Another Startup Showdown is in the books, this time taking place at Capital Factory, the center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas. TechCrunch called Austin "a city of unicorns and tech giants" — and we couldn't agree more. Not only is it home to marquee names such as Bumble, Tesla, and Zoom, it has ranked as the top spot for tech jobs for the last three years.
Austin naturally offers a vibrant tech community that came out in full force to support our finalists — both at the in-person competition and our packed afterparty event. The talent was so intense that we came away with TWO pitch competition winners: DUKE.AI, an all-in-one accounting app created to improve bottom-line profits for owner-operators in the transportation industry; and 1 True Health, which provides 24/7 virtual care coordination, monitoring, and support between visits to keep patients on track to better health. Each company received a $120,000 investment prize.
A Conversation with DUKE.AI
Today, we're talking to DUKE.AI CEO Marcus Cooksey to learn more about his company and its experience in the Startup Showdown pitch competition.
Congratulations on winning Startup Showdown, Marcus. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I had my first job experience in transportation, working as a UPS loader to help with tuition while earning a computer science engineering degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. I then had a two-decade-plus software development career, including tenures with Fortune 500 companies in such areas as telecommunications and machine learning. I was the lead systems engineer at Texas Instruments where I worked on Amazon Echo, then went on at TI to work in systems engineering for self-driving cars for its China and Taiwan markets. I returned to my trucking roots in 2015 when I founded LUI Transport, which I grew from a single truck to five. My inspiration for DUKE.AI occurred there while attempting to manage financial bookkeeping and accounting using the software tools available at the time.
What's the current state of the transportation industry and where does DUKE.AI fit into it?
Transportation has lagged other industries in terms of automation. A lot of things are still done manually, which impacts efficiency in areas from supply chain management to accounting. Most companies and larger freight carriers contract out to independent truck owner-operators — these are the people moving the goods for America. For them to do their jobs and get paid, there's a lot of paperwork that requires verifications. When such documents are handled manually, it can take 30 to 90 days to get paid, which is a long time to wait.
With DUKE.AI, we've created an app-based mobile technology that allows drivers to scan documents with their phones while on the road and automates their bookkeeping and factoring invoicing. It's as simple as taking a photo of a paper document or sending it in an email to DUKE.AI, which handles invoices and related documents and integrates with carriers and financial organizations to create a faster payment for the drivers. Drivers can typically get paid within an hour of submitting documents, so it's really speeding up the process.
Are there competitors to DUKE.AI out there?
There are companies that provide partial solutions, such as they focus just on the enterprise side, for example. Our technology supports the full ecosystem, from the drivers on the road to the carriers that contract them to financial organizations like banks and factoring businesses. DUKE.AI is also one of the few platforms of its kind that is truly bank-agnostic, so we can sell into essentially any bank or trucking business.
Where are you currently in terms of product development and customer acquisition?
Our product is fully developed. The DUKE.AI mobile technology is in the Apple app store. We already have customers on both the mobile app and enterprise sides, although a key goal for us this year is to continue building our customer base.
How did you find out about Startup Showdown in Austin?
I knew about Startup Showdown previously since I'm a big fan of Paul Judge and try to keep track of his activities. DUKE.AI is also in Capital Factory's investment portfolio, so they reached out to me about Startup Showdown coming to Austin and encouraged me to apply, which I did.
What was your experience like with the in-person competition?
What stood out to me was the competition's positive energy. The last night was also entertaining — they had a walk-in intro song for the finalists, so it felt like a "concert" experience. For me, the semifinalist mentoring session was one of the most beneficial aspects. As an entrepreneur, I've given pitches before and had already spent a lot of time with my pitch deck, but the input I received from the mentors really helped me to further refine and enhance my presentation, especially in terms of clearly defining my target customers.
What does DUKE.AI plan to do with the investment prize?
Foremost, we plan to use it to hire a key leadership resource, who we believe can help us scale to win and manage relationships with larger enterprise and banking customers.
Do you have any advice for others who are considering applying for Startup Showdown?
My first advice would be to just take that big step and apply. But my biggest recommendation is to really listen to the feedback from the mentors, even if it's not what you hoped to hear. The most important thing is to be able to tell your story in a succinct and compelling manner, and the advice of experienced entrepreneurs and investors can really help to improve both it and your product offering.
Thanks, Marcus, and congratulations again! In our next post, we'll be talking with the other co-winner of our Austin competition — Shawn Smith, CEO of 1 True Health. Startup Showdown pitch competitions are held monthly, with winners receiving a $120,000 investment prize. To apply to pitch at an upcoming Startup Showdown, go here.