Atlas Guides, whose smartphone apps offer extensive information on dozens of the world’s most popular trails, was the big winner at the inaugural Sharks in Space pitch competition held Feb. 24 and 25 at Lowell Observatory.
“We saw some tremendous new ideas out there, innovative thinking backed up by savvy business strategies,” said Scott Hathcock, president/CEO of Moonshot at Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, which held the contest. “Moonshot is excited to work with the winners to help them launch or expand these new businesses.”
The contest combined the drama of the reality TV series Shark Tank with a showcase for ambitious and ground-breaking entrepreneurial ideas, often referred to as “moonshots.”
Atlas Guides, which received a cash prize of $2,500, has taken the data usually found in bulky trail guide books and turned it into an affordable app that can be used offline after initial setup. The mobile guides include full detail pages on waypoints along the trails and a built-in tool that allows hikers to create their own routes.
Alice Bodner, Android developer and general counsel for Atlas Guides, said Sharks in Space was a good experience.
“We met a lot of other companies, a lot of mentors and people with experience in business,” she said.
The idea for Atlas Guides dates back to 2010 when co-founders Paul Bodner and Ryan Linn met up on the Pacific Coast Trail. Bodner had been gathering information for a book. The two discussed the possibilities for creating a smartphone app to take the place of a heavy paper guidebook. After two years of development, the first Atlas Guides trail guide app, a guide to the Pacific Coast Trail, was ready.
“We didn’t know if it was going to be a business or not, but it just took off,” Alice Bodner said.
The company started adding trails, focusing on long-distance hikes like the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and PCT in the United States, and hikes around the world, including the famed Camino de Santiago in France and Spain.
The company moved to Flagstaff from California last June. “Flagstaff was a good fit for us,” Bodner said. The vibrant outdoor community, nearby outdoor recreation opportunities, and proximity to Northern Arizona University and NACET were all factors in their decision. The company now has its offices at NACET’s business incubator facility.
Bodner said the company’s current challenge is expanding their line of products.
“We’re running out of really popular (trails),” she said. The Sharks in Space event helped them to think about ways to grow the company including creating a guide app to introduce people to the basics of backpacking and a tracking feature that will allow people on long hikes to share their route and progress with friends and family.
Atlas Guides wasn’t the only standout at the Sharks in Space event. Storage Together, an app that connects individuals needing short-term storage with people who have extra space in their homes or garages, took second place and a $1,000 cash prize.
The contest attracted 27 entrepreneurial candidates. Eight were from NAU, seven from Grand Canyon University and the rest were Flagstaff residents. All applicants were able to participate in a day-long series of workshops to refine their pitches and meet with Diana White, director of the Coconino County Small Business Development Center, to learn how the SBDC can assist new enterprises. They also heard from keynote speaker Kiersten Hathcock, founder and CEO of Mod Mom Furniture, a company that was featured on Shark Tank, and Moonshot mentor Chad Williamson, who presented on storytelling methods and “lean canvas,” a business plan model for entrepreneurs.
Three other startups were awarded scholarships to Moonshot at NACET:
- Visage, a capstone project by Northern Arizona University students, is a process to more effectively sand and polish items created by 3D printers. The Visage scholarship to Moonshot is being sponsored by NAU.
- S.D. Miller and Associates, whose scholarship is sponsored by W.L. Gore & Associates, has developed an improved fire blanket for Hot Shots or others fighting fires in areas like forests.
- Fan Flyer, Inc.’s scholarship to Moonshot, being sponsored by NACET, is the design of a personal flying machine.
Those receiving scholarships to Moonshot will be mentored by experienced entrepreneurs as they look to make connections, scale their businesses and attract capital from investors.
Title sponsors of the inaugural Sharks in Space contest were APS and Sunwest Bank.