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R/GA Demo Day: Startups Lisnr and Chargifi provide new opportunities for advertisers like RB


By Minda Smiley | Reporter

February 13, 2015 | 6 min read

Brands and investors gathered at R/GA's New York office this week to see pitches from 10 promising technology startups, for its Accelerator Class of 2015 Demo Day.

This is R/GA's second accelerator, with this year's focus being on startups in the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices space. This year's Demo Day focused on startups involved in an emerging class of products that combine hardware, data, and digital services in compelling ways that consumers and businesses alike can benefit from.

Eight of these startups will go on to raise capital, having spent the past three months with mentors to perfect their pitch and product.

Richard Ting, executive vice president and global chief experience officer at R/GA, told The Drum that the agency aimed to include a diverse roster of companies at this year’s Demo Day.

“If you think about all of the companies that presented today, they represented different types of industries: connected home, ad tech, B2B. We made a very conscious decision that we wanted to have diversity in our portfolio because as an agency we work across a lot of different industries,” he said.

The startups included: Astro, which builds smart devices; Bitfinder, which builds connected devices that give access to real-time air quality; Chargifi, which provides wireless charging products to venues; Diagenetix, a handheld DNA detection and analytics provider that helps protect food; Filament, a wireless sensor network provider for the industrial internet; Kinetic, an industrial platform using wearables to improve worker safety; Freedom Audio, designer of a waterproof smart speaker; Latch, a smart lock provider; Lisnr, which provides high frequency smart tones; and SkySpecs, which enables commercial drone use through collision avoidance.

This year, Ting said it chose to focus on startups that were 'more prototyped', since last year they included companies that may not have had prototypes in place yet.

There was also a focus on the industrial side of IoT.

“IoT was the main focus, but when you think about the industry, it’s really focused on consumer facing products within IoT,” he said. “So everyone’s concerned with wearable watches and activity trackers and connected locks. There’s a larger side of IoT which is industrial focused, so companies like Kinetic and Filament are creating solutions for businesses and we believe there’s a huge opportunity there.”

Laurent Faracci, senior vice president of global marketing and digital excellence at RB, explained that the company plans to follow up with a few of the companies that presented today.

“We’re in the era where innovation is life and death to all companies. And we’re very proud and very successful with our inside-out innovation. We have amazing labs, amazing R&D labs, and amazing marketing and technology teams that create products and new solutions, but today it’s not enough,” he said, adding that today companies need to look outside-in. “It’s looking outside in and maybe make connections. Maybe some of the solutions today were not designed for our industry, but could be applicable for the industry.”

For advertisers and marketers, Ting said Lisnr and Chargifi could provide great opportunities. “I would say those two are probably the best for advertisers,” advised Ting.

Lisnr is a proximity-based messaging service that “unlocks the power of data over audio,” according to chief executive and founder Rodney Williams.

It works through an inaudible smart tone that’s played over a broadcast or speaker system. “We’re just an audio file that you can’t hear. Think of it as a dog whistle,” Williams told The Drum. Devices using the Lisnr API or software development kit can recognize the tone and activate an experience, while brands can create and manage these experiences with Lisnr’s content portal.

“For the first time ever, marketers and content creators can actually understand where consumers are and message them based on their presence in real time,” he said, with accuracy within one-tenth of a second.

During his presentation, Williams said the startup would be opening up a strategic round of funding to accelerate growth, with the company on pace to book $3m. He also said that brands were taking notice, adding that Lisnr has 35 pilots from some of the world’s top brands.

Last fall, Lisnr paired with Budweiser’s Made in America music festival in LA and Philadelphia where they relayed their harmonies through the speaker systems. All of the messaging to consumers was done through Budweiser’s Made in America app. “It was really relevant and really tailored to the user,” he said, explaining that users getting close to concession stands would get messages about discounts and users approaching the exit could get Uber notifications for a free ride.

“If you wanted to create some type of second screen experience that works in conjunction with a TV spot, Lisnr technology could enable that,” said Ting.

Launched in 2013, Chargifi is a power solution that provides wireless charging products to venues such as bars, coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants – basically anywhere where someone might be on the go and in need of a charge. Right now, it’s achieved through installing these products sub-surface, or below tables, in venues.

Tom Gregorio, US director of Chargifi, told The Drum that venues and marketers alike can benefit from this technology. “For a venue, it delights their customers. It’s exciting, it’s cool, and the customer may not have what they need with them and you’re providing them this service,” he said. “But we see power as a hook, as a way for the venue to engage with their customers.” To activate a Chargifi spot, users can download the free Chargifi app.

“Once they’re using that app, the venue is able to push some basic promotions to the customer’s screen,” Gregorio said. “Coffee shops could say ‘hey, you’ve been here for an hour, would you like 50 per cent off of a refill on coffee?’”

At the presentation, the UK-based startup announced a partnership with two of the UK’s largest coffee chains – Café Nero and Pret-a-Manger, and revealed that the technology will be implemented across 50 bars in NYC.

Chargifi CEO Daniel Bladen said that Chargifi is doing for power what WiFi has done for connectivity, adding that by 2020 the wireless charging industry is predicted to be a $20bn dollar market.

THe R/GA Accelerator day was powered by Techstars.

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