gener8tor, a nationally ranked venture capital firm and accelerator, has been around since 2012, but last year, in partnership with the North Dakota Growth Fund and 50 South Capital, the firm was brought to our state to assist startups in our area and attract more businesses to North Dakota. While many of their services help early-stage startups get their feet off the ground, this spring gener8tor was able to select and invest in six established startup companies for their first equity-based accelerator program. I sat down with each of the six companies-Cios, Farmented Foods, Pavewise, Detect Auto, general, and Aethero-to chat about their company’s inception, their experience in the gener8tor Investment Accelerator, their plans for the future, and more.
To learn more about gener8tor, visit their website: gener8tor.com/north-dakota
And check out more about the North Dakota Growth Fund and its impact at ndgrowthfund.com
Terry Wang, CEO & Co-Founder
Cios: A Property Management Solution to Benefit Renters Everywhere
Cios (pronounced “keys”) partners with property management companies to help people move more freely. The company helps to provide tenants who need to move early with an alternative to paying lease termination fees. CIOs does this by facilitating the sublease process by finding a replacement tenant, taking care of screening, and overseeing check-in/check-out, payment, and cleaning. Through this service, property managers minimize vacancy and re-leasing costs, while tenants save thousands of dollars in penalties and fees. CEO and Co-Founder Terry Wang sat down with me to discuss what this service can do to improve the moving process for all renters and property managers, as well as what the generator accelerator program has done to push the business forward.
Q&A with CEO Terry Wang
Q: How did you guys get started with this company? How did this idea come about?
A: It actually started way back in 2018. Back in 2018, one of my best friends-who was originally a co-founder of the company and I realized there is this big challenge with subleasing. We were renting a house at the time, living with a bunch of our friends. Summer came around and a bunch of people left, and we realized that nobody was helping us pay rent, so we were freaking out. We had to learn all this stuff about renting.
It turns out, there’s so much complexity in the rental industry. Between finding the right person to sublet, figuring out how to get them approved, making sure that they’re a solid person and that the landlord agrees, figuring out how to collect a payment, figuring out what needs to be in a subleasing agreement, and working with lawyers to get that done-it’s a lot. We were around 19 at the time, so it wasn’t easy for us. We thought it’d be a great idea to offer this up as a service where we would help other college kids with this. At the time, it kind of took off like wildfire. It got started within a week, and we were helping almost 50 people with subleasing.
It was a great idea. But we got carried away, and we thought we needed to get real jobs, so we went ahead and got real jobs. Our lives took different paths. We were working. I was working with a number of different startups in marketing and product and sales roles. He was working as a product manager at a couple of large companies. And we just kept talking about this idea. It was something that we were always passionate about.
Eventually, 2022 rolls around and we said to ourselves that there’s never going to be a good time to start this. So we decided: why not do this right now? We talked with a lot of our friends who had founded companies, both of us had had quite a bit of experience working with startups and working in product management and we decided that it was time. We just dropped into it. It’s definitely taken some pivots, but that’s because what we realized is that while subleasing is definitely a pain point that we want to solve for people, the bigger pain point is flexibility in general. What we want to do is partner with property management companies and tenants to deliver a win-win experience for everyone.
Q: That’s really cool. I’m interested in that because I’ve been in situations where I’ve wanted to move out of a living situation, but the time of year that my lease is up, it’s a really inconvenient time for me to move. Can you tell me more about that?
A: It’s never at a good time. When you sign that lease, very rarely is that the best time for you to move, because you’re not predicting when you’re going to move out when you sign a lease. You’re not predicting those life changes that might require you to move. We want to provide a level of flexibility without creating a huge financial burden.
It would be fine if there was an easy, simple way to get out of a lease. But for good reason, property management companies don’t want any vacancies-especially unpredicted vacancies-because it’s a huge cost for them. So what ends up happening is that they’re incentivized to make it awful for you to leave. What that usually ends up costing is somewhere from two to four months’ rent. It could be literally thousands of dollars-months worth of pay-when in reality, the cost to do all the stuff property management needs to do when a tenant moves out could be automated and might only cost a few hundred dollars spread out over a few months. That’s a much more reasonable cost. That way, you actually get to make the decision to move, rather than being stuck because it costs too much.
Q: How would the Fargo area or, more broadly, the United States be different or be changed if your business was to succeed and expand?
A: I think Fargo-Moorhead is a really good example when looking at the rest of the US because a lot of the leading indicators that we see here in Fargo are true around the whole country. There are more renters than ever before. There are more college-educated students than ever before. People are moving around more. Fargo is one of the fastest-growing midsize cities in the country. These are all factors that we see in Fargo right now, but we see them in other cities in the US, as well. What we think we’re going to be able to do, when we expand out or when we become successful, is enable people to do the things they want to do-to move when they want to move. We want that ability to move to not affect the people who own land either. People are going to own property, and people are going to make a return on that. But that also shouldn’t lock you into a lease, it shouldn’t prevent you from taking on exciting new opportunities like new jobs or new educational opportunities, and it shouldn’t prevent you from supporting your family.
Q: I am seeing the connection between the people moving and the landowner vacancies. If everybody can move more easily, then these property owners that are worried about vacancies will have people filling those vacancies because everyone can move more easily.
A: I think it’s going to unlock so much for the industry. There’s going to be more competition in the market. I think the really great property management companies who are really trying to innovate on the building side-they’re going to see more tenants. I think it’s going to allow people to really choose their living spaces based on what’s best for them. It’s going to allow the best companies to stand out. It’s going to allow people to do what they want to do.
Q: Now that we’ve talked about the positives that can come from your company’s services, what are some of the most difficult things or barriers that you have faced so far in your business journey, and how have you overcome them? Or, how are you planning to overcome them?
A: There have been so many difficulties. I think the better question is: what hasn’t been difficult? I can talk about a couple of different things. Most recently, I think one of the big challenges is just communicating this vision to people. It’s been hard getting people to understand the vision and finding champions who really understand what we mean, especially on the property management side.
I think a lot of property management companies have a bad reputation. But in reality, I think a lot of the people [in the property management business] want to do good things. They want to support tenants. They’re in this business, and every business exists to serve its customers. For some reason, people just have this impression that property management companies aren’t there to serve their customers or tenants. But they want to do a better job, and we want to enable them to do that. We do that by communicating that story to the companies and finding out the right way to partner with them. That’s been a challenge, but also a really, really exciting opportunity, and we’re learning more about the industry every single day. We’re learning more about how to tell that story, and we’re learning how we can make this a win-win for them as well. That’s one challenge.
Outside of that, it’s learning how to grow a company. Learning how to work with team members has been a challenge, as well as learning how to make really tough hiring decisions. We’ve learned how to make really tough decisions in general. There’s never a right answer, and that’s one of the really tough parts about building a company. It’s like you’re making decisions with a thick fog in front of you. You’re not sure what path you take. You’ve got to make a decision with the knowledge that you have, stay confident in it, trust that you and your team made the right decision, and know that if you made the wrong decision, you’ll just have to pivot and change. You have to keep that up and keep that motivation.
gener8tor has been really helpful in encouraging us to believe in the decisions we make, make them confidently, and stick to them, but also not be afraid to pivot when needed. That’s been super helpful. It’s been a wonderful journey.
