Kickfurther, Sphero among local startups vying to pitch at Consumer Electronics Show

BOULDER – Five startups with Boulder ties will find out later this month whether they’re among the 10 selected nationwide to pitch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in the Extreme Tech Challenge semifinals.

On the line in Vegas will be three spots to join Virgin founder Richard Branson on his private island, Necker Island, to pitch to him and receive other mentorship and investment opportunities.

Twenty-five companies were selected earlier this month from an initial list of more than 1,000 applicants to move on to a second round of video interviews with judges and organizers of the Extreme Tech Challenge. The top 25 included Boulder-based Kickfurther, HobbyDB and Sphero, as well as Denver-based MassRoots, which was founded in Boulder, and Denver-based Revolar, which earlier this year won the University of Colorado New Venture Challenge before participating in the Techstars Boulder accelerator.

While Sphero is already receiving its national moment in the sun thanks to its involvement with the new Star Wars movie and its manufacturing of a smartphone-controlled toy based on the movie’s BB-8 droid character, landing the chance to pitch at CES, much less on Branson’s private island, figures to be a transformative opportunity for some of the other local startups. The esteemed list of judges for the challenge includes Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro, Techstars cofounder David Cohen and Google Maps co-inventor Lars Rasmussen in addition to Branson.

The 10 semifinalists who get to pitch in Las Vegas in early January are expected to be announced Nov. 29.

“For us, I pretty much consider it a victory if we get to pitch at CES,” said Kickfurther co-founder and CEO Sean De Clercq, whose startup helps young product companies tap into accredited and unaccredited investors alike to finance inventory and then pay back a predetermined return once the inventory is sold. “Any one of the suppliers or the owners that are there could be a Kickfurther offer, and there will be 10,000 or 15,000 companies represented.”

De Clercq’s company, which went through the Boomtown accelerator in Boulder last year, has grown rapidly since graduating. Today, the company, which takes a percentage cut of each financing offer fulfilled on its website, will celebrate crossing the milestone of $2 million of inventory funded on the site. Investors on the site have so far been paid back about $500,000. Revenue for the company in October was just under $24,000, and November is projected to come in at $27,000. Those two months alone account for roughly half of what the company will have brought in year to date by the end of this month.

Kickfurther, founded by De Clercq, Andrew Westwick and Erik Straub, last month closed a $575,000 seed round of funding that De Clercq said gives the company six to 12 months of runway. The company currently has five full-time employees and another five part-timers.

The company is being run virtually at the moment from employees’ homes, though De Clercq said the company would likely seek out an office sometime after raising a Series A round.

“It’s really been taking off,” De Clercq said.

A glance at the other four companies with local ties competing among the top 25 in the Extreme Venture Challenge:

Sphero: Makes a toy version of the BB-8 droid that will appear in the new Star Wars movie set to be released next month, as well as its original smartphone-controlled robots, Sphero and Ollie.

HobbyDB: A catalog of every collectible ever made where collectors can buy, sell, research and show off.

Revolar: Makes a personal safety device that allows users, if they feel they might be in an unsafe or threatening situation, to press a button to alert their emergency contacts that they might be in trouble.

MassRoots: A social media platform that connects cannabis users.