An Interview with the Candelytics Team, a finalist from 100K Accelerate

Candelytics is a 3D data analytics software startup looking to revolutionize the way 3D data is integrated at the tactical point of need. The startup was born out of the Defense Innovation Accelerator and is officially partnered with the Naval Information Warfare Center RESTORE Laboratory. In March, Candelytics competed and placed as a finalist at MIT 100K Accelerate. They are a competitor of May’s 100K Launch event as well.

Can you tell us about Candelytics and how you got started?

My co-founder, Bryan, and I met through a veteran’s fellowship program at Harvard. When the pandemic hit last Spring, we started thinking and talking about possibilities for summer plans and realized we both shared an interest in applying to the Defense Innovation Accelerator. Initially, we were interested in more of an academic entrepreneurial experience, and just wanted to take a peek into and explore the defense innovation ecosystem. When we were accepted to the Defense Innovation Accelerator (a Pentagon sponsored program through the National Security Innovation Network), we were paired with a Department of Defense laboratory and technology. In our case, we worked with the Naval Information Warfare Center and its RESTORE Laboratory to explore commercialization of LIDAR and 3D Scanning technology. Our project was to develop the technology in the commercial market in addition to a strategy to spin the product back into the Pentagon. Although we didn’t initially plan to continue after the summer program, we were excited to pursue the start-up and we decided to incorporate last Fall. We’ve recruited a few new team members through the ELO program at MIT, and we have gone all in with Candelytics!

You participated in Accelerate in March. How did that round of the competition help Candelytics?

In advance of the competition, 100K paired us with our mentor, John Strand. We did our pitch twice with him, and he pushed us to think more about our business plan and beachhead market and to home in on that. Going back to the Defense Innovation Accelerator, the first phase was to dive deeply into customer discovery, then phase two was building out the initial business plan. When we graduated from the Defense Innovation Accelerator and presented to several military branches, we were still editing our business plan, how to generate revenue, and how to develop the government as a customer. When we got into 100K Accelerate last winter, it was the perfect opportunity to finalize all of our thinking around the business plan and focus it into a polished delivery format. The Accelerate process and the mentorship it provided helped us to refine our business model and plan, and to better orient the company to the private sector.

Crafting and practicing our business pitch in a succinct, compelling, digestible way to the Accelerate audience also helped us to get out of our government and military jargon and lingo. It’s been a challenge to translate the government, and more specifically the Department of Defense, as a client through a business lens, but it’s been so helpful to be forced to do that during Accelerate and now for Launch as well!

Can you tell us more about what Candelytics is as a product and what it aims to do?

The easiest way to think about Candelytics is to say we are aiming to become the Palantir of 3D Data. We want to provide tailored, end to end, customized 3D data solutions for our clients beginning with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and Intelligence. We’re starting with them because by nature they are very high barrier to entry markets with massive volumes of data, and they have an incredible need right now for some of the 3D data solutions that we can provide.

Our value proposition is taking LIDAR hardware, gathering the 3D data that you collect from LIDAR, and making that data intelligent and impactful to your workflow through our software. Our product is agnostic to the LIDAR hardware device, and can be used with a rage of devices from the iPhone to military grade drones. For example, for our engagement with the Coast Guard, data is collected via a handheld device that scans ships and ports. With the Air Force, the data is collected from a mounted LIDAR sensor on an aircraft or a drone to capture terrain, vegetation, and any ordinances.

The hardest part with data analytics is collecting the data to begin with. Our pilot and partnership with the Coast Guard is fantastic because the Coast Guard does 4400 ship boardings and inspections per year, each with robust documentation. Our idea is that if the documentation can become digital and stored in a repository, then machine learning can be applied and we can quickly do object classification and recognition. The key is to build out a repository, aggregate the data, and then apply our algorithms which are translatable across government and commercial applications.

What sort of traction have you developed over the course of the year?

From our customer discovery calls last summer, we quickly realized how wide the field of 3D data can become. So many industries from law enforcement to insurance to building management have a need for 3D data. The hard part is choosing where to start, and we opted to start with the government. We’re starting a pilot program this summer with the Coast Guard for their drug interdiction missions. We consider them our beachhead target. We also just received two R&D AFWERX contracts from the Air Force to deliver rapid airfield scanning solutions for contingency and disaster relief missions.

We recently joined a Boston-based community and accelerator for maritime-related startups, and have made a bunch of great relationships through that. Once we finish our pilots this summer, we’ll have a firm proof of concept and product-market fit, and I think we’ll be able to quickly move into commercial application and gain traction.

We’re also already planning to expand internationally relatively early in our strategy. We have been in touch with several potential customers, including the Israeli Coast Guard who patrols the Mediterranean as well as the Port of Rotterdam which is the largest commercial port in the world. We’ve also been speaking with an intelligence organization called the Joint Interagency Task Force South which is an international group of 20 nations working together to curb drug flow in the Caribbean and Latin American regions.

Beyond the military, what are some commercial applications of Candelytics?

We truly are trying to become a dual-use company. Right now, we’re looking into commercial shipping and freight, and its associated inspection and insurance applications. This is quite close to the Coast Guard use case. We’ve also been reaching out to the oil and gas industry to survey and inspect oil pipelines. Currently, someone has to drive the pipeline, inspect it, and note where maintenance is needed. Candelytics can do that work more quickly, accurately, and cost-efficiently. We’ve also identified a use case for art to detect forgery because we can identify a change detection if the art has been LIDAR-scanned and saved to a repository.

How is your startup process different due to focusing on a dual-use, commercial and government, product and strategy?

I think that if we had planned to start in the commercial space, like oil and gas or shipping, the competition would be stiffer because there are already some companies operating in those spaces. It’s a new discipline, so none of the competition is too entrenched, but we chose to start in a blue ocean environment. With the government, we can be the sole-source provider for the project or engagement, and that’s an advantage.

What are you most looking forward to with MIT 100K Launch coming up next month?

Competing is fun and enlightening! It’s cool to see what other people are working on, and to test our thinking and business plan against others. The feedback and mentorship has been instrumental to help us refine our tech development strategy, hiring strategy, and funding strategy, and the feedback has definitely reinforced what we learn at Sloan. We’ve absolutely been able to improve and grow because of feedback from the 100K participants, mentors, and audiences. We’re excited for Launch because it’s going to make sure we are really prepared for our operational testing pilots in with the Coast Guard this summer.

The prize money is another benefit to us. As a startup, undiluted funding really moves the needle for us to be able to extend our runway so we can continue to develop Candelytics. We’re trying to get as much non-dilutive funding and government grants before we get into fundraising a seed round. Winning $100,000 enables us to not have to be in a rush to raise private capital and give away equity.

Visit www.mit100k.org for our Launch event schedule and to see Candelytics compete!

Candelytics Team Bios

Clark Yuan is currently pursuing dual MBA/MPA degrees from MIT Sloan and the Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to graduate school, Clark served as an active duty Army intelligence officer for seven years and continues to serve in the Army Reserves as an innovation officer.

Bryan Lee is a former Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot pursuing his MBA from Harvard Business School. Bryan has private sector experience in management consulting, venture capital, and private equity operations.

James Parker is a dual MS/MBA student between the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard Business School. James studied electrical engineering and previous worked at LGS Innovations developing wireless technology for the military.

A series of start-up competitions held annually at MIT.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store