The Top Five Startups from New York Fashion Tech Lab 2018

By: Veena McCoole | forbes.com

This summer, New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL) graduated its fifth annual cohort of nine women-led companies. Co-founded and produced by non-profit venture catalyst Springboard Enterprises, NYFTL unites cutting-edge startups with established retail companies to facilitate the conversations that will steer the future of fashion.

The program is sponsored by leading fashion companies such as Bloomingdale’s, LVMH, Macy’s and Tory Burch, who collectively select each year’s cohort of startups. NYFTL Managing Director Jackie Trebilcock says NYFTL’s retail partners are looking for B2B startups with solutions that can help solve a problem.

“The companies get to work with retailers and brands for twelve weeks, during which we want to foster collaboration and open innovation,” says Trebilcock. “Some companies use NYFTL as an opportunity to get in front of more retailers and brands, and others use it as a jumping-off point into the fashion industry.”

New York Fashion Tech Lab’s cohort of eight entrepreneurs on stage at Demo Day 2018.YUMI MATSUO/SPRINGBOARD ENTERPRISES FLICKR

Here are five of the most promising companies from FTL’s 2018 cohort that are using innovative technologies to reshape the fashion industry:

Cherrypick.ai co-founder and COO Melissa Munnerlyn presenting at New York Fashion Tech Lab Demo Day 2018.YUMI MATSUO

Cherrypick.ai

Founded in 2017, New York-based Cherrypick.ai turns comments on Instagram into sales leads for brands. “Tracking product intent across social media is the new metric to understanding business performance, because intent is predictive of sale,” says co-founder and COO Melissa Munnerlyn. Cherrypick.ai is building the deepest data set of consumer intent in the beauty industry, offering clients real-time insights into the products within their categories that they are competing with, and the brands that claim the most “intent”—and consumer dollars—at a given time.

Using natural language processing software to decode the thousands of comments left on brands’ Instagram posts each day, Cherrypick.ai integrates with marketing tools to trigger customer-specific alerts. In other words, the heart-eye emojis you posted on a cult beauty brand’s latest Instagram on your lunch break might just be responsible for the email that just landed in your inbox.

“There is so much value trapped in these comments and it is difficult for a brand to extract it at scale,” says Munnerlyn. “Tracking product intent is the key to unlocking the true value of social media.”

Prior to FTL, Cherrypick.ai raised $260,000 from XRC labs and angel investors last year, and will close its $1 million seed round by the end of 2018, including investment from Brilliant Ventures.

EverThread’s powerful visualization technology generates true-to-life product images, increasing online engagement and conversions.EVERTHREAD

EverThread

EverThread renders product images at a fraction of the cost of producing images manually. “There aren’t enough images of products shown online because of the cost and time it takes to produce those images,” says founder and CEO Nicole Mossman.

EverThread’s technology allows retailers to merchandise products in a way that resembles a real-life, at-home experience. In one example, a couch, carpet and set of cushions laid out in a living room can be toggled by the customer to visualize different color combinations. These contextual images, Mossman says, lead to increased conversions and higher average order value.

“If a product is available in many configurations and colors, and retailers want to show each product from three different angles, this can yield over 22 million unique images which cannot be produced using traditional methods,” Mossman says. Large fashion companies with several product variations face the same challenge, and Mossman credits NYFTL with providing insight into how the fashion industry might use the company’s technology.

Prior to NYFTL, EverThread raised approximately $650,000 over three years: an equity round in 2015 and a convertible note in 2016-17. The company is currently closing a bridge round that will bring total fundraising over $1 million.

Shirley Chen, Founder and CEO of Narrativ, presenting at New York Fashion Tech Lab Demo Day 2018.YUMI MATSUO

Narrativ

Shirley Chen founded Narrativ in 2015 with the aim of building a better internet for shoppers. Articles published by editorial websites that dominate the first page of a Google search, according to Chen, generate three times the sales revenue of paid search traffic. “Amazon receives 650 million shoppers each month as a result of publisher content, which is 10 times more than arrive through paid search,” says Chen. “We want to democratize this pipeline.”

Through Narrativ’s SmartLink technology, a retailer can bid on hyperlinks featured in publishers’ articles to direct traffic to its website. Chen says this allows publishers to triple their revenue compared to a traditional affiliate link system, as exemplified by New York Magazine, who has seen the value of content clicks lift by 250% thanks to Narrativ. Retailers who purchase links drive more traffic and sales to their sites, and customers are never faced with a link to an out-of-stock product. Narrativ’s model of fixing erroneous links means retailers who don’t have an item in stock are excluded from bidding.

Narrativ takes a cut of its cost-per-click revenue model, and the company has been profitable for nearly a year. Chen reports that Narrativ generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year for its clients, and delivered a record $25 million in revenue last month. “There is a $25 billion retail opportunity in commerce content, every retailer and brand, big or small, should be able to access and drive sales from content produced by top publishers.”

Fashwell’s visual search technology instantly generates retail suggestions from uploaded images.FASHWELL

Fashwell

One of two international companies to participate in NYFTL this year, Zurich-based Fashwell is the brainchild of three machine-learning specialists that solves the visual demands of the fashion industry and its consumer.

Touting Europe’s largest online retailer Zalando as a customer, Fashwell’s search-by-image technology allows shoppers to upload images or screenshots and instantly receive similar product recommendations. On the backend, it helps retailers manage their inventory—which translates to personalized shopping filters for customers—and compile product suggestions that lead to a conversion increase of 35%.

