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Innovation Fund Graduates RooSense and EveryKey promote their new products at CES

RooSense CES

Every January, electronics and high-tech companies from around the world travel to Las Vegas to CES, the trade show formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, to promote the latest innovations they will be bringing to the marketplace.

This year, 4,000 exhibiting companies debuted more than 20,000 products to 170,000 attendees from Jan. 7-10, the Consumer Technology Association, the event's sponsor, reported.

Apple was there. So were all of the other major device-makers. So were the larger Northeast Ohio product-makers: GE Lighting, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Moen Inc., among others.

But so, too, were Everykey Inc.RooSense LLC and a handful of other small, emerging businesses, taking advantage of Case Western Reserve University's sponsorship of a booth at CES to get their names and their products in front of the show's attendees. The booth was in Eureka Park, an area for startups that was a small part of the show, which spread across 11 buildings along the Las Vegas Strip radiating from the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center.

"Everyone from Walmart to Target to Best Buy and everyone in between is kind of scouring the floor for what's going to be the new up-and-coming cool technology to sell," said Chris Wentz, CEO of Everykey, a Cleveland maker of Bluetooth products that replace passwords and can unlock smartphones, computers and online sites. "This is the first year of going to CES where we actually have a shippable product."

Everykey, which Wentz created in 2013 while a student at CWRU, has struggled to bring its idea to market. But now, he said, he's refocused his approach and the product is ready to go to market.

"We've taken a little bit more of a B2B enterprise focus," he explained. "And that was a really exciting part of this show. Ninety-nine percent of the people walking around work for a company and have decision-making power within their company. So there's a lot of enterprises that we met during CES this year that want to do a pilot with our product. And you know, somebody who has 10,000-plus employees can be some pretty substantial sales for us."

CWRU has sponsored a booth at the show for seven years, said Robert Sopko, director of the university's LaunchNet program, whose mission is to train entrepreneurs, especially students and former students like Wentz, on the university's campus. CWRU took a 32-by-22-foot space — Booth 51548 — at Eureka Park. The school covered the $12,000 cost of the booth and invited a dozen organizations, most being grown by students, faculty or alumni, to share the space.

"It was phenomenal. We were busy all the time," said Sopko. "The engagement was really great. We were even busy on the last day."

Eureka Park was surrounded by 1,200 startup companies from 46 countries. The CWRU booth was close to other universities, as well as booths run by countries such as Israel and the Netherlands.

Hanieh Ghadimi and Chelsea Monty-Bromer, co-founders of Akron- based RooSense, attended CES last year to get the lay of the land, but this was their first year exhibiting. Monty-Bromer said their company is about a year away from a salable product, but the trip was still worthwhile.

"There are a lot of investors walking around looking for things to invest in," she said. "And there are a lot of people who make electronic components who are looking for maybe customers for themselves or partnerships. That's really what we were looking for: people who can help us with our different pieces that we have to make to get this to market."

Monty-Bromer is an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Akron, while Ghadimi is a postdoctoral researcher there. The pair founded the company in late 2017 based on research on biosensors and nanosensors. RooSense is developing a fabric with sensors that can keep athletes wearing clothing made from it from becoming dehydrated.

"CES is one of the largest global forums for deal flow, so there is a lot of deals being made between companies big and small," said Neil Singh, director of technology at Team NEO, the regional economic development nonprofit, who also made the trip to Las Vegas. "Typically, it's technology companies looking at other innovative companies where it adds value to their portfolio. It's extremely good exposure for businesses in the technology space."

In addition to Everykey and RooSense, CWRU's booth was shared by 3D Music, which was showing a prototype of its 3D-printed musical instruments; Ant-X LLC, which helps people create diets that meet their health needs; Axuall Inc., which is developing a digital network for verifying professional and technical credentials; BioFlightVR, a developer of virtual-reality medical training and education software; Delta Sound Labs, a maker of audio-effects plugins; Everyone Makes Progress Inc., a blockchain-based fitness data analzyzer; Lumen Polymer, a CWRU student effort that has designed an adhesive bandage that removes easily after being treated with ultraviolet light; Repowered Robotics, a student-run startup that's developing modestly priced robotics components for startups or small companies; and Tauon LLC, which is helping video game developers incorporate voice-activated commands.

CWRU's Interactive Commons, which is developing software applications for augmented and virtual reality using Microsoft HoloLens, and Blockland Cleveland, which has a think tank at CWRU to help the effort to build blockchain technologies in Northeast Ohio, also used the university's booth.

Wentz said the experience was also a good way to get candid feedback.

"CES is a good learning experience for us. It really gives us a very honest view of the market every year," he said. "There's probably thousands of people that approach us throughout the course of CES, and these are people that know the industry and can kind of like really honestly evaluate us. There's a lot of kind individuals and brutally honest (opinions), and that's helpful for us."