May 28, 2024
Drone couriers and virtual faces among Alchemist Accelerator's demo day highlights


Today is demo day at Alchemist Accelerator, which focuses on very early stage startups from technical founders. Fifteen companies are presenting in this batch, but here are several we thought worth a closer look. Alchemist also scored an additional $2 million from Mayfield to keep investing like this, so they must be doing something right.

You can watch the full set of presentations here when the stream starts at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time today.

Avol Aerospace is basically an American take on Matternet’s (also an Alchemist alumni) medical sample transport drones over in Switzerland. I’ve written those up over the years and the concept is pretty high-touch but has genuine promise for improving times for getting labs done, transporting organs and blood, and so on, instead of using ground couriers.

Of course in a Swiss city studded with medical centers you can get away with a quadcopter. If it’s 50 miles, you want something like Zipline’s fixed-wing craft. Avol has staked out an interesting middle ground: a small VTOL craft that transitions to winged flight after takeoff. And to minimize FAA barriers to launch, it has a remote pilot. Imagine that!

Of course, in a sense that limits scaling, but the sample delivery industry isn’t trying to go from 1 to a million, more like 10 to 100 over the next year. They’re raising a seed round now and hoping to work with hospitals around the country.

Image Credits: Avol

Syntonym is taking the tech behind vtubers and applying it in everyday video calls, replacing your face in real time to preserve your privacy. Now, this isn’t meant for meetings with your team or calls with your family, but rather in applications like in-car monitoring or telehealth, where a person’s expressions and general look are needed, but they might rather not have their face going to some database.

Image Credits: Syntonym

It can run as a cloud service, on-premise or even as a virtual camera on your phone (and a little on-screen indicator serves as notice that your face is not your face). It’s an interesting play, but I do wonder whether it will be something people want to pay for as the culture around video calls and surveillance shifts. I wouldn’t mind being able to put on a mask now and then, to be sure.

Example of face replacement in an in-car dash camera system. Image Credits: Syntonym

Yes, there are ethical considerations. We should talk about them!

Elaitra is in the “AI radiology assistant” category, which is surprisingly broad since that kind of imaging is done increasingly frequently for an increasing number of conditions. In the case of breast cancer, imaging called Digital Breast Tomosynthesis can turn up precancerous or otherwise suspicious tissues, but it can be hard for even experts to read correctly 100% of the time.

Like other screening and diagnosis assistants, Elaitra’s Viewfinder software isn’t in any way intended to replace expert analysis, but to help speed up and improve the expert’s workflow. They’re piloting the software now with some hospitals and clinics, and hope to make Viewfinder a standard, low-cost step in breast cancer screening and treatment.

I don’t pretend to understand what ERPs are used for day to day, since I’m just a writer. But I’ve heard in multiple industries that the old enterprise resource planning systems that companies have relied on for years just don’t work well with a lot of modern workflows, especially in fast-moving industries or SMBs. So it’s not surprising that folks from Astra were frustrated enough with what they were using to split off and build their own.

Redshift is their solution, a new ERP-type thing that integrates with modern services everyone uses and doesn’t cost a quarter of a million dollars. Look, I already said I don’t know what these things are actually for, but I’ve seen other companies spun out of the exacting processes of spaceflight and that’s as good an origin story as any. Better than most, really.

Mayfield’s $2 million investment is a follow-on from an earlier $500,000 one. It seems they’re hungry for technical founders and Alchemist specializes in that, but they didn’t attach any big riders to the check. “It’s a very open-ended investment,” said Alchemist CEO Ravi Belani. “They were an initial LP, so there’s a lot of trust.”

The accelerator is also trying a new model to reach out to founders across the globe that want a partner in the bay.

“This is an experiment, to try to create bridges to pockets of the world where we don’t have a good foothold,” Belani explained, essentially by fast-tracking startups referred by partner firms. He gave the example of a VC firm in Turkey, Simya — which, incidentally, actually translates to Alchemist — which is one of the early partners.

“They’re trying to compete for the best startups in and around Turkey, but there are bigger funds than them,” Belani said. “In the past, they’d just have to go and compete with them, but now they can say, ‘Hey, with our firm comes access to Alchemist in Silicon Valley. That gives them an edge. And if that company had decided to go direct to us, we would have only invested $50,000; now they’re getting $250,000 from the partner — that’s the minimum [for this program], but they can do more.”

Will it pay off? It could help connect the vast amounts of talent and capital that don’t have convenient access to Silicon Valley — which is itself notoriously inward-looking.


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