Q: You mentioned the gener8tor program and how helpful it’s been for you. What was the process of getting involved in the gener8tor Investment Accelerator program?
A: It’s actually a really interesting story for us because we’re originally from Canada. I grew up in Toronto, very far from the Midwest. I ended up moving to Winnipeg because my girlfriend started medical school. I was in Winnipeg and I was talking with a lot of folks down in the Midwest United States because it’s a much bigger market than the Midwest of Canada, which is just empty fields.
We ended up talking with a couple of potential partners out in Missouri, specifically in Columbia and Kansas City. They invited us to a conference that was happening in Nebraska in September of last year. At that event, we met a lot of really interesting people, including some of the gener8tor folks. I heard about everything that they were doing, and I was like, “I’m sold. I want to be a part of this.” When the opportunity came up and the program opened up in North Dakota, it was even better. North Dakota is closer to home. It’s in a market that we’re really excited about. We just jumped right in and took the opportunity. I moved here in February and started the program in March, and it’s been a blur ever since.
Q: Since you started the gener8tor program in March, how has the experience been? Are there any important lessons you can pass on to our readers?
A: It’s been a fantastic experience. Working with Ben and Lindsay has been amazing. The best thing that I’ve experienced is the chance to get deeply involved with the Fargo-Moorhead community.
That’s been probably the best part of the gener8tor program-connecting us to the community and working within the ecosystem, whether it’s over at Emerging Prairie, with the EDC, or with some of the local partners. That’s been a huge part of our success. We’ve found so much support here. The best lesson to take away from the program is to involve yourself, talk to your community, and give back more than you take in. Another of the lessons that Ben and Lindsay in particular pushed us to do was to not take all the feedback we receive at face value. They taught us to listen to the breadth of conversations we’re going to have and realize that there are going to be people on both sides and the truth is somewhere in the middle. If you’re going to make a decision, you’re going to commit to it, and you’re going to take a more balanced view of the situation.
Q: Is there anything we missed that we haven’t talked about in regard to Cios?.
A: One thing I want to mention: in terms of building this as a company, an important piece is the team that has built it with me. We came into this gener8tor program as a team of just two-myself and my co-founder, Victor. We were just working by ourselves through this program. Through the guidance of Lindsay and Ben, we’ve been able to grow this team out to a team of six. That’s been fantastic, learning how to build that culture and seeing the growth within the team and how it makes us better. For everybody out there who’s running a company, it’s super important to look at your team and think about not just how are they helping you but how you can help them.
Keep up with Cios
COO & Co-FounderJosh King | CEO & Co-Founder Matt Dunlevy
Aethero: Saving Buildings One Structural Analysis At a Time
Aethero provides holistic, exterior building health analysis for large commercial properties and public institutions. Leveraging UAS-powered scans, their proprietary artificial intelligence platform provides in-depth data analytics and an interactive dashboard for facility managers and property development firms alike. The company identifies and prioritizes urgent problem areas on the building facade to create a predictive repair strategy that reduces the need for large-scale maintenance and repairs. Co-Founders CEO Matt Dunlevy and COO Josh Klug sat down with me to discuss protecting building health, minimizing repair costs, their plans for the future of Aethero, and how the Gener8tor Investment Accelerator has pushed their plans forward in the last few months.
Q&A with CO-Founders CEO Matt Dunlevy and COO Josh Klug
Q: Could you two tell me a little bit about yourselves and your company?
Matt: Sure. I’m Matt Dunlevy, and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Aethero. Fundamentally speaking, we use unmanned aircraft systems and artificial intelligence for building health assessments. Basically, we fly a drone around the building to scan it. Then, we take that scan data and put it into our Al. With that data, were able to give building owners and facility managers financial insights on where they can get ROI on improvements to their buildings. We show them the health of their building in a snazzy and uniquely beneficial way, and then we show them where they can make money.
Josh: I’m Josh Klug. I’m the Chief Operating Officer and another co-founder of Aethero. We like to kind of tag-team a lot of issues. We both have a major hand in running the company with business development and things of that nature. My focus is primarily on the business end, like taking care of internal operations and finances. Business development comes to me more naturally because of my background in banking and consulting.
Q: Could you tell me about how you came up with the idea for the company and how the company got started?
Matt: I had a great conversation with him one day-we’ve been friends for a while. It was in 2020, and we were having coffee while we were watching the Memorial Union get torn down at the University of North Dakota. It was just heartbreaking because we had fond memories of our undergraduate educations there. We were thinking to ourselves that there’s got to be a way to make these buildings less energy inefficient and increase their lifespan. I had been working with drones at the time, and we knew that there were different software programs or data analytics models that could work for this purpose. But we thought to put artificial intelligence on it, too. Because people always say “There’s an app for that.” There’s an app for building maintenance. These days, though, people say “There’s an Al for that.” So we’re the Al for buildings. In the future, we want to move to other industries as well, but buildings are where our Al was first trained. That’s the knitting to which we stick.
Q: Could you go more in-depth about the problems that you’re trying to solve for your industry with this company?
Matt: Well, I’ll take the first crack at it and then hand it off. It’s a multi-trillion-dollar issue. Defects in buildings in the United States alone are a multi-trillion-dollar problem. Those issues in those buildings contribute to the fact that, of all heat that gets pumped into those buildings, 50% of that goes to waste. Imagine what it costs to heat the United States. We should be paying half that. The market is almost unimaginably huge in the United States alone. But the lack of labor, the lack of data, and the lack of budget that facility managers have are where we found an opening.
Josh: Our primary target markets initially are in the educational space. Both public and private, higher education, K-12, and publicly owned buildings like healthcare and commercial buildings. As Matt mentioned, these facility managers have a mounting problem. It’s something that has been plaguing the industry for a number of years because typically, facility managers and building owners utilize one or both of these strategies: reactive-where something breaks and they need to fix it-or because someone told them it needed to be replaced after a certain amount of time. A lot of what they do isn’t based on data, it’s based on either a gut instinct or a sheet that was drawn up that says to do it on a specific schedule. What we strive to do is collect data to help them better allocate their budget and their labor, and provide them with that data.
Q: How would the Fargo-Moorhead area, or the country or world at large, be changed by or positively impacted by your business succeeding?
Josh: The Memorial Union on the UND campus is one good example-much like many others in the area and across the nation. They come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and have a range of different types of maintenance that has or has not been done on them over the years. What we primarily aim to do is first save those building owners and facility managers money, heartache, and headache that comes with building maintenance. But second, we aim to save the buildings that don’t need to be demolished-to remediate or remodel them, in a certain way or a number of ways that could extend their useful life. There are many buildings that we’ve seen that are young and have a plethora of problems, and there are many older buildings that we’ve seen that don’t have that many problems. We can help facilities managers understand what they’re working with.
Q: What are some of the biggest barriers or problems that you’ve faced so far on your business journey, and how have you overcome them or how are you planning to overcome them?
Matt: A lot of it is rewiring ourselves because Josh and I come from business. It is an adjustment from what is the corporate norm into startup life. We had to get our mindset out of the large scale. The issue for us is less about efficiencies and more about normal day-to-day business operations. Can we prove this business model? We’re worried more about what is effective than what is efficient. In essence, we’re trying to convince ourselves to do things that aren’t necessarily about scale. That’s difficult because we want it all and we want it all right now. But we see that brick by brick, the accumulation of these small victories and small advantages add up and paint the picture of what Aethero is today, and it’s a good look. We will be continuing to rewire ourselves to know exactly where we are and to continue to develop that vision. Just keep the wheels moving. That’s where we’re at right now.
