Iowa’s leading business advisors honored Des Moines artificial intelligence startup Roboflow as one of the state’s most promising new companies last month.
Roboflow, which helps cameras detect images, placed third in the 2020 John Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition, receiving $15,000. The annual awards are for new companies with promising technology that have quickly built a client base.
Started in June 2019 by Des Moines natives Brad Dwyer and Joseph Nelson, Roboflow provides computer vision technology to companies. The technology is computer code that instructs photo or video cameras to identify and react to certain images.
Nelson, 27, the company’s CEO, said one of Roboflow’s clients is an energy company that uses the technology to scan pipelines, looking for places where oil can leak.
When they launched the company last year, Dwyer and Nelson focused on games. They released Board Boss, an app that shows users playing Boggle what possible words they could play. They then released Chess Boss, an app that gave similar advice to players choosing whether to move their bishop or rook.
Nelson said they shifted their business in January, working with companies that wanted to adapt the technology to harness cameras for their own purposes. More than 8,000 developers have downloaded the company’s Roboflow Organize app this year.
In addition to the Pappajohn award, Roboflow has received $150,000 from the Y Combinator tech business accelerator and $100,000 from the Pioneer accelerator.
Roboflow founders Joseph Nelson, left, and Brad Dwyer (Photo: Special to the Register/Roboflow)
Nelson said the most recent award is particularly special since it comes from entrepreneurs in Iowa.
“The dollar amount is one part of it,” he said. “The broader signal that it sends is a lot more important.”
Prior to starting Roboflow, Nelson worked for Represently, a company whose software sorted constituent emails for members of Congress. Dwyer, 32, Roboflow’s chief technology officer, previously ran the game app company Hatchlings.
David Hensley, director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa, said about 40 companies applied for the awards. A team of judges reviewed their applications and picked 12 semifinalists.
Those entrepreneurs pitched their companies for about 10 minutes each during an online meeting in September. The judges named the winners Sept. 24.
3D Health Solutions in Ames came in first, receiving $40,000. FBB Biomed of Iowa City finished second, receiving $25,000.
Other awardees included OpenLoop of Iowa City; Skroot Labs of Ames; and Stratafolio of Cedar Rapids.
The directors of the state’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at Drake University, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the North Iowa Area Community College select the winners. The competition is in its 15th year.
“We’re really starting to see much better companies,” Hensley said. “The (startup) ecosystem has improved so much over the last five years.”
Other judges include representatives from the Iowa Small Business Development Center, VentureNet Iowa and the Entrepreneurial Development Center.
John Pappajohn, a Des Moines venture capitalist, provides $50,000 toward the annual competition. The Iowa Economic Development Authority provides the other $50,000.
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.
Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2020/10/06/computer-vision-tech-company-recognized-one-iowas-top-startups-des-moines/3629356001/