Coding Autism wins MIT entrepreneurial competition

Coding Autism co-founder and CEO Oliver Thornton and adviser Mike Panesis, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at California Lutheran University, celebrate after Coding Autism won the Startup Showcase on June 19.

Some familiar faces showed up for the Startup Showcase hosted by the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast looking for investors, partners and prizes.

Out of dozens of applicants throughout the region, six startups squared off in front of five judges on June 19 at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center, with a mix of software, hardware and online platforms.

“This was a tough job,” said host Matthew Stotts, vice chairman of the forum. “These are stealthy early startups that are kind of hard to find.”

Westlake Village-based Coding Autism revealed that it had a pending B-Corp certification, with full status expected next year, and expanded on its revenue models and routes to make its coding boot camps accessible to low-income families.

A skills and needs matchup between the technology industry and adults with autism has to battle a lack of awareness from large companies, but recruiting initiatives at Hewlett Packard and SAP bear out the model, said co-founder and CEO Oliver Thornton.

On the other hand, a shrinking labor pool presents opportunities for robots. Camarillo company Elite Robotics pitched its products for small and medium businesses, as well as machine intelligence software modules and new ways to monetize the data it collects., For car enthusiasts, San Luis Obispo-based Motoroso would combine fragmented, tribal online communities into a Pinterest-style interactive platform, with information and how-tos on parts and accessories and click-through purchasing options. Peer-to-peer electric vehicle charging network EVMatch, headquartered in Santa Barbara, also aimed to end range anxiety for drivers, offering EV adopters a way to make extra cash by allowing other electric car owners to charge up in their driveways.

Fresh out of the finals of the UC Santa Barbara New Venture Competition, where it netted $2,500, Phanta Field presented its gallium nitride wafers that can create nano-sized pixels for a 100-degree range of augmented reality. At $999 per pair of augmented reality glasses, The company plans to market first to virtual reality developers in the entertainment industry and then to consumers.

Santa Barbara home security company Observables also combined its router hardware with a satellite and cellular network and a cloud platform to connect devices throughout customers’ homes.

The judges dug in on business models, questioning each company on its target market, competitors and costs of acquiring customers.

Judging criteria included inventiveness, quality, scope of the market and strength of business model, but they weren’t the only ones with the power to decide.
After deliberations and a round of voting from the audience, Coding Autism emerged the winner.

For Mark Goldstein, partner at the law firm SoCal IP in Santa Barbara, scalability was the deciding factor.

“It’s a company that does good, has a reasonable chance of success and was scalable,” Goldstein said, adding that the companies were all well established and looking to grow, so the judging was tougher.

Coding Autism walked away with $3,000 in services from Stradling Attorneys, $2,000 in services from SoCal IP and passes for coworking space, a team membership and board room meeting hours at WorkZones.

“Although the rewards are exceptional, we thought that the feedback that we received on our business model was worth its weight in gold,” co-founder Austin Weinhart later said in a newsletter.

The company recently completed a $53,000 crowdfunding campaign and is now accepting applicants for the first cohort of students in its program.

• Contact Marissa Nall at [email protected]