Q: How did you find out about the generator program? What was the process like to become part of the program?
Matt: We have a little bit of an unfair advantage because I knew Lindsay in her previous life. When she was with Emerging Prairie, I knew her then because we were working with a different startup back then. She was the effervescent and ever-present character that she is now. There are few people who can bring as much value to a group or to a company as she does just out of the kindness of her heart. I saw her change of company update on LinkedIn and reached out and asked her about gener8tor.
We had just gotten through the NSF I-Corps program, which is similar to gener8tor where you’re run through the whole business mill. So we had just done something like that. So I told Josh that Lindsay was great and that we should go for it. We might not get it, but if we do, the $100,000 investment that comes with it would be huge. We knew from NSF the maturity that kind of investment can bring to a startup. It was an easy sell to him. Then we had to call our Head of Product Karthik, who usually voices some skepticism, which we often need. He was an easy sell, too. We decided that we were going to devote the resources to put together the application, and we just kept making it through the rounds. Then I got a call from Lindsay one day, and I was super excited. I remember that, too. I was at home just answering emails and it was a normal day, and then it was awesome.
Going through the gener8tor program is like none other in the sense that we know that we should be doing these things, but we need some sort of taskmaster who will keep us accountable, keep nudging us, and can-if need be-bare their teeth at us when something is late. That’s one way in which we make sure that good things don’t slip through the cracks. I’ve done startups before, but the lessons that come from these people at gener8tor-it’s almost as if they have a solution for everything. You don’t necessarily get that in colleges or universities, so these people who have lived through it are maybe the best to impart it upon us. It was an invigorating and enlightening experience.
Q: How have you guys grown as a company and what important lessons have you learned for your business through this program?
Matt: Well, it forced us into an uncomfortable position. What they required of us, it was a lot. They said, “Here are all of these new obligations-rapid fire, you must get these done.” Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for us. But we learned a lot about each other through that process, and were all the better for it. I think it really has helped the company dynamic and the company culture.
Josh: I would also add to Matt’s point that all of the gener8tor program that we’ve gone through-it really forces you to self-evaluate and understand what your company is, where it’s going, and why. Initially, we had a very good idea of how we were going to take the company to market. Then it kind of went through the wash cycle and came out different than before. The gener8tor team helped us see that this is a much better way to do it. They showed us how you should look at things. The program provided a different set of lenses to look through, so to speak.
Q: Is there anything that we missed or anything else that I need to know about your company or about your experience in Gener8tor?
Matt: I would do it again, but I would need to take a breather. We did not have enough of a breather between the I-Corps cohort and this cohort. But I’ll tell you one thing, these accelerators get the conversations going with the right people. They get those conversations happening a lot faster, too. Through conglomeration, good things are happening. Sometimes it’s a contract, sometimes it’s an investment, sometimes it’s business-finding. Given the opportunity, and given the investment, I would do it again.
Josh: I would agree.
Keep up with Aethero
CRO & Co-Founder Josh Oberlander | CEO & Co-Founder Jon Cabak
Detect Auto: Improving the Auto Repair Shop Experience For Employees & Customers
Detect Auto’s solution for automotive repair shops increases repair efficiency and automates traditionally manual processes like quoting repair order auditing, and technician performance evaluations. Their technology also provides greater visibility into inefficiencies related to daily operations as well as the actual cost of repairs and automatically generates recommendations for automotive shop owners and dealers to improve efficiency. I sat down with Co-Founders CEO Jon Cabak and CRO Josh Oberlander to hear more about how their technology can help auto shop owners and everyday car owners, what their experience has been like in the Gener8tor program, and more!
Q&A with CEO Jon Cabak and CRO Josh Oberlander
Q: Can you start by giving me a basic overview of yourselves and your company?
Jon: I’ll start with the company overview. Detect Auto is an Al analytics platform for auto repair shops. We collect data on the repair process from start to finish, and then, ultimately, use the data we collect and the insights we derive from that data to improve their profitability and efficiency on all the repairs they complete.
As for my background, I’m Jon Cabak, co-founder and CEO of Detect Auto. My background is in mechanical engineering. We previously ran another company that actually turned into Detect Auto that sold a computer vision-based fan, which sounds fun-but it was just a pedestal fan that would rotate back and forth and always point at you wherever you walked around. We took that technology and applied it to the automotive repair space. That’s how we got here.
Josh: My name is Josh Oberlander. I’m a co-founder and the CRO of Detect Auto. My background is in sales and business development. Jon handles a lot of the pitching and stuff like that, whereas I’m handling a lot of the day-to-day operations with the business. I started a company prior to this-a tree-servicing business. But then I joined Jon with Falling Fan. We’ve been working together now for the past couple of years and transitioning to this business, which is totally different from Falling Fan.
Q: How did you guys decide to get into this specific business?
Jon: We had that previous company we were working with. Three or four months before we fully pivoted, we were having some internal discussions and realized that we weren’t able to sell enough fans to sustain the business. So we asked ourselves, “How else can we add value to the people we’re working with?” We thought a subscription model for a fan would be a great idea, haha.
We also thought that maybe people could see vehicle traffic in auto shops because that was our primary market. We were selling to auto shops, so we thought maybe we could collect data on how cars drove around in a shop. That’s how we got started. We tested it in a couple of shops in the Minneapolis area. We’re from Minneapolis originally, and we just moved up here for gener8tor actually. So we tested it, got it off the ground and running in a couple of shops, and figured that the potential value we could add from this combined with the overall market potential was way bigger and a much better opportunity than the fans. We decided to fully pivot the business last April and go full steam ahead with Detect Auto.
Josh: We picked the automotive industry on a whim because we had this following fan and we needed to figure out where it was applicable. We started going out to find a market and we chose the auto shops because it was super hot in there and they had a limited amount of people in the area. Our fans could really only track one person. What we learned is that it was very useful, but that people didn’t care that their employees were being cooled 10% better. We learned that in auto shops, their processes were just really inefficient. We went to over 500 shops door-to-door selling them. From trying to sell the fan, we learned that auto shops were just a little behind compared to some other businesses. We locked in on that and took the camera out of the Falling Fan. That’s how we pivoted to this as a business model-seeing that we can really make some impact here and help these people launch their businesses from being a little behind to catching up and improving efficiencies.
Jon: There’s definitely a big wave now in automotive tech. I would say the industry has that perception of being behind the times. When you look at shops today, a lot of them are pretty tech-forward and very open to adopting new tech. Now, they’re bringing in cloud-based software to manage everything instead of printing it out with paper. The industry is moving towards cloud-based software so that they can run their shop from anywhere in the world. It’s allowing people to start expanding really quickly, so it’s a good time to be in this space.
Q: What problems are you trying to solve in the automotive industry?
