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May 09, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Former “Vol Court” winner and partners launch hardware-focused venture studio named Ovyl Ventures

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

We first met Dave Seeman in March 2014 when the then University of Tennessee, Knoxville senior won the Spring Edition of the “Vol Court Speaker Series and Pitch Competition” with a start-up named Willow List.

Within a few months, he decided to close the start-up but was not finished with his entrepreneurial journey. By late 2016, as noted in this article, Seeman had joined with two colleagues from a full-time job to launch Fractal Hardware Design. Soon thereafter, they rebranded as Ovyl, a Nashville-based company that helps product businesses break into hardware through the seamless integration of high-end design and high-tech electronics to create experiences that customer rave about.

“We’re secretly the design team behind many of the top hard-tech start-ups across our state,” Seeman says. To underscore the point, he notes that Ovyl was recognized recently by Nordic as a Design Partner “which essentially means we’re one of the top electronics/wireless/IoT development firms in the nation.”

Now, Seeman and his partners – Evan Reese and Mitch Meiss – are expanding Ovyl with the launch of Ovyl Ventures, a hardware-focused venture studio designed to bring multiple successful hardware products to market year after year after year.

Explaining that the “studio model is perfect for hardware companies,” Seeman added that Ovyl will continue to be a service provider while expanding on its efforts to start and grow companies.

“Version 1 (V1) of our approach has worked for three companies over the past three years, for which we developed substantial intellectual property and have seen significant gains in valuation,” Seeman says. “Using that data from V1, we’ve developed V2 and are now raising $3 million to grow our portfolio by at least four more companies in the next two years before raising our first venture fund to scale even further.”

He said that the companies can be started internally by the Ovyl team or externally by other founders. “This represents a pretty big opportunity for other hard-tech founders in our area,” Seeman added.

Through what he describes as a “model, structured approach” that currently involves nine steps, “We will essentially initiate a relationship with a start-up, invest our time and money into a strategy phase, then decide if we want to enter a joint venture development or not. Either way, the results of the strategy phase are free for the start-up to keep and use, and we don’t keep any equity until we enter the venture agreement.”

The services that Ovyl brings to the arrangement starts with ideation and continues through capital, design, engineering, business viability, and operational expertise.

If Ovyl and the company structured an agreement, Ovyl would be considered a Co-Founder of the enterprise.

Seeman added that the multi-step process that Ovyl uses is based on lessons learned from the team’s consulting work with its clients. “Is it desirable? Is it feasible? Is it viable? We de-risk the hardware.”

Ovyl is busting at the seams at its current Nashville location and will most likely need additional space soon for its 12-person team.