Accelerator: Black Locus readies product - Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, September 10, 2010

Accelerator: Black Locus readies product

Rodrigo Carvalho spent the summer working on his company and now he’s back at school — his final year at Tepper.

Carvalho is CEO of Black Locus, a startup that helps online retailers with pricing, marketing and managing inventory. Like the other students participating in the Accelerator program, he spent his summer developing a prototype product for demonstration to customers, and his company reached the level of alpha testing.

What’s next?

“All of the student teams are enrolled in our MBA Entrepreneurship Track, where they will spend the fall engaged in advancing the alpha and beta testing to refine their products offering, and to develop commercialization and market entry strategies,” said Art Boni, Jones Center executive director. “Beyond that, we will work with them to develop and launch their companies in the spring term – further team development, financing, market development and testing."

Black Locus was launched by Carvalho and Lukas Bouvrie, also beginning his second year at Tepper, and Francisco Uribe, who graduated from CMU’s e-business graduate program last month. Carvalho, a former IBM consultant, gave an update on Black Locus in the following Q&A:

What sort of progress did Black Locus make over the summer?

“Black Locus is a Web-based decision support platform tailored to small and medium online retailers. We help our clients by analyzing their data through proprietary algorithms and giving them real-time recommendations. We had 12 people helping the company over the summer, and a lot was accomplished. Our pricing module was re-built for scalability and its closed beta version deployed, the alpha version of our marketing module was developed, and a provisional patent was filed to protect the sophisticated algorithms behind this module. In addition, we now have 10 local beta clients using our pricing tool.”

What is the status of your company?

“Our internal development team is refining our marketing module. Lukas and I have been working with several CMU student-project teams to enhance our platform. We started working with an HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) team to refine our user interface, with a Machine Learning graduate student to improve one of our algorithms, with a MIMS (Masters of Information Science Management) team to develop our Inventory Module, and with a MIMS student, who is an SEO expert, to create an SEO add-on to our marketing tool. Those students are extremely bright and motivated, so I believe that a lot will be accomplished this fall semester. We are also working closely with our beta clients so we do not have any surprises when we open our pricing module to the public.”

How does your financing shape up?

“So far, we have received funding from Alpha Lab, the Tepper Accelerator Program, and from business plan competitions that we won. We are currently talking with local programs that support start-up companies, as well as with angel investors.”

You’re also part of Alpha Labs and Project Olympus. What benefits does your company receive through those and what did the Accelerator add?

“The Tepper Accelerator helped us to continue what we started at Alpha Lab without disruption. The summer program that Art Boni put in place makes a lot of sense for the students that want to pursue entrepreneurship — you cannot get more hands-on than that. It surprises me that not more MBA schools are doing the same. Project Olympus, Alpha Lab and the Accelerator program are complimentary to one another. Those programs are great, if not essential, for an early stage start up. They give you structure, help you to stay focused, and pressure you so you move faster. From my perspective, they are similar to a difficult class. For instance, you could learn JAVA on your own, but if you are taking a JAVA class at CMU, you have complicated homework assignments, projects and exams. The structure guides you in the right direction, keeps you focused, and pressures you to learn at the class pace. Without the structure, you could easily shift your focus somewhere else before achieving significant results. The same goes for an early stage start-up.”

Are there other components missing or that would help your company’s development?

“A device that turns 24-hour days into 30-hour days would greatly aid our business. Additional funding may do just that.”

Your company changed its original name, which was Lama Lab. Why?

“Our original name was the one used to incorporate our company when we started Alpha Lab. At the time, our value proposition was somewhat vague, so we decided to go with a more generic name. After talking with many potential clients and identifying the major pain points in the industry, our business model solidified and that’s when we came up with Black Locus. Locus comes from ‘internal locus of control,’ which means that the actions that you take today will determine your future tomorrow. Black comes from profitable, like Black Friday. Black Locus helps online stores to take data-driven actions today so they become highly profitable in the future. Plus, it’s a pretty cool name.”


Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times