Jon: The big one is that collecting data in the auto repair industry is really hard. People are doing a million different things at once. When mechanics and technicians want to start working on the vehicle, their focus is just on repairing the vehicle. It takes them out of their flow to have to go back to a tablet or dashboard and punch a bunch of things in, scroll through pages, etc. We even got to learn that firsthand with our business partner, Jason. He’s got five shops now in Denver, four when we started working with him. He literally was incentivizing his team with bonuses to enter in their data, and they still weren’t doing it. Some shops can do it, but Jason found that as his business continued to expand and get bigger, it was really hard to collect all this data. I come from a manufacturing background, where you could basically get as much data as you wanted-provided you had the right sensors. Moving from that to automotive, where you couldn’t see what was happening at any given time, was a shock. You just knew the car came in, you knew what work was assigned, and you knew when people said it was done, but you didn’t know how they were progressing on those jobs. That’s a big gap in knowledge, and that’s where we’re filling in.
Josh: To add a little bit about that, not a lot of people had reliable operational data. That’s what Jon’s pointing out to the technicians. Clocking in and clocking out can be very inconsistent and unreliable. That’s very important data to have because it can control other facets of your business from your repair efficiency to scheduling and marketing. Nobody really had this operational data, and there was either a void or it was inconsistent. We feel that we can potentially help not only auto shop managers but other businesses as well, like coaching and marketing.
Q: Where is your technology at this stage right now? Are you putting this out into shops?
Jon: We’re going to be in 15 locations by the end of the month-14 independent shops and our first dealership. I would say largely, we have the basics down; we can collect the data, we can process it, and we can tell people what to do with that data. But we’re really fine-tuning some aspects of our computer vision system so it will be super high-performance and give people really easy-to-understand insights from the data we collect.
Q: I love to hear that it’s already out in the world helping the auto industry. If you were to continue to expand throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond, how would the industry benefit?
Jon: First, we actually just hired our first person from Fargo. His name is Noah Vandal-he just graduated from NDSU and earned a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, but his focus was in computer vision. We’re really excited to bring on a lot of local talent here. Then also, more importantly, we’re also looking for office spaces right now. We already moved our headquarters here, but we want to have a physical presence as well. Those are the biggest two things as we expand in Fargo- Moorhead.
Additionally, when people want to get their cars repaired, and they want to know the status of the repair and how things are progressing, we’re working on a “Domino’s Pizza tracker” for vehicle repair. You will be able to get real-time updates as your car moves through the process so you can understand exactly how it’s happening. That’s going to be a big benefit for everyone.
Q: And obviously, they’re going to have more time to do the repairs if they’re not having to answer all these questions about what’s going on with the repairs.
Jon: It’s an interesting stat-there’s a group that we are in the early stages of partnering with that handles inbound and outbound calls to dealerships. They said 30% of all inbound calls are people asking, “Is my car done yet? Are the repairs finished?” They want to automate that. The nice thing is our data is really well-suited for that.
Q: I know we’ve talked about this a little bit, but what are some of the barriers that you guys have faced so far in your business journey, and how have you overcome them?
Jon: At a high level, connections in our industry are sometimes a little tougher to come by. We’re really thankful for our business partners that have been able to facilitate a lot of those connections with the auto shops. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, we participated in a program in Minneapolis that was really helpful before coming up here to Fargo. Being in a bigger program like gener8tor is next level, honestly. They plugged us in with almost 80 mentors-a ton of people in the area who knew exactly what we needed to do before we even thought of it. It’s so helpful to be in a community like this, where people understand exactly what a startup needs to do to thrive and then we get all that input. It’s incredible.
For business-specific problems, there are three main areas that we’re focused on and currently working on. We build all the cameras ourselves right now, which sucks. We’re actively working on outsourcing that. We’ve got a few cameras on order that we’re going to be piloting in a shop pretty soon, which I’m excited about. The second issue is installing the cameras. We also install all the cameras ourselves, and we’re actively working on outsourcing that. We’re syncing up with a national security camera installation company that we can submit a job to and they’ll give us quotes and handle the installation for us. The third issue is our speed to integrate with new software and iron out bugs. That one has two main problems. First, getting the connection with the software companies that the shops use. Second, building the integration out on our end can be hard, and were solving that by hiring more people on the team who can help us address those issues.
Q: How did you guys find out about the generator program, and what was the process like to get involved in the program?
Jon: Lindsay sent me a cold email in December. Literally, it was cold outside. It was funny because I think at that point, we were a little gassed out. I got an email from Lindsay, and I started looking into it. We had an office hour meeting with Lindsay a couple of days before the deadline closed. That was when I realized I really want to do this. I slammed out an application, got it in, then found that we made it to the first round of interviews. The second round was an interview with Jackie and Ben from generẞtor. Then the third round was in person here in Fargo. That was the first time I’d been to Fargo.
We came up in February, did our little pitch about what we’re doing, we were asked some questions, and then went out to eat at the Boiler Room. That was pretty cool. I’ve never actually spent any time around here. Then we waited a couple of weeks to actually find out we got in. Then we had to relocate and move everything from Minneapolis to Fargo, which was a little hard. We had like three weeks to move. We got an apartment across the street here and figured out how we were going to move our whole manufacturing setup here. It was a very efficient process and quick.
Q: What has your experience been like since you’ve gotten here and started the program? Do you have any important lessons that you’ve learned that you could pass on to other people trying to start a business?
Jon: It’s been awesome. They have been really supportive and helped us through the ups and the downs. I think I always like to assume that it will just be ups, but there are a lot of downs, especially when you’re getting started. Lindsay has been awesome. She’ll talk us through everything, like how we are doing on our sales calls and what we are messing up so we can improve it. She helps us with literally every aspect of the business, which has been awesome. I think outside of that, though, the introductions they are able to facilitate for us and the connections we’ve been able to make even outside of just Fargo have been really cool.
As for advice for entrepreneurs just starting out: If you have an idea, build it really quickly and launch it. Do not spend your time making everything perfect. Just get it out there and test.
Josh: For me, speaking about the generator program, it has been awesome to be surrounded by all these smart, hardworking people. They really push you to better yourself every day. You see people working in the office every day, and it just makes you want to work better and harder. Whenever you have a question, somebody’s always wanting to help you out. That’s not only generator, it’s been in Fargo in general- the entrepreneurial spirit is in the city, as well. The cool part is that compared to Minneapolis, you get to see everybody here walking around and you feel like you’re more a part of the community. That’s been awesome.
Q: Is there anything that we didn’t talk about Detect Auto that needs to be covered?
Jon: Well, the team’s not just us. Josh and I are running the higher-level stuff of the company, but we have a great software engineer, Josh Kralewski. He’s actually been coming up to Fargo to work with us. He lives in Minneapolis. Noah Vandal and Lucy Tran are our newest hires. We have our third fractional CTO, Nate Oelke, who helped us build the thing from the ground up, so he’s done great work as well. Then we have a couple of interns, Tri Bui and Aidan Boyle, who are also great members of the team. We can’t do it without the team. They do really great work for us and we’re really happy they’re working with us.
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CEO & Co-Founder Vanessa Williamson
Farmented Foods: Emphasizing the Value of “Ugly” Veggies Using Fermentation
Farmented Foods uses imperfect and excess produce from local farmers to create sustainable, gut-healthy fermented food products sold direct-to-consumer and via retail. The company repurposes produce that might otherwise be discarded, giving it new life through fermentation. In 2022, Farmented Foods sold 3,645 jars of their products. They have developed or are in the process of developing retail relationships with Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, and Town & Country, among others. I sat down with Farmented Foods’ CEO and Co- Founder Vanessa Williamson to learn more about the company’s humble beginning, their production processes, their experience with the Generator program, and more!
