Thomas Dickerson GS led his startup, Geopipe, to take first place at the Student Startup Madness competition in the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, March 12.
Geopipe — which Dickerson co-founded with Christopher Mitchell, adjunct professor at New York University — creates virtual models of the real world, allowing urban designers and architects to visualize projects in the context of real urban landscapes. Geopipe can also be used in video game design and training simulations for first responders and the military, Mitchell said.
“Geopipe had all the components for winning,” said judge Abe Minkara, director of business development at Mark Cuban Companies. “They’ve already demonstrated that they have a unique algorithm that can be applied in many different types of industries. They also proved that they have momentum and they validated their product by already having customers. There are opportunities for other companies like Google to invest or possibly acquire them.”
Dickerson and Mitchell entered the competition last year but only made it to the round of 64 teams, Dickerson said. They were invited back by SXSW this year. Before winning first place, the company reached the “Entrepreneurial Eight,” during which they presented their pitch and answered questions in front of a panel of four judges.
“We were told by colleagues that (the competition and SXSW) as a whole were a great opportunity to raise visibility for the company and to connect with investors and, potentially, even partners and customers,” Mitchell said. “Because these are all among our immediate goals, entering the competition was an obvious choice for us.”
Dickerson added that though the competition did not offer a monetary prize, they were able to network and pitch to an “investor-heavy audience,” as well as publicize Geopipe on the SXSW stage.
Dickerson and Mitchell founded Geopipe in June 2016 during the NYU Summer Launchpad Program, an accelerator program for students with startups. The pair has been working on projects together since they met 15 years ago on an online forum for students learning to program, Dickerson said.
Before Geopipe’s inception, Mitchell was trying to map the landscape of New York City into Minecraft on a one-to-one scale, while Dickerson was trying to create models of real buildings in virtual Legos, Mitchell said. Together, they initially wanted to recreate the real world for video game designers to adopt and modify.
“We pretty quickly realized that video game designers weren’t going to be the best early adopters for us,” Dickerson said. “Compared to architecture and urban design … video game designers just need a much higher level of realism and interactivity to be able to really make use of our product.”
Dickerson and Mitchell intend to continue building out their technical road maps, bringing on more members to the technical team and attracting more investors.
“We are excited about pursuing each of our current focuses for the company,” Mitchell said. “Accelerating product development makes it easier to get more beta customers on board, which makes attracting investment more tractable, which in turn helps us build the team to develop the company, sales and product.”
In terms of the day-to-day operations, Dickerson has intentionally separated his academic research at the University from his work at Geopipe. However, he added that “Brown has been very useful for the social networking components, which come along with being part of a huge computer science program.”