Five Questions With: Foster Sayers

Foster Sayers, CEO and co-founder of 121nexus, talks to Providence Business News about his company, its recent funding round and his experience in the Rhode Island entrepreneurial community. More

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Five Questions With: Foster Sayers

“Albert and I first invented our technology because we observed that it was too difficult to make a one-to-one connection with another person you’ve only just met. We identified the need to exchange personal contact information as the point of friction.”
Posted 3/13/13

Foster Sayers is the CEO and co-founder of technology company AgileQR Inc., which does business as 121nexus.

Before co-founding 121nexus with Albert Ho, Sayers was vice president of business development and administration at KD Secure. He ran a digital video surveillance integration team, the main client of which was the city of Beverly Hills, and a software development team building crane inspection software. Overall, he managed twenty employees and a $4M budget.

Sayers is admitted to practice law in the state of Florida, and holds a J.D. from Florida State University as well as bachelor’s degrees in Japanese and International Politics from Penn State.

Sayers talked to PBN about his company, its recently closed funding round and his experience in the Rhode Island entrepreneurial community.

PBN: Can you explain a bit about your platform technology and what makes 121Nexus unique?

SAYERS: Albert and I first invented our technology because we observed that it was too difficult to make a one-to-one connection with another person you’ve only just met. We identified the need to exchange personal contact information as the point of friction. We decided to use unique URLs as the basis for maintaining a connection on a one-to-one basis, so no contact information needed to be exchanged (an approach unique in itself).

The connection can be between two individuals, an individual and an organization, a business and an individual product or various others. In politics this meant that each voter had their own personal webpage that was tailored to their interests. It allowed a voter to access content on issues which were of interest without availing them to fundraising requests or other unwanted communications. In supply chain management this means that each product unit has its own webpage where its unique identifying data and usage are stored and maintained. There are many ways our platform can be used.

PBN: Your technology was used during the November elections, can you tell us about that?

SAYERS: Our technology was used by one U.S. Congressional candidate and some state campaigns here in Rhode Island. The Obama for America campaign used our technology in the State of Ohio. The Obama campaign used our platform to micro-target content to voters without requiring them to opt-in to all campaign communications.

So if a voter wanted information on the auto industry and fair pay for women, a campaigner would use a smart phone and our web application to scan a QR code printed on a Moo mini-card (our printing partner based in East Providence) and use our interface to check boxes by those issues; the voter would then see video on the Ohio auto industry and on fair pay for women when he or see went to the URL on the mini-card.

PBN: Your company recently raised $370,000 in equity capital, what do you plan to use the funds for?

SAYERS: Our overall raise is actually part of a commitment of $500,000 from our new investors. We’re using these funds to pivot and develop a new application of our technology.

While we still envision offering our political software in the future, we’re excited for our new pivot given that 2013 will be a slow year for elections. We are now focused on developing a track and trace solution for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Instead of using our unique URLs to track interactions between an individual voter and a campaign, we’re using them to track an individual device or drug in the supply chain. While other track and trace systems use unique serial numbers, we are using unique URLs and thus have no limits on the amount of data that we can capture and share about the device or drug.

Our approach allows us to offer dynamic capabilities such as publishing recalls to only the products from an affected batch or lot. Thus, if a mother hears her “children’s painkiller” has been recalled, she can simply scan the QR code on the one in her medicine cabinet (or type the URL into her browser) to see if it is part of the recalled batch.

We believe our system can be the first to provide item level risk management. Through our new investors (who prompted the pivot), we’re already in talks with an industry leader about using our platform for medical devices and are working toward launching a pilot in Q3/4 of this year.

PBN: Do you think your company’s experience at Betaspring has helped fuel your success?

SAYERS: Yes, without question. At the beginning of Betaspring we had no funding, aside from a little money I’d won in a pitch contest, and had only a basic prototype of our technology. In the twelve months that followed we accomplished the following:

  • February 2012 Received seed money from Betaspring.

  • March 2012 Demoed our technology at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Congressional Breakfast.

  • April 2012 Received $50,000 in investment from the City of Providence.

  • May 2012 Had five interns join our team for the summer.

  • June 2012 Launched 121campaign with our first RI US Congressional Candidate.

  • July 2012 Developed and deployed a Voter Database Management module for 121campaign which was used by three RI State campaigns.

  • August 2012 Hired our first full-time employee.

  • September 2012 Launched 121campaign with Obama for America in Ohio.

  • January 2013 Received a commitment of $500,000 and Closed $370,000 to pivot and develop a track and trace platform for the biomedical industry.

    It’s no coincidence all of that progress occurred after getting into Betaspring -- it’s a direct result of the time, feedback, contacts, and experience that the partners and mentors in the Betaspring network shared with us.

PBN: How has your experience been in regards to the Rhode Island entrepreneurial community?

SAYERS: Betaspring is definitely the epicenter of the entrepreneurial community here and participating in it plugs you into the heart of things. Through monthly meet ups like Providence Geeks and Pecha Kucha we’ve had the opportunity to meet all kinds of entrepreneurs working on interesting problems. You get the sense that people here want to effectuate a lasting change on Rhode Island’s economy.

It’s something that Albert and I are excited to have our company be a part of. We have had a lot of support from Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. The City of Providence is supporting entrepreneurship in a major way with it’s Innovation Investment Program. The $50,000 we got from them gave our company enough runway to be in a position to raise our larger round of investment and create jobs here. We’ve already created three full-time jobs and plan to add at least that many this year.

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