Q&A with CEO Vanessa Williamson
Q: Can you start by telling me about yourself and your company?
A: My name is Vanessa Williamson. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Farmented Foods. We lovingly refer to ourselves as an ‘ugly vegetable fermentation company” and we create products like dill sauerkraut, radish kimchi, spicy carrots, and more. Essentially, what we do is pretty simple. We work with farmers to help eliminate unnecessary food loss on their farms in the form of the “ugly” or excess crops that they can’t traditionally sell. Then we ferment them into our products and distribute them to stores and restaurants, as well as sell them at farmer’s markets and online. We have two fermentation locations. One is in Montana, where we started the company. My co-founder, whose name is also Vanessa, runs that space. That’s where we do the bulk of our production currently, and we distribute from there. We also opened up a second fermentation location here in Fargo about a year ago. We’re ramping up to build a production facility here, as well, to be able to distribute across the Midwest.
Q: How did you come about starting the company?
A: I was actually a student at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, and so was my business partner. I was studying business and marketing, while she was a sustainable food system and bioenergy student. We both decided to take this interdisciplinary course called “Farm to Market.” The premise of the course was to use design thinking to create products and help solve problems for farmers. We were randomly paired up at the end of the semester-we hadn’t worked together yet.
We were partnered with a local farmer and tasked with creating a value-added product out of what he grew. After talking with him for just a few minutes, we realized we could actually help him solve a problem, which that year happened to be an overabundance of daikon radishes. He didn’t know what to do with them. They were just in cold storage. He had all this green cabbage that was slightly damaged-perfectly fine to eat, but just a little bruised, or maybe a pest took out a chunk. He had all these funky-looking carrots, too, and Vanessa was super interested in fermentation. She had done it personally. After researching the market around fermentation, we realized it was really on an upswing.
So we decided to ferment all of these different vegetables, and that’s what made our original three products, radish kimchi, dill sauerkraut, and spicy carrot chips. When we presented it to the community for our final, we had an overwhelmingly positive response-especially from the farmers. So many producers approached us afterward saying that this is actually a real problem and they were facing it on their farm as well. We thought that this could actually be a solution because fermentation not only adds a lot of health benefits for consumers, but it also extends the shelf life of the produce. We took about a year’s time, and then we started selling our first jars at a winter farmer’s market and grew from there.
Q: From what I’m hearing, you’ve had a little bit of success so far, especially in that Montana area market. How would the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond be impacted, and how would the industry change, if your company were to be even more successful?
A: A way that Farmented Foods is industry-changing is that on each of our products, we have an “ugly vegetable certified” badge that we’ve made and we have our story on there. It says we love vegetables, whatever shape or size they are. We’re really putting that at the forefront of our brand positioning. Because, yes, there could be other ways to use these vegetables. Yes, other companies could be using these. But we want to make it clear that these vegetables have value. Farmers shouldn’t have to sacrifice their profitability because a vegetable turned out a little twisted when nutritionally it’s exactly the same. We’re really pushing that idea that we should be utilizing all of these vegetables, and we don’t want to be the only company utilizing them. We want other companies to embrace it.
As far as growing beyond Fargo, we recently became an approved brand for Natural Grocers. In the next four to five months we’ll be getting into as many of those stores as we can, which is really exciting. Getting to promote these local products that help local farmers on a national scale is really exciting for us.
Q: Product-wise, I know you talked about cabbage, radishes, and carrots so far. What’s the vision for utilizing other sorts of vegetables? Do you have any plans for adding new fermented products to your lineup?
A: Yes, we definitely do. We create products seasonally. Every summer, we usually do a round of fermented salsa, because a lot of farmers have tomatoes at the end of the summer. Last year, we did some fermented jalapenos. We’ve done a fermented Bloody Mary mix. We experiment with different things. We do focus on more vegetable-oriented crops.
Something that we’re experimenting a lot with right now is fermented sauces. We have excess brines when we ferment certain products, and we don’t want to waste those because they have really good microbial cultures that are great for your gut health and we want to make sure that those are consumed and not wasted. Were testing out some different sauces with that to make sure that we’re not wasting any product.
Q: What are some of the most difficult barriers you have faced so far in your business journey, and how have you overcome them?
A: Expanding. Just having a food company isn’t that easy. You’re competing for people’s attention and their palette, really. So expanding into new stores when we’re not physically there to do demos can be challenging, along with the challenge of making sure that there’s the marketing and support in place for those stores in order for the products to be successful. That’s been an important thing for us.
We are also currently trying to figure out how we expand our operations and make it less labor-intensive and more efficient per gallon of product that we produce. Here in North Dakota, were still currently fermenting in 3-gallon crocks, and we do about 10 at a time. That’s 30 gallons every two weeks and about 60 gallons per month. But in Montana, we ferment in 55-gallon barrels. Just one barrel is almost equivalent to what we produce in a month here, and we have four going at a time along with some crocks in Montana. In a month’s time, we’ll do roughly 2,500 gallons of product. Making that process more efficient is one of the challenges we’re facing right now. We’re taking it day by day thinking of how we solve that and what equipment we can get to make that easier, along with who we can bring on and so forth.
Q: I’m assuming that in Montana you have a larger facility that you work from?
A: We do, and we’re expanding it currently. It’s still a pretty small, confined space, but it is our own space. Were looking to grow that as we grow as a company. Here in Fargo, we produce out of Square One Kitchen, which is a commercial kitchen here in town, and it’s a shared space. Eventually, we’ll move into our own space as well.
Q: Switching gears a little-how did you get involved in the generator program?
A: Lindsay actually reached out and invited us to apply. We looked into it, and it seemed like a really great program, so we applied, went through the multi-step interview process, and were selected.
Q: Were you already expanded to Fargo?
A: Yes, we were. We started fermenting here in the early spring of 2022. We’ve been operating for over a year in Fargo. We didn’t need to relocate or anything, we were located here already, and now we’re headquartered here. So that’s convenient. fm originally from North Dakota. That’s one of the reasons my husband and I decided to move back to North Dakota.
Q: What’s your experience been like in the program? What are some important lessons you’ve learned so far?
A: The experience has been amazing. It’s been a whirlwind. I can’t believe three months are already up. It feels like we just started. And yet, in that three-month period of time, so much has happened for us. We’ve become an approved brand for Natural Grocers, we’ve expanded into more stores, and we’ve been able to really work on the business versus working on day-to-day operations. As small business owners and startups, you can get so focused on day-to-day things and not take the time to look at the big picture. That’s been really awesome for us to really take the time and figure out where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. We’ve been so fortunate to meet incredible mentors, from the community and beyond. I think we met with over 70 different mentors at the beginning of the program, which was a whirlwind in itself. We’ve gained some really strong connections from that. Having people push you to look at your company as a whole and where you want to go is so beneficial, as well as getting insight from other people. You can take what you want from everyone. It’s been amazing to be able to connect with the community in that way as well.
Q: As a follow-up to that, do you have any specific mentors that you want to give a shoutout to?
