IU-led fund invests in smartphone app for new music discovery and battery part supplier targeting the electric vehicle market
Two more student startups have been selected to benefit from the Shoebox Fund, an investment fund that supports student innovation at Indiana University.
Established earlier this year through a gift of $60,000 from Donna and John Shoemaker, the Shoebox Fund supports companies to emerge from the Shoebox, the student startup incubator at Shoemaker Innovation Center at the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering in Bloomington. The fund is administered by the school in partnership with IU Ventures, which leads IU’s investment in high-potential new venture opportunities with strong university connections.
The startups, which each received a total of $5,000, are:
Natrion, an electric-vehicle battery part supplier founded by Thomas Rouffiac, a sophomore at the IU Kelley School of Business in Bloomington.
HotDrop, which is available for download in the Apple and Google Play stores, plays 30 seconds of a random song, then lets users swipe left or right to indicate their like or dislike. Users can swipe up to share the song or down to add the song to a streaming app. According to the app’s creators, HotDrop’s mission is “to spread the emotion of discovering new music and reliving old favorites. We empower a community of Gen Z listeners to discover, share and experience music together, picking the stars of tomorrow.”
In the first six weeks after launch, the HotDrop app saw over 20,000 users from more than 40 different countries swipe through about 1.5 million songs. Nearly 35,000 songs have been added to users’ Apple Music and Spotify libraries. In addition to the support of the Shoebox, the company recently closed a “significant” round of pre-seed financing, enabling the team to expand to 10 members, as well as support product development and marketing.
“The Shoebox Fund is a fantastic opportunity for young innovators to come together and build the valuable companies of tomorrow,” said Goldberg. “We’ve received fantastic mentorship from [the Shoebox team], and immaculate workplaces, legal resources and talented students have all been made readily available to HotDrop. We’ve also developed life-long friendships within the IU entrepreneurial community. We’re proud to be an active client of The Shoebox.”
A part supplier focused on the component of a battery that allows electrical current to flow between the anode and the cathode, Natrion aims to address two key bottlenecks preventing the widespread implementation of clean energy. First, the company provides a “plug-and-play” solution that lithium-ion battery manufacturers can implement immediately into their production processes. Second, it uses a technology agnostic component that improves battery durability and thermal stability so that original equipment manufacturers can utilize new ultra-energetic materials allowing electric vehicle makers to double their range.
“The members of the Shoebox Fund and mentors like (Shoemaker Innovation Center Executive Director) Travis Brown and (Shoebox Client Manager) Joe Rahaim, among others, have been incredibly helpful in walking me through ideas, scenarios and generally understanding what to prioritize in terms of next steps,” said Rouffiac. “This mentorship has also allowed us as a company to find new resources, funding opportunities and research collaborations that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about.”
Rouffiac said that Natrion is on track to close a $1.25 million seed round by the end of the year. This year, the company has also received small business research grants from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, and it is completing pilot projects with IM3NY, Renault and Hyundai that are expected to lead to factory pilots with General Motors, Ford and 24M.
“The Shoebox Fund was created in partnership with IU Ventures to support student entrepreneurs at Indiana University as they work to launch their product,” said Travis J. Brown, senior executive assistant dean of innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization and director of the Shoemaker Innovation Center and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at the Luddy School. “HotDrop and Natrion are a reflection of the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem we have built at IU, including the Shoebox, which is the increasingly popular incubation program provided through the Shoemaker Innovation Center. I’m confident that both teams are poised for success, and these investments ensure that we will be positioned to support the development of their startup beyond their time as students.”
Kevin Fryling, a senior communications consultant at IU Studios, was the lead contributor on this story.