Startup raises $1M in crowdfunding for high-tech vending machines that could dispense cannabis

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A Columbus startup building tech-enabled vending kiosks that can dispense anything from shoes to watches to cannabis has raised the maximum $1.1 million allowed via equity crowdfunding.

The average investment in PopCom was $500.

CEO Dawn Dickson invented the machines to solve a problem for her other business, rollable ballet flats to swap for painful high heels. For a time the shoes were sold through vending machines in an airport and nightclub, but she couldn't find a machine on the market that looked and performed the way she wanted.

PopCom, the brand for her Solutions Vending International Inc., incorporates facial recognition and records transactions on blockchain, a secure distributed digital ledger. The machine can scan anonymous demographic data to analyze shoppers who engage and buy compared with those who walk past.

Or it can actually identify the shopper for a loyalty program or to dispense regulated products like alcohol or cannabis.

“There are definitely infinite possibilities,” Dickson said. “My No. 1 focus now is getting the product out and showing the world what we already know – that it works and will be very disruptive to the automated retail industry.”

Dawn Dickson, founder and CEO of PopCom

A Columbus native, Dickson started the shoe business Flat Out of Heels while living in Miami. Its products are available at boutiques and online, but the vending machines have been removed, she said.

Dickson took PopCom through the Techstars accelerator in Los Angeles and a cannabis industry accelerator in Boulder, Colorado. She moved back to Central Ohio in 2017 after raising $1 million from Rev1 Ventures, Loud Capital and NCT Ventures of Columbus and Cleveland-based JumpStart.

For this round she turned to crowdfunding.

Under Title III of the 2012 Jobs Act, companies can raise up to $1,070,000 in a calendar year from the general public instead of restricting the round to high-net-worth investors. Few startups follow the route because of the regulatory and reporting requirements. PopCom also is the first Central Ohio startup to offer digital tokens as securities instead of paper stock certificates in a campaign.

The company started working on the campaign last summer and the Securities and Exchange Commission approved it for launch in December. Pledges hit the legal limit at the end of March, but some investors are on a waiting list because PopCom initially set up its campaign on the platform Start Engine with a ceiling of $943,000 and needs to revise that to allow the full $1,070,000.

“We get a ton of customers along with that as well – really it was a double marketing campaign,” Dickson said.

“Our pipeline is so overwhelming we don’t have to look for more customers,” she said. “This round will give us a runway of 24 months at our current burn. We’re just heads down building the product.”

The proceeds will go toward finishing production. The first machines, made overseas, should be delivered to customers in the third or fourth quarter.

PopCom machines can be a physical location for an e-commerce brand, allowing it to compete with Amazon on get-it-today convenience, she said. The software also can be white-labeled to run in other types of kiosks under their brands.

The eight-person company might add one salesperson this summer.

PopCom contracts with Big Kitty Labs, a Columbus software development company. Big Kitty's co-founders also have roles at the company: Dan Rockwell as chief technology officer and Tushar Kulkarni as lead developer.

“I don’t care how much money we raise, I’m keeping that same team,” Dickson said. “These guys are amazing.”

While PopCom always will have a Columbus office, especially because Big Kitty isn't moving, it might eventually move its headquarters.

“We’ll certainly have another location in a market where we do more business," she said. "We don’t have a lot of business in Columbus.”

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