A: Kris Poulson. He’s just been a huge advocate for Farmented Foods. He has started, sold, and currently owns different agriculture-based businesses, and he’s been able to derive so much insight for us and has really been a champion for Farmented. Were incredibly grateful..
Q: Is there anything that we missed or anything important that I should know about Farmented Foods?
A: Well, you can find us at the Red River Market this summer. You can also find our products locally at the Luna Market in Brewhalla and at Swanson Health off of 45th near SCHEELS. If people want to try it, definitely go support those places that support us and come check out the Red River Market as well..
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COO & Co-Founder Tanner Palm
generalAI: Making Video Advertising More Effective & Impactful
generalAI has two tools that help direct-to-consumer brands with video advertising. The first is generGrade, an Al-based tool that grades the effectiveness of video advertising content. Brands create an account, upload their video, and receive a score indicating the likelihood of increased sales. The data generated by generGrade is used to build generX, a platform that generates video ads with the highest probability of success. I sat down with Co-Founders CEO Jimmy Slagle and COO Tanner Palm to chat about how they are utilizing Al technology, the benefits of embracing Al, their experience in the gener8tor program, and more!
Q&A with CEO Jummy Slagle and COO Tanner Palm
Q: Can you start out with you telling me about yourselves and your company?
Jimmy: I’m Jimmy. I’m the CEO and co-founder, general is building tools to help direct-to-consumer brands with their video advertising. The first tool predicts the effectiveness of video ads before a brand ever has to spend a dollar on them. They would upload their video ad and our Al model would analyze that ad, giving them a score based on how effectively it will perform. All the data that we collect with that tool will be used to launch our flagship product, which will give you the ability to just enter in a text prompt where you describe what you’re looking for-as you would in ChatGPT-and then your video ad would be created in a matter of minutes from that text input. It would also be created with the highest grade in mind. Everything that is put into the grading tool will be used to power that generative tool.
Q: Do you both want to explain how you got interested in this particular venture?
Jimmy: I started the business back in 2020, and we were a Tik Tok marketing agency. We were helping brands, in particular e-commerce brands, go viral on TikTok. That was a lot of fun, but scaling a creative agency is not easy. So we then built a marketplace. This was 2022-we built a marketplace that connected brands to creators, almost like a dating app for brands and creators. However, we learned that working with creators is not always the easiest thing. Scaling was also going to be difficult. On top of that, we saw that Al was coming. We knew that soon enough, it would probably eliminate our marketplace in general. We wanted to be at the forefront of Al. So beginning in September of 2022, we started the pivot to focus more on Al. Then this year, we’ve pretty much solely worked on that Al model.
Tanner: Jimmy started the company as a TikTok marketing agency originally with our other co-founder, and I didn’t come on until the Al pivot in 2022. We’ve known each other since 2019, so four years. We always talked about trying to do something together over time with this business or previous ones, too. The stars aligned this time and Jimmy sold it to me good enough to join.
Q: What are your educational backgrounds?
Tanner: Mine is actually within operations and project management-that’s my undergrad degree. I’ve had roles with startups on the operational side and with the supply chain, which was part of my undergrad degree, too. So I’ve had a couple of different experiences from Fortune 500 companies to local businesses doing those kinds of things. A little bit of everything from HR to finance is within my realm. Joining this team in 2022 was kind of a flip from project management and operations to focusing on the product itself. My role is the integrator stuff. Jimmy’s the visionary, my role is integrator-l figure out how we are going to actually do whatever crazy thoughts come to him.
Jimmy: I started the business when I was a junior in college. Before that, I was anticipating going into finance early on. Then after freshman year, I got an internship at a bank for the summer and just knew that path was not going to be for me. So the only tangible experience I’d had at the time was in high school-my best friend and I had started a sports Instagram account, and we grew it to around 70,000 followers. It got acquired by a sports media company, and we were doing that all throughout college. That was the one piece of entrepreneurial background that I could tap into. That’s what inspired us to launch the Tik Tok marketing agency. I dropped out of college before my senior year to focus solely on the business.
Q: Since you’re both from the region, a lot of your initial audience has probably been in the Midwest. If you continue to expand throughout the region and beyond, how would the industry be impacted by your service?
Jimmy: There’s an interesting statistic out there that says 90% of e-commerce businesses fail within the first 120 days. That’s because someone has an idea that they want to sell a product, they build a website, they probably work with a manufacturer or someone to create it for them, and then they struggle with the age-old problem of how to actually get people interested. For direct-to-consumer e-commerce businesses, advertising is normally the way that you start to acquire these new customers. So really, I want our tool to just be a way to help these new e-commerce businesses-even if it reduces that percentage just a little bit, knowing that it had an impact on someone and allowed them to live out their dream of wanting to start a business means everything. I want people to not have to struggle to sell their product because they don’t know anything about marketing or advertising. That’s one of the things that we really want to focus on.
The other one is that I like to consider myself a creative person, but I have no artistic skills whatsoever. I have a lot of ideas in my mind, but if I ever wanted to put something on paper, that’s a totally different story. That’s the cool thing about our generative tool. It would allow people that have crazy artistic ideas to be able to make them a reality. You don’t need to know how to operate a camera or edit or anything, you just get to describe what that perfect video is for you and it will be made in an effective way. Both of those two things are the kind of impact that I see our company having.
Tanner: On the more analytical side, there’s so much money thrown against the wall for these types of video ads to be created. What we’re trying to do is literally revolutionize how you think or act or create any content, whether it’s pre- production or post-production. How people will conceptualize how to run a video advertisement will be transformed. There are not a lot of data-driven decisions before you actually post or push out the video ad. With our first initial tool, you can create a video with text input. But then were even taking that to another extreme, where we’re helping create a video that’s actually going to perform and get sales. We’re trying to give people what they need to make more informed decisions on what to use and how to use it, which increases cost savings and increases revenue at the same time, too.
Q: I’m going to go a little bit off-script for this next question. These days, Al is such a controversial topic, as I’m sure you guys are aware since you’re constantly in that space. A lot of people are very against it, while others are in favor of it. I’m somewhere in the middle ground. I see the fears, but I also see the benefits that Al can have. With that in mind, my question is: how would you convince people that this is a worthwhile service, and reassure people that it is not something to be afraid or wary of?
Tanner: My first thought is that advancements in Al are happening the same way the industrial revolution or any technological advances have happened. Within the workforce, there have been shifts, and there have been jobs eliminated, but there are also a lot of jobs created. It’s just shifts in skill sets. There are all these statistics about how 80 million jobs will be eliminated, but 90 million will be created.
I think that the transition to certain skill sets that are going to be more valuable is way easier to change now than it was before. It’s easier to learn how to use ChatGPT than it was for someone back in the Industrial Revolution to learn how to use some sort of machine when they had never touched anything like it before. There will always be a use for those skill sets. For example, with furniture. You can manufacture furniture super easily and cost-efficiently and have a lot more volume going through a factory, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t still want handmade furniture. The shift in demand might be different, but there will still be pockets and niches for those who have the skill and the need for the skills will probably never be completely eliminated.
It’s better to try to adapt than to fight this because Al and machine learning are very powerful things. Everyone’s very aware of that. I think it’s better to try to take advantage of those things for positive reasons, to try to see where it goes, rather than pushing against it.
