Christian Morris was working on a mixed-reality app that would allow users to view a musician or performer as if they were 3D in front of them and needed software that could cut the background out and leave just the subject. Despite a lukewarm response from people who reviewed it, he believed it had potential.
Enter his wife, who runs a successful Etsy shop but needed an inexpensive way to create product videos. With a few tweaks, the app helped propel her to the top 5 percent of sellers in six months. Morris saw small business owners – particularly ecommerce sellers – who don’t have large ad budgets for Facebook or Google but depend on their own social media posts to sell products as an untapped market for his artificial intelligence-based technology.
Rush Roto’s “simple and spectacular” AI technology doesn’t just add a background. It places the picture of an object into another image that can be turned into multiple campaigns in just a few seconds. That’s important for small businesses that rely on seasonal online selling and want to turn a single product photo into images for Halloween, the Christmas season, spring — or any other time or theme.
Morris put about $10,000 of his own money into getting the startup to the point where he could apply to business growth programs. He found early support in 2022 through Amazon Web Services (AWS), which selected Rush Roto as one of 25 startups for its inaugural AWS Black Impact Accelerator. The company won $125,000 in cash and $100,000 in Cloud Credits along with in-person training at Amazon headquarters.
Morris says the AWS program and Rush Roto’s recent selection into the prestigious Techstars Accelerator Powered by J.P. Morgan program – which included Rush Roto receiving a $120,000 equity stake – has opened a new world of possibilities in terms of venture capital funding, growth and connections. In addition, Rush Roto was a winner in Delaware Prosperity Partnership’s 2023 Startup302 competition, where it placed in the Delaware Tech-Enabled category.
“Success in programs like AWS, Techstars and Startup302 provide legitimacy and help us get our funding applications looked at, which can otherwise be very challenging,” Morris said.
Morris recently shared his views on innovation in Delaware and the path forward for innovators.
I know other Delaware founders have said it countless times, but our central location is key. Getting started with zero network connections in the tech world was challenging. However, I was able to expand my network at an exponential rate with just new tires, gas and determination. I joined startup communities in not only Delaware, but D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. I was usually the only Delaware resident in the room. That made me even more memorable.
I just did another pitch competition where I came in second in New York just a few months ago. And another one where I was going down to D.C., so there’s a plus at being able to hit multiple cities without having to hop on a plane. I also save money by not needing to rent cars and purchase hotel rooms in those states. In other words, being here also extended my company’s runway.
Last and most important is the real effort to support innovators here. After being a finalist in the Start-up302 competition, we received a letter from Delaware Governor John Carney. I don’t know if any founder I’ve met can say their state cares about what they’re doing at that high of a level.
Number one, by a large margin, is grit. Startup life is difficult. It will almost always take longer and be more challenging than you expect. “Unfair” is the default setting. You must learn to make peace with it, and then make your own luck.
Number two, focus. Focusing on the “why,” not the “what.”
Three, vision. You need vision to shift your “how” and “when” if needed. The reason you took action should be your north star. It’s easy to get caught up in your solution and forget.
When you get started, one of the most important things is to pick an idea worth pursuing by you. Not just one that is worth pursuing. You should have a true passion for the idea, not just potential profits. Those profits don’t leave the “potential” stage with most startups. You need to have a love for the why. Rush Roto’s why is serving underfunded entrepreneurs. I founded Rush Roto with the goal of using AI to make photography affordable to all businesses, to give time and resources back to the struggling solopreneur. Seeing Rush Roto do that gives me the energy to push through those tough days.