“Fashion is a visual vertical, which is why over 60% of text-based search inquiries fail,” says Caitlin Crawford, Fashwell’s head of business development. “We bridge the gap between social media inspiration and the retail experience.” She added that the NYFTL program helped the company expand from European clientele to US-based customers, including Olapic and Spring.

Earlier this year, Fashwell launched its furniture recognition technology in hopes of accessing the home decor industry. “There will be a need for this technology for companies to stay competitive,” she says. “Our technology, combined with our expertise in visual merchandising, takes visual search a full step further for ecommerce retailers.”

Caroline Klatt, co-founder and CEO of Headliner Labs, presenting at New York Fashion Tech Lab Demo Day 2018.YUMI MATSUO

Headliner Labs

Headliner Labs is a marketing platform that powers chatbots with artificial intelligence and natural language processing, facilitating conversations between brands and their customers.

“Brands spend money getting people to their site, but what happens when they leave?” says co-founder and CEO Caroline Klatt. “They can chase customers around the internet with paid advertising, but the most powerful thing is to open up a conversation with somebody.”

The New York-based company touts a 10% sales conversion from its personalized messaging capabilities, with clients such as Cole Haan, Dr. Brandt, Sally Beauty, Ouai haircare and Modell’s Sporting Goods. “Today’s customers chat over SMS, direct message and Slack, making this the most relevant way for brands to be communicating too,” says Klatt.

“The program creates relationships between the newest and most innovative companies and massive heritage organizations,” she says of NYFTL and its retail partners, which include Macy’s, LVMH, Kohl’s, Bloomingdale’s and Tory Burch. “Companies like ours are in the market and can come into your organization today and move the needle.”

 

Let’s Be Honest: My Story Of The Beating The Odds Roadtrip

James “Ikie” Brooks is a guest contributor for the Reach Higher initiative

When I was little I would dream about leaving my little town that was tucked away in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. But as I got older, I figured out that it wasn’t really my town, or even my state that I wanted to run away from. I wanted to escape the hardships that came along with being the son of two addicts.

I didn’t want to be so angry with my mom when she was nodding off after taking too many pills. I was exhausted fighting with my dad over a disease he wouldn’t even admit he had. There had to be more for my life than what I saw around me, and I knew that I couldn’t just pack up and hop in an RV (yet). So my way out had to be a little bit different.

My way out was college. That single thought of going to college was what kept me going on days that felt like I had nothing left in the tank. For years I told myself that it was only temporary, and when I got my acceptance letter, my new life would begin. Once I got to college it didn’t just magically make everything better like I had thought. I still had some things I was dealing with, but college was the door to so many other opportunities.

Last summer, Roadtrip Nation sent James (who goes by “Ikie”), Esther, and Estephanie on a road trip across the country.COURTESY OF ROADTRIP NATION

Last summer, Roadtrip Nation sent James (who goes by “Ikie”), Esther, and Estephanie on a road trip across the country.

One day, I got the link to apply for Roadtrip Nation’s “Beating the Odds Roadtrip.” It was the chance to travel across the country and meet leaders who had beaten the odds in their own lives, gone to college, and made their communities better. I would be traveling with two girls who would become like family, Esther and Estephanie. They each had a story of overcoming adversity, and we quickly bonded. They truly were the best part of the entire experience, and that’s hard to do on a trip that had the Grand Canyon and Michelle Obama! But I knew this was an opportunity that, if I let it, could change my whole life.

To apply, I sent in a short video answering questions, and for the first time I told some strangers in California a secret that I had never told anyone. I had been very open about my family and what drugs and their addictions had caused. But my secret wasn’t because of anyone. I couldn’t blame anyone for it. I would look in the mirror and just break down because I couldn’t even say it out loud. I couldn’t say, “I’m gay.”

It was that one thing about myself that made me feel so ashamed. I wanted to pretend I wasn’t. I tried not to be. I tried repressing it so far down that maybe it would just stay hidden forever. But if I was really going to break out of my comfort zone, if I was going to really take this opportunity to better myself, I had to be honest. I was going to take this trip and be my complete self. I wasn’t going to hide who I was, or micromanage everything I said and did, so that I wouldn’t come off as gay. I was going to just be me. Next to college, it was the best decision I have ever made.

To see Ikie, Ester, and Estephanie's journey unfold, watch “Beating the Odds,” now streaming at beatingtheoddsfilm.com. COURTESY OF ROADTRIP NATION

To see Ikie, Ester, and Estephanie’s journey unfold, watch “Beating the Odds,” now streaming at beatingtheoddsfilm.com.

Each interview and destination seemed to be the missing puzzle piece that we were hunting for. We would talk to a leader like Geoffrey Canada and would get back out to the RV filled with determination to help kids in our communities, just like he had done for Harlem. Scout Basset, a paralympian, showed us how to be proud of what makes us different. Her story of running with a prosthetic for the first time made me cry, but wipe the tears away feeling stronger and unashamed. Talking to the Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia, was like a lightbulb moment. I was scared that my being gay would affect how I could work in politics. He told me that when people want a cop to show up or their street fixed, there isn’t a gay or straight way to do that. Being gay has no affect on your ability to help people.

The interview that made the most impact had to be with the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. I asked her about the kids back home who didn’t get the same opportunities that we were getting. She told us that the reason she does things like our interview was because she knows those kids who I was talking about. She feels like she has an obligation to help bring them forward with her, and that we could be those people pulling them forward, too.

It isn’t hard. Mentoring and just being a support to kids back home is a way for us to do for them what she is doing for us. I will never forget her voice telling us to keep going and keep pushing forward, even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard.

Thank you, Mrs. Obama. Thank you, Roadtrip Nation. I am a better and stronger person, advocate, and activist because of this experience.

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