On behalf of the Genesis Program, I’m excited to announce our recent investment in Sparkd. Sparkd will enhance the networking experience at live events while enabling sponsors to identify their return on investment through data collected with the simple act of a handshake. This venture is the resurrected form of the Genesis-backed Sparkvents, so we’re excited to see it take on new life thanks to recent tech breakthroughs with a new team.
Event organizers are looking for ways to keep their live events digitally relevant and to ensure engagement is of the utmost importance. For event attendees, sustaining networking and relationships from events is a difficult task. Business cards are a nuisance and inconsistently available, names are sometimes difficult to put with faces, and sometimes connections are just missed. For vendors and sponsors, their return on investment is often unclear.
The Sparkd solution aims to give event participants and sponsors data around what happens at events they pay to attend to enable the calculation of return on investment. Sparkd provides a new service to improve networking at live events. The Sparkd band is a low-cost wristband leased to event organizers, then given to attendees for the duration of an event which recognizes handshakes to automatically exchange contact information. Sparkd will allow event attendees to naturally make connections doing something they already do: meeting people and shaking their hands. On registration, a band will be assigned to an attendee’s name, and afterwards they will be able to access a record of who they met through the Sparkd website. Event organizers will gain insights into their events, and vendors/sponsors will more effectively be able to track leads and obtain data on the outcomes of their live events.
Sparkd is led by Tabish Chasmawala, Bhavin Gupta, and Baron McDonough. This venture is a continuation of a previous Genesis portfolio company Sparkvents. The previous effort had the same goals but was halted by technical difficulties related to the machine learning algorithm used in the wristbands. These technical difficulties have since been overcome by the new team.
Tabish Chasmawala — The lone remaining original cofounder from Sparkd, Tabish is an EE student, set to graduate in Spring 2019. Tabish serves as the Hardware Lead for Sparkd. Tabish has developed 8 devices like the band Sparkd will use through hack-a-thons and side projects. While his first effort on Sparkd was stalled by not being able to crack the handshake recognition, the company now has a formidable tech duo to crack it.
Bhavin Gupta — A junior, double majoring in Computer Science and Neuroscience, Bhavin is also the co-founder of another Genesis portfolio company, Forestrike. Bhavin serves as the Software Lead for Sparkd. He has a strong technical background, along with internship experience at firms like Keysight labs, AirBnb, and next summer at the genomics company Freenome. His experience with machine learning algorithms was the main driver behind the breakthrough on the handshake recognition component of Sparkd.
Baron McDonough — Baron is on track to graduate from the UT MBA Program in Spring 2019. Baron is a former Deloitte consultant that spent his summer at Dell Technologies working in AI strategy. He serves as the Business Lead for Sparkd. He will be spearheading the company’s efforts to bring a business lens to the advances in technology made by the team.
How’re They Doing?
Tabish Chasmawala and Bhavin Gupta worked over the summer on the machine learning algorithms for the bands, resulting in ~95% accuracy in gesture recognition (exceeding the reported benchmark value Dutch competitor Shake-On achieved in its first year of operations). They have secured pilot events to begin testing their technology and hope to use data gathered from these events to further refine their service. They have also been accepted to Longhorn Startup Lab for Spring 2019.
Why I Led This Deal by Rob Lajeunesse, Venture Partner
This was a special deal for me, given that I was part of the original founding team of the company while pursuing my MBA at UT-Austin. That experience put me in a position to really challenge the Sparkd team’s assumptions on their business, but also be put in a position to provide valuable insights to the current team and help shape their direction. The technical breakthrough Sparkd has made on gesture recognition is a significant step in their efforts to increase reliability in a product that will change event experiences for all stakeholders. With their current momentum, I’m excited to support the team as they move forward and put their prototype on the wrists of actual users to fuel human experiences at live events.