Eye Candy

Inside the augmented reality of STL-based startup Candy Lab

 

ANDREW COUCH IS NO STRANGER to successful startups. His first company, Yourplates.com—a license plate messaging platform that turns every license plate in America into an email address—merged with Platester; then Couch sold to Bump.com for company stock, a year’s salary and cash for himself and his business partner, all amounting to a figure just north of $250,000. Not bad for a combat veteran who knew nothing about the Internet in 2007.

Next, Couch had a larger vision utilizing augmented reality, a process that adds computer-generated sensory elements like sound, video, graphics or GPS data to what is actually there when viewed through a device such as a cell phone. After meeting freelance graphic and web designer Gilda Campos, the pair co-founded Candy Lab utilizing the technology. Augmented reality already existed. The trick would be to figure out how to monetize it and get people to use it.

App-lication Couch liquidated the assets from his sale of Platester and the team got to work, but when a postcard arrived in the mail from St. Louis Arch Grants encouraging them to apply, it profoundly altered the direction of the company. “We were very nervous,” Couch says. “We wanted to get in the program after we found out all the support St. Louis was giving entrepreneurs that moved here.” The team won the $50,000 Arch Grant and relocated from San Diego to St. Louis, where they spent the next several months building out the platform and apps. They also added seven employees and generated another $330,000 through sales contracts with such companies as Robust Wine Bar, KNOWinc, Missouri Athletic Club, Listo (a movie translation app that translates a foreign language movie in real time on the user’s headphones) and even an app for Arch Grants, the organization that Couch calls “our support system.”

Cake Walk But Candy Lab isn’t focusing its augmented sights solely on small businesses. In Corpus Christi, TX, for example, the team worked with Mayor Nelda Martinez and the Solid Waste Management department to promote the city’s recycling program, which is using the company’s Candy B.A.R. (Blended Augmented Reality) platform to encourage people to go around the city collecting virtual soda cans at recycling centers, in an effort to educate citizens about how and where to recycle.

But the company’s biggest project has been right here in St. Louis with stl250’s Cakeway to the West, which helps app users locate, through game play, all of the 250 ornamental cakes placed around the city, learn about the institution or organization where each cake is located, and collect points redeemable for perks and prizes. The app will be in effect through Dec. 31 and is touted on the stl250 website as the “longest running and largest use” of location-based augmented reality ever implemented in the country, encompassing an entire city and then some. At the beginning of May, 10,000 people had already used the Cakeway app.

Others are taking notice of the company’s achievements. Candy Lab was featured at the Augmented World Expo 2014 for being the first to implement GPS augmented reality in two cities (Corpus Christi and St. Louis), and they’re currently pitching statewide programs to both Texas and California. “It’s very exciting,” Couch says. “Others in the field—and there are maybe five of us total around the world—are still trying to figure out how to put a business model behind it.” Not that Candy Lab is resting on its laurels. The team releases stress by identifying problems and fixing them, though they did find time recently to attend a Cardinals game en masse. Co-founder Campos says it’s all about “pushing your limit and tearing down boundaries. That’s what we do,” she says.

 

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From left: Andreas Fuchs, Andrew Couch, Gilda Campos and Jake Strang.

 

Photo credit: Attilio DAgostino

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