Moe Esmaeili had an entrepreneurial epiphany while planning a trip to Miami with six friends in 2013.
Esmaeili, former MBA student from the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, planned to meet his colleagues in Florida for a reunion vacation after they had all scattered to distinct places in the U.S. to pursue careers. But coordinating their travel plans – from booking flights and hotel rooms to reserving rental cars and choosing local activities for their stay – was a major hassle because there was no online website where they could all come together to view things, discuss them and make joint decisions and payments.
That’s when he came up with the idea for ComboTrip, a new software application that allows groups of people in diverse places to collectively coordinate travel plans in real time.
“Travel planning is always hard, from the moment you start planning it, and if it’s a group of people, everyone has a different mindset and travel tastes,” Esmaeili said. “I started thinking, there should be a solution for a group like mine to handle everything, so I began building a platform for groups to create trips and share all the information to allow everyone to join in the decisions and the activity planning in real time from any place in the world.”
That vision has blossomed into ComboTrip LLC, which officially launched in April at the FatPipe ABQ business incubator in Downtown Albuquerque, where the company is based.
The ComboTrip platform brings all the pieces of planning a trip into one comprehensive interface, said Chief Marketing Officer Travis Kellerman. Apart from the typical travel stuff like booking flights, hotels and car rentals, it offers a broad range of information on local activities in the target destination, which includes about 98 percent of the cities and towns worldwide.
“Our focus on localized activities is a big differentiator for us from other travel sites,” Kellerman said. “We’ve established relationships with travel bloggers to provide users with links to articles and posts to get ideas about things to do in different destinations, including events and places to visit.”
The local activity focus makes ComboTrip appealing to lone travelers. But that, combined with the group-travel features, is what makes the platform unique, Kellerman said.
The software includes a special feature called “Planit,” which is what allows group members to meet together in real time online to propose ideas, vote and comment on them, book reservations and activities, and have them automatically added to the group itinerary.
“It provides a cost-splitting feature to automatically take everything being spent and break it out and show who owes what,” Kellerman said. “It’s an empowering concept to help people in groups connect with one another, jointly plan things, find deals within their budget and divide up the costs.”
Esmaeili said other apps available on the market for group travel lack most of the centralized features offered by ComboTrip, including the focus on local activities and the ability to do all planning and booking in one place.
“You have to get all the different data for your itinerary from different sites and enter it manually on your own,” Esmaeili said. “Ours does it all for you in one place and in real time.”
The company also built advanced algorithms into the software to allow travel planners to compare the price for their itinerary with what it would otherwise cost through alternative bookings on other platforms.
“The comparisons will allow people to book with confidence without imagining that they’re sacrificing a better deal somewhere else,” Kellerman said.
The ComboTrip app is free for users. The company gets a small percentage of the commission charged when people book reservations on travel sites.
ComboTrip now has 15 employees, including web designers, software developers and marketing people, most of them located in Albuquerque. The company has raised a six-figure round of seed funding from Angel investors and is planning a Series A round.
The ComboTrip platform is now accessible through the company website at www.combotrip.com. A mobile app will become available for Apple (iOS) devices in a few weeks, and for Android devices over the summer.
UbiQD raises funds, finalizes licensing
The company, which presented at Technology Venture Corp.’s Deal Stream Summit in 2014, has licensed technology from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop quantum dots for a range of commercial applications at much lower cost than what’s available on the market today.
Quantum dots are incredibly tiny, three-dimensional structures measuring about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The structures manipulate light in unique ways, absorbing it and emitting it back out as specific colors.
They’re used today in everything from transistors and sunscreen to LCD televisions, tablets, smartphones, lasers and even medical applications. But they’re extremely expensive to make, and are composed of toxic materials like cadmium selenide or indium phosphide.
UbiQD’s product, however, is made through a new, inexpensive manufacturing process that uses low-cost, low-toxicity materials composed of elements such as copper, zinc and sulfur.
The company wants to market them for applications in things such as marketing, safety and design.
“Imagine logos that glow in the sun, paint that shines in car headlights, or fluorescent cosmetics,” said UbiQD founder and President Hunter McDaniel. “We’re also excited about the opportunities for quantum dots to improve the quality and efficiency of solid-state lighting.”
The company had raised $200,000 from angels prior to its TVC presentation last year. It just closed on another $110,000 investment from angels and from the New Mexico Consortium – a collaborative created by the state’s three research universities to support technology development and commercialization.
It also won a $30,000 grant in early May from the Venture Acceleration Fund, managed by the Regional Development Corp. for seed investments in promising startups in northern New Mexico. And, the NM Consortium is providing lab and production space through October 2017 at a Consortium facility in Los Alamos in exchange for an equity stake UbiQD.
The company finalized its licensing deals with LANL and MIT this month, and it’s now producing quantum dots for sale to researchers at laboratories and companies for them to experiment with potential applications.
“We can make it for less than $30 per gram if we sell it at volume, compared to others who produce it at more than three times that cost,” McDaniel said. “We’re making and shipping stuff now. We’ve entered into agreements with a few companies, but I can’t name them yet.”