Smart Homes and Paying Off Debt Win at Startup Night SXSW 2018

The spirit of optimism is alive and well at SXSW 2018. Between the art installations, film, entertainment, innovation, and Elon Musk, who crashed the HBO “Westworld” panel to talk about the future of space travel, it would be hard not to leave Austin inspired.

“There needs to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity,” Musk said, according to USA Today.

At Startup Night SXSW 2018 presented by Kauffman and TechCo, 25 inspiring and diverse startups showcased their latest innovation and competed for $1K from LaunchKC, Business Extra Points from American Airlines, and a fast track ticket to be a Startup of the Year semifinalist at Innovate Celebrate 2018.

After the votes from our esteemed panel of investor judges were counted, Sesame by Candy House brought home the win, and Qoins took the runner up spot.


CANDY HOUSE, a Palo Alto-based company, built Sesame, a smart lock that allows users to lock and unlock their door easily through a smartphone. The best part is that users don’t have to replace the current deadbolt lock or hire a handyman, it simply covers the knob on the inside of the door and it’s up and working within minutes.

Homeowners can switch this smart lock around to different doors in their home with ease. Through their app, it’s easy for users to unlock the door with simply a knock or touch on the smartphone. Sesame is designed with military-grade encryption, users can decide who gains access to their lock and receive updated on lock/unlock activity.

“I’m so happy and very proud of my team,” said Kevin Hsieh, COO of Sesame by Candy House, about the win. “Without of the support from my team and family, I wouldn’t have the guts to even apply for this competition. I really appreciate TechCo and all their sponsors. Before coming here, I didn’t know any of the judges or startups, which is very surprising because I go to different startup events in the Bay area. This is my first time at SXSW, I really enjoy it and enjoy making friends.

His advice for startups pitching at competitions: The key is to try to get down all your thoughts. The pitch is just one minute and not a lot of time to say everything. Part of preparing my pitch was to cut it down to 125-160 words.


This Atlanta-based micropayment platform makes it easier for people to pay off credit card and student loan debt faster through everyday purchases. Qoins will analyze a user’s spending habits, round up the spare change from transactions, apply it to their account, then automatically send that extra payment once a month to creditors. The company said the “average Qoins users will pay off their debt 2 to 5 years” ahead of schedule. Price: $1.99 per month.

“It feels great. Given there were 25 [startups], it feels really good,” said Christian Zimmerman, cofounder and CEO of Qoins, about the win. “[The networking has] been amazing. Meeting with people from all over the U.S. gives you a different perspective and different opportunities you wouldn’t have thought of, it’s a great experience.”

His advice for startups at pitch competitions: Always understand who you are going up against. There are lots of great startups with different ideas at different points in the business. Just highlight the best points of your company and traction you’ve made. If you haven’t applied, apply for next year. SXSW is an amazing place to come, and you never know what you’ll get out of it and never know who knows someone.

The top five startups of the night included:
  1. Sesame by Candy House
  2. Qoins
  3. The Mentor Method
  4. Milo
  5. Seek

All of the 25 startups deserve a round of applause for their pitches in front of these tough judges.

If you want the opportunity to put your startup in front of investors, tech leaders and influential people to help build your company, there is still time to apply before APRIL 30 to Startup of the Year 2018 for a chance to compete at Innovate Celebrate.


Read more about our Startup Nights and SXSW on TechCo

Thank you to all of our SXSW partners: The Kauffman Foundation, Pledge 1%, Startup Arlington, LaunchKC,  American Airlines, The Case Foundation, StartCo, digitalundivided, BlackTech Week, Pipeline Angels, Global Entrepreneurship Network, ESTABLISHED, and iFundWomen.

Follow all the action on Twitter: @startupofyear and #StartupofYear

Photo: Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

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Written by:
Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.
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