Watchmaker receives ‘surprise’ investment in Startup Week competition

David Cohen, R.T. Custer (CEO) and David Brown

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Jensen Werley

FORT COLLINS — Vortic Watch Co., a maker of one-of-a-kind wristwatches made from restored pocket watches, received a surprise investment from two Techstars founders.

The Fort Collins company won $10,000 and six months of coaching from LaunchNO.CO, the nonprofit that hosted a pitch contest during Fort Collins Startup Week. But after impressing David Brown and David Cohen, the two threw in an additional $50,000 of their own personal investment.

“We liked the traction of their business and the attractiveness of the product,” Brown said. “I’m a watch guy and their story touched me. I love that it’s built here.”

Vortic takes pocket watches and restores them, then creates 3D printed wristwatch bodies so they can be used today. Because of the uniqueness of pocket watches and the 3D printing process, no two watches are alike. Vortic watches are also unique in that they have the crown, the metal knob found to the side of the watch and used to adjust time, on the top at the 12 o’clock position, just like old pocket watches had.

The business started selling its watches in 2014 and sold 400 watches last year. It plans to sell about 1,000 this year. CEO R.T. Custer said he thinks the watches, which can cost more than $1,000, are growing in popularity because of a growing analog movement. People, especially its target young adult audience, are getting invested in learning about earlier technology, restoring old cameras and cars. Vortic watches don’t connect to the internet or send any notifications, like many watches today, but the manufacturing process is enabled through 3D printing technology.

“That makes us a beautiful clash of old and new,” Custer said. “We’re like the craft brewery of American watch making. We’re small batch and limited production.”

Custer and his co-founder, Tyler Wolfe, will use the $60,000 they won Wednesday mostly to help advertising the company. Last year, Custer said he spent $50,000 on ads, a drop in the bucket compared to competitors like Tag Heuer or Rolex, which can spend $3 million on ads. This year, Vortic plans to spend $200,000 on advertising. The $60,000 will go a long way toward that figure.

Jana Sanchez, executive director of LaunchNo.CO, said pitch competitions like these will help grow Northern Colorado’s entrepreneurship community. All 12 of the pitching startups will work with LaunchNo.CO for the next six months, taking the advice of the 29 judges from the two-day competition and implementing it to make step changes in their business. This was the first time the contest was held and Sanchez said she plans to do it again. The new nonprofit’s eventual goal is to work with startups to make significant improvements in their businesses, as they will with these 12 companies.

There were four finalists for the competition: Vortic, ItyDitty, Fair Fiber and Red Mountain Scientific.

In addition to Vortic winning, two companies — ItyDitty and everHuman — each won $2,000 a month for the next six months in public relations help from the MAPR agency. All 12 companies will get concierge help from CSU Ascend.