What Happens In Vegas Doesn't Stay In Vegas

Columbia Technology Ventures team, from left to right, Lumiode (John Sarik, Vincent Lee, Brian Tull), Radiator Labs (Marshall Cox), Columbia Technology Ventures (Calvin Chu, Teresa Fazio), and UdaComm (Kshitij Yadav).

Four start-ups from Columbia Engineering went to Las Vegas in January to participate in the 2013 International CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show. Under the leadership of Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Ioannis (John) Kymissis, the students presented their innovative technologies to a broad range of interested attendees—four days of nonstop pitching.

“We had a significant presence at CES this year, thanks in part to the great support of Columbia Technology Ventures (CTV),” says Kymissis. “It was an interesting and exhausting experience to meet so many people both at the CTV booth and also around the conference. I hope that the many connections we made lead to new and interesting opportunities for future academic and commercial collaborations.”

The four Engineering start-ups included Chromation, which is developing low cost spectral sensor modules for color and light measurement; Lumiode, a company working to develop a brighter and more efficient microdisplay for both visible light and non-visible light applications; Radiator Labs, a start-up aiming to reduce energy waste in homes using steam or hot water heating by controlling the transfer of heat from the radiator to the home; and UdaComm, a company developing a system for through-air wireless ultrasound for short distance and low data rate applications.

All four teams, who are giving a talk—What Happens in Vegas Doesn't Stay in Vegas—on campus in Lerner Hall on February 13, are already planning their presentations for CES next year. For these teams of Engineering entrepreneurs, the CES experience was a valuable one and gave them a leg up in the start-up world.

Chromation, from left to right, James Scholtz, Tanya Cruz Garza, Mike Gazes, and Nadia Pervez.

“This was an amazing opportunity for us as an early-stage start-up to get this high level of exposure and direct access to industry,” says Vincent Lee, PhD'12, Electrical Engineering, Lumiode’s cofounder and CEO. “We worked on demos right up until the night before the show. We even made a trip out to Fry’s Electronics to buy some missing parts. There were over 150,000 attendees at CES and we had a steady stream of people talking to us at all hours. It was a great experience for us to meet people from many different industries with many different views on what our technology can be used for.”

“We demoed a sound-based wireless system for communication between a mobile phone and a custom-designed sound-receiver chip,” says Kshitij Yadav, PhD'12, Electrical Engineering, UdaComm’s cofounder and CEO. “There were many visitors to our booth and we were pretty much busy throughout the entire duration of the show. There was a tremendous amount of learning that happened through our interactions with these visitors, whether they were curious onlookers, service providers, or potential collaborators. Overall, it was a four-day exhausting, but a very fun and extremely useful experience.”

Marshall Cox, PhD candidate (2013), Electrical Engineering, Radiator Labs’ cofounder and CEO, is equally enthusiastic about CES. “Radiator Labs had a great time sharing the booth with Lumiode and UdaComm at Columbia Engineering School,” he says. “While our demo wasn’t quite as shiny as Lumiode’s amazing displays or UdaComm’s nice communication demo, we still received plenty of attention if only because there aren’t many new ‘hot’ gadgets that have anything to do with steam. It was a great experience and we certainly had our share of opportunities to describe how our system works and how much energy we can save for buildings with steam heat.”

Traffic at the Chromation booth.

Chromation had its own booth at the trade show. “This was our first time at CES so we didn't know what to expect, particularly in terms of the target audience or what their response would be,” observes Nadia Pervez, a former postdoctoral research scientist in Electrical Engineering, Chromation’s cofounder and vice president of operations. “We had a lot of booth traffic, and the audience cut across many different industries ranging from graphic design to scientific instrumentation. The event allowed us to make connections and get information on many different scales. We were able to speak to end users about their perceptions of products in their industries, talk to engineers about products that could use our module, and talk to business people about pain points in their industries.”

"It was terrific to be able to showcase some of the most interesting emerging companies in CTV's portfolio at Columbia Engineering School,” notes David Lerner, director of the Venture Lab at Columbia Technology Ventures. “It was an awesome opportunity for our teams to mix it up in the annual epicenter of consumer technology."

The students all credit Kymissis for his constant support. "This would have been much harder to do on our own without the help of our peers, and especially without John Kymissis’s constant support throughout our time as students in his lab and now as we are starting companies,” says Lee. “From the beginning, he’s been a critical part of all our start-ups and we're really grateful for his help.”

“This was a great opportunity for these teams to present their exciting technologies to the most influential thought leaders in the consumer electronics industry,” adds Kymissis. “I was excited to help them bring their ideas to reality.”

—by Holly Evarts

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