Jimmy: For me, it’s that question of how many people out there want to be a videographer or a creator but don’t have the skill set to be able to learn Photoshop or learn Adobe Pro or can’t afford to buy an expensive camera? I think that people within the creative space-their roles will change, as Tanner said. The thing that I look at is how many more individuals will be able to become a creator with this Al because they don’t have those barriers to entry that have held people back in the past. Right now, let’s say 3% of the world is technically a creator, but could we make that 10% just because of our tool and removing those barriers? We can help support that other 7% that didn’t think that they ever could.
Q: I can definitely see both sides of it. I think it’s really important for us to get ahead in the Al world and use it in positive ways. So I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on that issue.
Tanner: One thing to note, too: I think Al right now is a buzzword, like “Metaverse” was one several years ago-same with “crypto.” There are all these buzzwords, and something I think people don’t realize is that Al is just one niche. There are so many different kinds of machine learning and artificial intelligence. There are so many different levels of the industry. Al is a buzzword that is thrown at a bunch of different things that people associate with a negative connotation. But really, it’s been around for a long time and we’ve used it in a lot of different contexts already. There are obviously revolutionary things happening with Al right now, but there are also things getting labeled with Al that maybe aren’t truly Al or things that are Al that have been around that people are already comfortable with. Now that people are seeing it more in a negative light, it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Q: Aside from some of that pushback on Al we’ve seen recently, what are some of the barriers that you guys have faced so far on your business journey, and how have you overcome them?
Tanner: The biggest barrier to what we’re trying to do is that creating software products, whether it’s web or mobile applications, is difficult in general. With more advancements, things have gotten easier and people get more familiar with them. The skill set of the workforce is matching up with what we are doing. But when you’re trying to build products that are the first of their kind that need a lot of research and development, a lot of brilliant minds try to come together and figure out how we’re going to do this thing that hasn’t been done before. In my opinion, that’s probably the biggest barrier to entry. We are experiencing it constantly. We constantly need to figure out the creative nature of solving a problem that hasn’t been solved this way before.
The way that we’ve been able to overcome that is through collaborations, and then internally trying to hire the best people we can. We have a really good engineering and technical team that’s all around the world right now. It’s still very small in the grand scheme of things, but we really tried to go after those we believe could actually solve these problems-people we trust who have the know-how and the grit. Because everyone has a great idea, but we need to be able to actually execute the ideas. We’ve had good success so far with resources and available time. We haven’t been working on this a whole lot, but we have pretty good progress so far.
Q: How did you guys find out about the generator program? What was the process like for you to become part of it?
Tanner: I like to be very involved in the community. I’d heard about it through socials, on LinkedIn. But the first actual interaction I had with them was at TEDx Fargo last year. That was the big announcement about the collaboration and partnership. I think I met Ben there and others from the gener8tor team. We had another founder friend that knew the gener8tor founder, too. That was my first connection with them about a year ago. After that, we had communication with Ben as they built out their team. We’d known their team through being involved in the community. So it was an ongoing relationship and touch point that eventually worked out, and we agreed to go with the accelerator program right before it happened, too. We’d known about it for a while and it ended up working out for us to join.
Q: What has your experience been like in the program? Are there any important lessons that you would want to pass down to someone else who wants to start a business?
Jimmy: The program overall has been really helpful. It helps you truly understand what it takes to run a startup. It helps you get in front of the right people that can support you. It also gets you in front of the people that would fundraise the idea for you. That’s what gener8tor does a really good job with, especially at the local level. If anyone around here can help you, you’re going to meet them, and it’s a network effect. It really does a good job of helping you understand how to network well.
My advice for anyone that is looking to potentially go through the gener8tor program or start up their own business is-and it’s a pretty cliche thing to say-don’t go after it just for the money. Stuff like this, it’s glamorized and people think that it’s a cakewalk. You get a lot of money, and then you are good. But in reality, building a startup is probably one of the hardest things that people can do, especially because people want it to be a huge return or a bust and there’s really nothing in between. When you’re only in it for the money, you’re going to get burned out, and you’re going to lose interest. When you’re doing it for a purpose bigger than yourself, that’s what helps you get through those tough days. Because with entrepreneurship, there are probably three or four lows for every one high and you have to be committed to seeing a bigger vision outside of just the financial return.
Tanner: With the gener8tor program, that was an even bigger point of help. I think we both initially thought that the companies that were in here wouldn’t be applicable to what we’re doing. When you see them on paper, we thought we’d maybe make some friends out of it, but might not have realized the value of the other company’s insights. Especially because there are a lot of investment accelerators out there, and the biggest ones have like 200 companies in each cohort. gener8tor has a more intimate approach, which was good. Actually having support from the other companies, whether it was our weekly calls or just being able to call or text somebody, was so helpful.
The other founders in this accelerator, even though their industries are diverse, were super helpful to bounce ideas off of whether it was in the office or we had a formal meeting. Everyone had really cool different backgrounds here. I could go to Terry for SaaS metrics, I could go to Jon for engineering questions-those sorts of things where they’re not doing what we’re doing, but everyone was always curious and willing to help each other. You can go into the program, get the money, and just work on your own thing. But we like to have the go-giver mentality in a lot of things we do, so we spent a lot of time working with other companies and getting help and giving them value. I joke that I work for Terry because I think I got him more intros than I had been trying to work on for us.
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COO & Co-Founder Brittany Wuori | CEO & Co-Founder Bryce Wuori
Pavewise: Minimizing Giesswork and Maximizing Quality in the Asphalt Paving Industry
Pavewise’s web-based software maximizes productivity and improves project quality resulting in increased incentives and profits for paving contractors. Variables such as weather, project specifications, and equipment operations impact every paving project. Pavewise helps to develop a strategy for success for every paving project. I sat down with Co-Founders CEO Bryce Wuori and COO Brittany Wuori to talk about how Pavewise is changing the asphalt paving industry and how gener8tor has pushed their business forward over the course of three months.
Q&A with CEO Bryce Wuori and COO Brittany Wuori
Q: Can you tell me about yourselves and your company?
Brittany: I’m Brittany Wuori. I’m the COO and co-founder of Pavewise, and also Bryce’s wife of 10 years. I run the day-to-day operations, from HR to hiring, advertisement, financing, and everything behind the scenes.
Bryce: I’m Bryce Wuori. I am the CEO and co-founder of Pavewise. I helped develop the engines and the software and help the customers and the industry experts in asphalt paving with the software. Pavewise is an intelligent construction software that we’ve designed specifically for the asphalt paving industry.
Pavewise works by integrating different APIs in data. Our aim is to improve user efficiency by integrating and analyzing weather data to identify areas where operations can be optimized. Asphalt paving is done in an external environment, and there are a lot of moving parts. We track these variables, and when they’re not where they
Q: Can you tell me about yourselves and your company?
Brittany: I’m Brittany Wuori. I’m the COO and co-founder of Pavewise, and also Bryce’s wife of 10 years. I run the day-to-day operations, from HR to hiring, advertisement, financing, and everything behind the scenes.
Bryce: I’m Bryce Wuori. I am the CEO and co-founder of Pavewise. I helped develop the engines and the software and help the customers and the industry experts in asphalt paving with the software. Pavewise is an intelligent construction software that we’ve designed specifically for the asphalt paving industry.
