IEEE N3XT Stars Program Helps Tech Startups Emerge

The program connects founders with expertise and funding

23 August 2017

IEEE this year launched N3XT Stars, a program that seeks out ventures with engineering-driven innovation at their core, and ones that align with IEEE’s mission to advance technology for humanity.

The program aims to help founders take their venture to the next level by connecting them with technical experts, funding sources, strategic partners, and news media exposure. The entrepreneurs don’t have to be IEEE members, but if selected for the program, they receive free IEEE membership and access to the organization’s products and services.

IEEE members with experience in entrepreneurship serve as judges and decide which startups to tap for the program.

To seek out IEEE’s first group of N3XT Stars, IEEE volunteers and staff members met with hundreds of entrepreneurs at two of this year’s largest startup events: the Launch Festival in April in San Francisco, and Collision in May in New Orleans. Ten startups were selected.

MEET THE FOUNDERS

Aclima, a startup in San Francisco, deploys large-scale sensor networks to map the environment in real time. The technology is integrated with Google’s Street View cars in certain cities to monitor air quality. The data, which includes carbon-dioxide and pollutant levels, is streamed from the vehicles to Aclima’s custom-built visualization tools and maps. That lets people see the air quality in their neighborhood at that moment, as well as track how it changed during the course of days or months.

The technology is “a Fitbit for the planet,” Kim Hunter, the company's vice president of communications and engagement, says in an IEEE.tv video.

She adds that she hopes the pollution maps the service provides will encourage cities to improve their air quality.

In another video, Lakshmeesh Sridharan, who launched Cattleya Technosys, an Internet-of-Things startup in Bangalore, India, talks about how his company provides security surveillance and other services. Clients include banks, government agencies, and retailers.

Other startups include DroneSeed, a Seattle company whose drones spray herbicides on forests’ invasive species and could plant seeds for reforestation.

Another, mcThings, connects items to the Internet with tracking sensors to help monitor them in real time. The sensors can be embedded on individual food and retail shipment packages, on machinery, and even on livestock. Located in Cochrane, Alta., Canada, the startup uses its technology to monitor for factors such as temperature, location, and theft.

Beyond startups that align with IEEE’s mission, IEEE Member Allan Tear says judges looked for traits that make a company successful. Those include a solid team that has business knowledge and can clearly demonstrate that a need exists for its product or service. Tear is chair of the IEEE Entrepreneurship committee, which oversees N3XT Stars. He helped found Betaspring, an early-stage investment firm in Providence, R.I., focused on technology ventures.

IEEE Member Samantha Snabes, who helped found re:3D of Austin, Texas, was a judge. Her company makes Gigabot, an industrial-strength printer that produces objects about 30 times larger than leading desktop 3D printers. (Her company is being featured in The Institute’s September print edition). IEEE Member Sasha Hoffman, another judge, is cofounder and CEO of Fuzzy Compass, a startup in Boston that connects people with travel bloggers who can help them plan their trips for a fee.

MOVING ON UP

IEEE N3XT Stars is aiding the entrepreneurs in several ways. It helped a venture in India bring its product to the U.S. market. The N3XT program has connected founders with IEEE experts from academia and industry to help them incorporate technical standards and assist with R&D. Experts can also help founders understand government regulations that might impact their business.

N3XT Stars is working on organizing in-person and virtual events to help founders expand their businesses, such as finding investors and growing their team. It’s also working on getting them more visibility. IEEE.tv captured the founders’ stories about how they launched and grew their ventures. Those tales have been shared on IEEE social media networks and websites to promote the ventures and provide examples for other entrepreneurs, Tear says.

“The next wave of innovation, whether in artificial intelligence, blockchain, drones, or robotics, will be coming to us courtesy of startups,” he says. “It’s important for IEEE to be in the startup space. This is where our future members will come from.”

Learn More