How far can a business idea travel in a year? If you use Rithmio as a measure, all the way from missile and satellite analytics -- to the wearable device market in one fell swoop.
Over a little more than 12 months, Adam Tilton, co-founder and CEO of Rithmio, has pushed ahead at a remarkable pace, establishing a startup company, reaching a $650,000 seed money raise, and ramping up to sell the company’s gesture recognition software to major electronics manufacturers.
“We’re at this great intersection of wearable technologies and the Internet of Things,” Tilton said of Rithmio. “That’s our big opportunity. So many devices can be connected in different ways to share information and do even more.”
Rithmio’s whirlwind journey began the summer of 2013, when Tilton and his advisor and co-founder, Prashant Mehta, attended the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program. Their goal was to commercialize analytics software, developed by Mehta’s Mechanical Science and Engineering lab, for the defense industry, to improve missile guidance and satellite navigation.
“The first day [at I-Corps] I got up and talked about what we had and the type of defense customers we were after, and people sort of chuckled,” Tilton said. “Two days into the program, we were really wondering how we could find enough potential customers in that area.”
While in San Francisco, Tilton attended a wearable device demonstration and noticed how slow and inaccurate that particular device was. He immediately saw the potential in his own lab’s algorithms and thought, “I can do something better than that.
The key, Tilton said, was developing a motion-sensing device with gesture recognition—one that combines accelerometer and gyroscope functions into a single sensor. While still at the I-Corps program, Tilton worked for two straight weeks on a prototype before showing Mehta, who knew Tilton was on to something. Mehta’s lab immediately shifted its focus, and by that September, Tilton had a software startup, an I-Start grant, and offices at EnterpriseWorks.
“From the ground up, this is a different solution to pattern recognition and classification,” Tilton said. “What we’ve done involves repetitive motions. When you apply pattern recognition to motion data you get gesture recognition.”
Gesture recognition allows a device to “identify and track any repetitive physical activity with greater accuracy and differentiation,” Tilton said. Not only are repetitions accurately tracked with Rithmio, but the software is able to monitor and report on the quality of the repetition and form.
“You train your gesture recognition system just by doing the activity,” Tilton explained. “The software will learn the gesture according to how it was taught on training day.”
Once the device is trained, Tilton said it’s able to do an incredibly accurate analysis. It can even compare two people’s activities against one another.
In addition to refining the product, Tilton focused on honing the business plan and securing financial backing. Winning the top prize at the 2014 Cozad New Venture Competition was key.
“Our Cozad experience was huge,” Tilton said. “It helped us refine and practice our pitch, put together a business plan, and get feedback. There were investors and others in the room who saw our potential and wanted us to move to the next step. Really, the Cozad judges were responsible for making all of this possible.”
Tilton also references a “Made in Illinois” t-shirt he owns, saying that from his work with Mehta and his lab, to the many opportunities he took advantage of through the Technology Entrepreneur Center and EnterpriseWorks, the University of Illinois provided everything Tilton needed to create something big.