Pavewise works by integrating different APIs in data. Our aim is to improve user efficiency by integrating and analyzing weather data to identify areas where operations can be optimized. Asphalt paving is done in an external environment, and there are a lot of moving parts. We track these variables, and when they’re not where they need to be, we proactively give the user a notification with recommendations.
At Pavewise, we analyze production output, objectives, and weather patterns among other factors to ensure efficiency and minimize disorder in operations. In essence, our goal is to streamline processes and manage complexities. Our ultimate goal is to help the users-the project managers-identify potential risks, and then understand what to do with them in a proactive manner, rather than having to be reactive.
Q: Do you want to go into how you started your company and how you guys came up with the idea behind it?
Bryce: I’ve been in this industry for a while, and Brittany and I have run businesses together in the past. We’ve always been entrepreneur-minded. Two of them were construction consulting companies. When I first started in the construction industry, I saw some of the inefficiencies and some of the mismanagement that cost a lot of money. It always made me scratch my head and ask, “Why aren’t people doing this a little differently? Why aren’t we utilizing the technology that we have and using the data to make these decisions more easily and efficiently?” As I got drawn to that, it steamrolled into developing technologies to help contractors to be more successful. Pavewise was developed in that process. We actually built Pavewise, the software, as a way to track variables and help our customers see what we were doing. Instead of them having to accept what we were doing, we can actually show cause and effect trends to them. It was a way for us to visually show our clients and to track projects.
That started around 2018, and it slowly transitioned into a software company. The transition led us to decide to scale out so we could reach more people. That’s ultimately where Brittany joined as the COO, and she’s the foundation. I’m the kite, she’s the tether. I dream up the ideas and implement them, and she makes sure to streamline it all. She tells me what we need and takes care of all the day-to-day operations, while I identify new innovative concepts. It’s a good combination.
Brittany: To add to that: as the wife of a construction worker, as he built his way up in that field, I could see the stress and the chaos. I’ve been watching it firsthand. The fact that Pavewise will not only help our infrastructure but will be able to help the people working in the asphalt industry is where my passion is.
Bryce: And that’s one of our goals with the software-to help reduce that amount of stress by putting everything into one place. When something pops up or happens just out of the blue, it’s stressful-you’re not planning for it. We’re trying to eliminate some of that stress that can be identified and managed.
Q: I know Pavewise has been gaining some traction in North Dakota (and across the country) recently. How would the construction industry of the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond benefit from Pavewise’s success?
Bryce: The industry is going to be impacted tremendously. Ultimately, what the software is doing is improving road quality. We’ve actually run numbers on this, and if we can improve efficiency by 5% in one year across all the pavement that is placed in the United States-that would save around $1 billion per year. The knowledge transfer, the best practices, and understanding the data are going to help build longer-lasting, better roads. That’s why one of our slogans is “improving United States infrastructure with technology.” If we can improve this industry by 20% as a whole and build better roads, that is ultimately Pavewise’s main goal.
Q: How is your service currently operating? Are construction companies actively using it?
Bryce: Yes. The consulting software is what we’ve been using for five years. Were now moving into fully integrated software, where we are only directly involved in the elite request services. We have quite a few customers from North Dakota-two here in Fargo. We’re in eight states right now: Virginia, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, California, Montana, and New Hampshire. Our goal is to get into all the states and maybe even a few other countries down the road.
Q: The more I learn about Pavewise, the more I’m feeling like the Midwest is a great place to start and maintain a company like this. The massive changes in weather can really impact road quality in so many ways.
Bryce: We have to be really efficient here with the time we have during our season because it’s so short. That’s one of the biggest reasons we built it-you can’t afford to have too many inefficient working days.
That’s really what a lot of customers liked about it. On our way out the other day at one of our customer’s sites, they were calling off a pour because there was a high chance of rain. If you get caught paving asphalt in high amounts of rain, it can be rejected and may have to be removed. That’s thousands of dollars wasted. We’re trying to mitigate that risk and help make those decisions a little easier.
30-40% of construction projects don’t hit their completion date because of reasons like this. It’s expensive for not just the contractor, but the community. What happens is that the companies get pushed to build the road faster and the quality decreases. It’s a ripple effect.
Q: I think this service will be so helpful in our area. We’ve talked about the positives you’ve experienced, but what are some of the barriers that you have faced so far in your business journey, and how have you overcome them?
Bryce: The legalities of developing a software company with IP and patents takes time and learning to be patient to make sure these are completed properly is important. We struggled with legalities in the past and finding the right legal partners from Fargo was a blessing for us. We have also had great success working with a local software development company in Fargo. It is not an easy task to take a vision and turn it into software and this company did a tremendous job. The support within the Fargo community has been great. But we’ve had growing pains-there is not enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Wearing multiple hats is probably one of the toughest things, along with learning when to say no and knowing what is the most beneficial to spend time on has been a learning process. Other than that, we’ve been really fortunate. We have a good customer base, and things have been working really well. We haven’t hit any major roadblocks or issues yet. We’ve been wanting to do this for four years, so we had a pretty good plan and a pretty good start to what needed to be done.
Q: It was probably a little easier because you’re transitioning into this new software, rather than starting from scratch with no product or service. I’m happy to hear you haven’t had any major snags along the way. gener8tor seems to be helping to make it a little easier, as well. How did you find out about the accelerator program? What was the process like to become part of the program?
Bryce: We are actually gBETA alumni. We did the gBETA program, which we found on social media. I think it was something that they were doing interviews for in Bismarck, and we thought maybe we’d check it out. It started there and got us where we are today. It’s been great.
Brittany: When we found the advertisement for gener&tor, we couldn’t help but wonder: if gBETA got us this far, what more can we accomplish with the ND gener8tor Accelerator Program? Bryce: It’s literally accelerated our whole process by at least a year. The support and connections we’ve made with mentors in the community has helped tremendously.
Q: What has your experience been like in the program? Do you have any important lessons that you learned from the program that you’d want to share with our readers?
Brittany: Having the knowledge and accountability provided by gener8tor is an essential requirement for any startup business.
Bryce: We’ve developed so many relationships and friendships out of it. It’s going to be hard to leave some of that. But the program has been great. It’s taught us that time management is important. Sometimes just taking a breath or just being a little bit more concise with decision-making and research is worth the time. It’s taught us a lot about some of our weak points, too. What we’re not really good at, and what we need to hire people for. We have made a few of those key hires. The program helped us with finding those people and understanding how things work from a higher vantage point, which is really what we needed.
Brittany: They gave us focus points so we knew what we were going to work on first, instead of thinking of the entirety of what to do with this company all at once, so that was also a really big help for us.
Bryce: They are always thinking ahead. The number of connections we got with mentors and investors has also been incredibly valuable. We now have over 100 people on our update list. That would have never happened without gener8tor, so we’re grateful for that.
Q: Final question: is there anything that I should know about Pavewise that we have not already talked about?
Bryce: We consider ourselves the first-ever smart construction software for the asphalt paving industry. We try to develop a relationship with every one of our customers. That’s one of our core strengths. We are a software company, but we don’t want to lose that personal connection with our customers because we’ve had that for so long. We’re a personal software, and we integrated that into our software with the elite services where they can actually connect to us and do consulting one-on-one. We want to keep that mindset even as we grow.