes – Des Moines, IA

Srfjan Pavelic – Founder
Solar powered, data connected speakers that don’t require a smartphone

What brought you to CES?
I’ve been watching CES for many, many years. I just love consumer electronics. We are seeing how the telecommunication industry has starting to shift to open up doors to product companies like Aloha.

So, this would be perfect opportunity to see what kind of partners we can find, what kind of media opportunities we can find, and just in general who is interested in Aloha. This show has really shown us something incredible in just the last two days – and makes me happy.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
I believe that Des Moines and the Silicon Prairie truly is a growing and advancing section of industry and world. A lot of the pockets in the East and West coast advancing tech, are getting so populated. Cost of living and paying employees is getting too extravagant. So picking good ol’ Iowa eliminates all those issues while allowing us to create a high tech quality product.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
Try to setup as many interviews or meetings with individuals prior to the show so you can to take as much advantage of the opportunities that lie underneath. There are so many things you think you might know but you truly don’t, so spend a lot of time researching and finding opportunities for yourself to take you to the next level.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
My family is from Bosnia. My 2nd degree is in Industrial Design from Iowa State. In my Electrical Engineering class, my professor gave us the assignment to make anything we wanted. One day I was trying to connect my phone outdoors to speakers and went through 2 bluetooth speakers, a sound bar, and still couldn’t get it to work. So the idea for Aloha speakers popped in my head and I went with it.

FYBR – St Louis MO

Robert Glatz, CEO, Innovation Award Winner
Industrial IoT platform with real-time data sensing solutions.

What brought you to CES?
We’re here because we like talking to other technology players. We learn what other folks are doing in the industry. Gives us a chance to talk to big companies about partnering with them. This has been a really good year. In the past everyone positioned that they were in the IoT industry and we really do IoT. We’re smaller and number and able to do develop that other folks really can’t do. And we’re found we’re sought out by really large companies to be their IoT solution to be part of the integration.

Why build on the Silicon Prairie?
Real answer, I lived in St Louis. Former Pricewaterhouse Cooper partner Head of Corp Development saw every technology acquisition in the world. When I retired, asked by investment bank if I would look at this company and give assessment if they had a viable future and when I presented my report and what I thought they needed to do and how to reposition the company and board said find we’ll back that but you need to run company. I’ll run if we headquarter in St Loius.

Frankly, there are a lot of really smart tech people in St Louis. And they are available from a lot fo tech companies that have been around for a long time. We have a very deep technical base. Our average age is probably a bit older than what you’d see in a tech company but we have guys that have 45 years experience in RF technology, embedded programming, who’ve been in it since the beginning.

Advice for other Midwest tech companies looking to show at CES in the future?
I think you definitely should come. Great opportunity to see what folks are doing. It will tell you where you are probably with your technology. If you’re ahead of the space you’ll get a feel for that, if you’re behind you’ll get a feel for that. We used to come here and three years ago we panicked because we said all these big companies are doing exactly what we’re doing and they’ve already got it all done. What we found is that most of them just advertise that they had it and in fact what they really have is aspirational place they’d like to go. And many years later, many of them have to come to us asking if we can help them.

Interesting fact you’d like to share?
We put sensors in agricultural fields to measure how fast water makes it way through the roots system and plants, helping reduce 40% of water consumption. In short, we connect the previously unconnected.

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