Success Story: Vital Vio’s Light Shines Brighter Years after VentureB Pitches
In September 2014, Colleen Costello was in the midst of taking her anti-bacterial lighting system startup, Vital Vio, to the next level. That summer the company, founded two years earlier by Costello and her fellow Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) alumnus James Peterson, was in the process of tripling its three-person payroll and on the verge of outgrowing a downtown Troy office on River Street. Mount Sinai Medical Center was also nearing completion of initial implementations of Vital Vio’s LED technology that kills bacteria without using harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Amid this activity, Costello presented at a VentureB Series panel at RPI’s Heffner Alumni House, organized by the Center for Economic Growth (CEG) and their program partner, RPI’s Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE). Entrepreneurs who participate in VentureB are given a few rounds of venture presentation coaching and an opportunity to make a pitch before local business leaders and investors.
By that time, however, Costello was no stranger to venture pitches, having already secured nearly $1 million in angel, venture and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funding. Nor was she unfamiliar with CEG. Earlier that spring, Vital Vio emerged as one of the recipients to CEG’s Annual Technology Awards. Michael Lobsinger, CEG’s director of Business Growth Solutions, had also been working with Vital Vio since the year of its inception in his former capacity as director of business development of LINC (Lighting Cultivator), a former nonprofit that assisted in commercializing advanced lighting innovations in partnership with RPI’s Lighting Research Center (LRC).
Before joining CEG in 2013 as the senior regional outreach contractor for NYSERDA’s Economic Development Growth Extension (EDGE) program, Lobsinger was supporting Vital Vio on finalizing its reports for the state authority and later recommended the startup for the VentureB program. Costello said the VentureB program taught her how to better explain her business plan and helped her secure more investors for Vital Vio. It also strengthened a relationship with CEG that would help her startup enter new markets and operate more efficiently.
“It helped expand my understanding of our access to their [CEG’s] services,” Costello said of her VentureB experience.
Since 2014, the BGS services that Vital Vio has used to enhance and accelerate its growth include the following:
Sandler Sales Training (2014): CEG assisted Costello in enrolling in Sandler Training’s President’s Club, which includes weekly classes in which participants are coached on mastering the sales process and closing deals.
Technology Driven Market Intelligence (2014): This project started shortly after Costello’s VentureB pitch with the goal of introducing Vital Vio to a new market opportunity: compound pharmacies with clean rooms in the Northeast. For this program, CEG and RTI International examined the need for fixtures such as Vital Vio’s in light of new federal regulations, potential price points and barriers to purchasing, the types of information the compound pharmacies need and their sales processes. The TDMI program found strong interest in the industry for Vital Vio’s technology, and by 2015 the company attributed to it $30,000 in new sales with a $7.5 million revenue goal for the compound pharmacy market. Since then, Costello said Vital Vio has continued to expand its efforts in this market.
VIA Revenue Throughput Analysis (2017): Vital Vio’s 13 employees went through the VIA RTA delivered by BGS’s Lobsinger. This day-long program helped them identify and overcome areas of team misalignment and internal constraints. Costello said it was a great team exercise that illuminated ways they could improve business and strategic approach to markets.
Lean Accounting Workshop (2017): Two Vital Vio employees participated in a two-day lean accounting course with CEG BGS’s assistance. The course, delivered by Jerry Solomon, highlighted how manufacturers must update and align their accounting practices to reap the full benefits of lean manufacturing practices.
Continued Sandler Sales Training (2017-present): Calling it “one of the best programs we’ve done,” Costello has enrolled several other employees with strong technical skills but little sales experience in Sandler training programs. Vital Vio currently has four employees undergoing Sandler’s Leadership, Selling and Foundations training programs.
Vital Vio’s increased use of BGS services since 2017 has coincided with a string of business developments. They have included licensing and partnership agreements that will result in the installation of the company’s VioSafe white light disinfection technology in emergency response vehicles, food trucks, Duke University athletics facilities as well as its partnership with Acuity Brands lighting solutions. The company also recently entered into the residential consumer market with its new germ-killing cabinet light, Ellumi.
“Vital Vio provides a prime example of how startups should follow up on their pitches, whether they are before a VentureB panel or to a venture capitalist,” said Lobsinger. “Entrepreneurs should take advantage of every opportunity available to them to innovate, accelerate commercialization, tap new markets and operate more efficiently. Whether it’s with CEG Business Growth Solutions, NYSERDA or other partners, such as our affiliates of Innovate 518, startups are stronger when they growth with support from this ecosystem.”
For more information about the VentureB Series, contact CEG Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator Ellyn Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 518-465-8975, ext. 243.