When you think nuts and bolts, you probably don’t think innovation. Not so for Jewel Burks, co-founder and CEO of Partpic. She managed customer service for a parts distributor and dealt with the calls from frustrated customers who had been sent the wrong part or couldn’t identify the part they needed because the product name or number was partially rubbed off.
Again and again, customers asked if they could send a photo of the part so the distributor could match it. The last straw was when Burks’ grandfather, a farmer in Alabama, had to delay harvest because a part for his tractor broke, and together they had trouble identifying and replacing it. There had to be a better way, she thought.
Alas, visualization software just wasn’t up to the task. Burks decided to find someone who could build the software needed. Fortunately for her, she lived in Atlanta near Georgia Tech, which just so happens to have the best programs in machine learning and computer visualization. She started going to meetups on campus.
Burks didn’t worry about protecting her idea. “No one is going to drop their baby to take yours,” she was advised. “Ideas are a dime a dozen,” said Burks. “It’s about the ability to execute on the idea.” She had the industry expertise, desire and grit. Of course, now that the software is developed, she has filed patents.
At the meetups, Burks met people who introduced her to the team who is designing the software she needed. They were intrigued by the idea of applying their academic learning to solve a real-life problem. They would develop object recognition software that allows the customer to take a photo of a screw needed for a chair and upload it to a website where PartPic’s algorithm quickly identifies the product name and model number so a replacement can be sent.
Burks was accepted into NYC SeedStart, an accelerator program that helps entrepreneurs move an idea into a product. She received a small investment from the program, which covered the expense of living in NYC temporarily as well as hiring an intern who worked on the technical aspects of the software.
While in the program, Burks met potential investors. Most of her investors are from NYC. She morphed the business model from selling direct to consumers to selling to enterprises that would make the software available to their customers. She narrowed the focus of the initial software tool so it identifies just fasteners, such as nuts, bolts, screws, nails and washers. Once Partpic software does this well, she will expand to other parts.
While in NYC, Burks also honed her pitch by presenting and watching others present at demo days. She learned this well and has gone on to win a variety of competitions that have provided funding, visibility and credibility. She won the technology category at One Spark in Jacksonville, Florida; the Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies category at the SXSW Accelerator competition in Austin; The Rise of the Rest Pitch competition in Atlanta (winning a $100,000 investment from Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL) and Blackstone Award at 36/86 Conference in Nashville (where I met her). She was a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt, San Francisco.
Burks recently closed a $1.5 million dollar seed round, led by Robert Saunders, a strategic investor. The round also includes Joanne Wilson, the Arc Angel Fund, and the Jumpfund. Saunders’ family owns Xander Fasteners in Billings, Montana. Xander is Partpic’s first customer and is opening doors to others in the industry who may also become Partpic’s customers.
Problems exist everywhere. Which will your ingenuity solve so you can build a business?
This article was written by Geri Stengel from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.