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Tech Firm Attracts BMW to Worker-Allocation Service

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A startup that created a cloud-based technology platform that helps companies allocate full-time employees, subcontractors and independent contractors just signed its first customer—and a biggie, at that.

Irvine-based QMerit Inc., a spinout of ABM Industries Inc. in New York, landed Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based BMW of North America.

QMerit promotes its technology as “the world’s first meritocracy-based assignment engine,” a reference to its algorithmic matching software that strives to deploy the best worker at a certain time and place at the best value. The company says its technology is applicable to many industries, though the initial launch is for the home installation of electric vehicle chargers associated with BMW’s 360° Electric Lifestyle program, said Program Director of Software Engineering Brian Keith. Owners of BMWi and iPerformance electric cars will be able to compare installers based on QMerit’s proprietary “service provider score,” which incorporates several performance measures, including satisfaction ratings.

“Every successful start-up has a seminal moment in its history,” QMerit founder and Chief Executive Tracy Price said via email. “This is ours. BMW is consistently ranked as one of the most respected brands in the world, and for them to rely on and co-brand with a 20-person software company in Irvine is both humbling and gratifying. They made us a better company through their rigor and input.”

One Purse Closes, Another Opens

First there was Sugar’s Gone, the company. Then there was Sugar’s Gone, the website, a high-end apparel reseller, starting with handbags. And then the book, “Every Handbag Has a Story,” detailing the trials and tribulations of company founder and Chief Executive Jennifer Bell’s “toxic” former relationship.

Now the book has been optioned for a movie or TV series.

“It’s the story of my life broken up into a series of seven different handbags and how they represent where you are at a certain point in your life and who you’re with,” Bell said.

She launched the website in 2015. The book was written by Julie Schulte, a graduate teaching assistant in creative writing at University of California-Irvine, and published the same year. Schulte and Sugar’s Gone co-owned the rights to the book. Bell met someone with creative connections who expressed interest in the book over dinner last year. She declined to disclose his name. Back-and-forth discussions ensued about turning the book into a movie or TV series. In the interim, a pair of OC business partners made a move to acquire the Sugar’s Gone company, said Bell, declining to disclose their identities. The deal eventually fell through.

Bell and co-founder Larkie Dam ultimately decided to put the website on hold after consulting with the company’s investors. Website hosting fees are still being paid, so it can be reactivated at any time, Bell said.

The deal for the book rights was finalized in November; Bell declined to disclose how much Sugar’s Gone and Schulte received upfront. She said pitches will be made over the summer to Lifetime, Hallmark and CBS TV.

Bell credits the OC startup community, especially Peter Polydor, who created the Eureka co-working building in Irvine, where she first launched Sugar’s Gone; investor-mentor Grant Van Cleve and investor-mentor Robin Pimentel with K5 Ventures, an early-stage venture fund in Newport Beach, for helping her turn a tough experience into a comeback story.

Fin-Tech Firm Grows

A fin-tech company that intentionally chose Orange County for its headquarters credits the decision for making it possible for car buyers in 46 states to get financing offers on their phones quickly and easily.

AutoGravity Corp. co-founder and Chief Executive Andreas “Andy” Hinrichs was living in Singapore when he and co-founders Serge Vartanov and Nicholas Stellman decided to create the company and base it in Irvine. Hinrichs said OC is at the intersection of the automotive industry, financial services and high-tech talent, especially with its many universities.

AutoGravity’s process takes seven to eight minutes compared to three hours at a car dealership, and then the customer gets four customized financing offers, Hinrichs said.

It launched a pilot program in California in December that resulted in 100,000 downloads, Hinrichs said, and expanded nationwide in January. The company is approaching 1,000 dealer partnerships across the country, including Fletcher Jones dealerships in five markets, among them Southern California.

The company plans to move into the new Next Gen campus at Sand Canyon Business Center in the Irvine Spectrum area over the summer and to double its headcount to 120 this year, Hinrichs said.

AutoGravity has received between $20 million and $50 million in venture capital and lending commitments from units of Daimler AG in Germany that include DA Investments Co. LLC and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA LLC. Hinrichs is a former executive at Daimler Financial Services, and Daimler AG’s latest annual report listed AutoGravity as a wholly owned subsidiary.

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