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Shark Tank, Northwest-Style: Startup Finalists Selected for TechfestNW

Artificial intelligence is driving many of this year’s standout products.

Like the NCAA finals, what began with more than 90 startups is down to the top nine, all of whom will be pitching for real dollars on May 21 at virtual TechfestNW. The winning company will go home with an angel investment of $125,000.

The nine finalists were winnowed from 90 companies that participated in an education program and investment event this spring that connects entrepreneurs, investors and founders.

Those nine startups will pitch to the public and judges at TechfestNW, a virtual conference produced by WW in partnership with Oregon Entrepreneurs Network.

Amir Yazdani is an executive vice president at Comscore. He’s also an investor who mentors and coaches startups and is participating in this competition, now named Angel Oregon Tech. He says that he thinks these finalists have the ability to scale and create jobs as they grow.

What do Angel Oregon Tech investors look for? A business plan that is as good as the product.

“Sometimes you get some really smart tech people—you know, they’re geeks, but they’ve never run a company,” said Stewart Yaguda, a partner in the Oregon Angel Fund and one of the investors who’s overseen Angel Oregon Tech since founders enrolled in March.

OEN director Amanda Oborne says that some of this year’s finalists weren’t from the tech world, but founders who worked in a specific field, identified a problem in that field and came up with a solution.

“We think of techies who dropped out of college and had a great idea,” Oborne said. “[This year’s finalists] tend to be folks who are coming out of an industry where they had a lot of really relevant experience.”

Oborne added that artificial intelligence is driving many of this year’s standout products—which range from productivity-boosting headphones to a robot that picks strawberries. “What I’m really seeing,” Oborne says, “is that technology is in everything.”

The final nine are:

- Carry, a prenatal yoga and meditation app designed to guide the user “through pregnancy, birth and beyond.” Co-founded by Heather Struwe, a Minneapolis-based doula and yoga teacher, and Maya Page, who previously worked at Target and Adidas, the app includes prenatal and postpartum yoga videos, audio meditations and educational articles for “all four trimesters of pregnancy.” Carry is meant to be a partner through the pregnancy process — and a timely virtual alternative to in-person pre- and postnatal yoga classes.

- Easeenet, created by Erin McCune and Andrew Kallenberger, Portland, is a tool that helps users organize and store their “digital estate.” That means passwords for social media accounts as well as critical documents that people often forget to pass on before they die — adding an extra layer of red tape to estate management. Easeenet also acts as a password management tool for those who aren’t tech-savvy, and is available in paid and free versions.

- Eno, co-founded by Jacob Flood and David Doyon, Montreal, makes the the Enophone, which looks like a high-end pair of noise-canceling headphones — and sells for $399, a comparable price to those offered by audio giants like Bose. But the Enophone does a lot more. The device includes state-of-the-art noise cancellation technology, but also employs EEG sensors to measure the electrical activity produced by your brain and heart and uses data from your sensors and computer interaction to determine your level of focus. The algorithms power Enosound — music created by musicians and neuroscientists in search of the perfect soundscape for “deep work” as well as Enowork, a software tool designed to optimize focus.

- Lumina, founders by Brian Forrester and Huston Hedinger, Portland, is a recruiting software tool that creates videos based on job descriptions to catch potential employees’ attention. Boasting that the view-to-apply ads for their video job listings is three times higher than with other ad formats, Lumina’s clients include healthcare organizations like Zoomcare and Rochester Health — but also The Dyrt, which makes software for avid campers.

- Neupeak, founded by Anshul Porwal and Div Gill of British Columbia, has developed a robot that can pick fruit on demand, in any lighting or weather. Designed with strawberries in mind, Neupeak charges a fixed rate per pound of strawberries collected. The device is meant to save farmers money and address labor shortages, but is also designed to work safely among humans so it can be incorporated into farm operations “as seamlessly as possible.”

- QChange could be a bad manager’s worst nightmare — or a godsend for those who want to keep their staff awake in meetings. Founded by James Kelley, Rob Buckingham and John Howes of Bend, uses artificial intelligence to “make meetings suck less” — including virtual meetings. Its first product, Leader Experience, allows leaders to receive prompts before a meeting focusing on behaviors they’ve identified as important. After meetings they receive prompts asking how they did — and also prompts a selected peer, manager or direct report to comment on their performance. Leaders can also receive anonymous written feedback — and learn if their self-perception matches the perception of their team.

- Remotely Video, uses artificial intelligence to remotely automate video post-production process, “bringing high end Hollywood level tools at a fraction of the cost.” The tool was created with data mined from real-world jobs by post-production artists and founders Jordan Snider and Jeremy Bircher both have experience in the field. Snider worked as a colorist for major motion pictures and photo retouching artist for 15 years, and Bircher is a serial entrepreneur and video producer whose work includes cause-based documentaries as well as ad campaigns.

- Rewire Neuro has created two products — Pipsqueak and Pipsqueak AI — that use artificial intelligence to help scientists analyze biomedical images. Founder John Harkness holds a PhD in neuroscience from Oregon Health & Sciences University and worked as a research scientist at Washington State University before launching Rewire Neuro. Pipsqueak’s customers include OHSU, Legacy Health, Stanford and the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.

- What’s Open is in beta, but it couldn’t be more timely as businesses close, reopen and shift to takeout or outdoor dining — and information listed online can quickly go out-of-date. Founders Ali Eltahir, Walied Faisel and Patrick Wells — all based in Portland — created What’s Open to make it easier to find up-to-date information by cross-referencing businesses’ information with references like Google, Facebook and Yelp.

Information and tickets for TechfestNW and Angel Oregon Tech can be found at techfestnw.com.