Dawn Dickson, founder of PopCom, got her idea from a previous vending machine venture.

PopCom was born out of founder Dawn Dickson's previous venture, Flat Out of Heels, which sells rollable flats from vending machines in airports. Dickson wanted to know who was buying them, but the technology wasn't available.

“My vision is to be the Google Analytics, the Shopify—the data provider—for unattended retail,” Dickson says. “We want to help retailers really have a complete understanding of their customers' activities, demographics, emotions and engagement. It will allow more brands to explore automated retail as a direct-to-consumer opportunity.”

Of 18 million vending machines in the world, Dickson says only 1.5 million are connected. PopCom's solution is twofold—retail kiosks that allow smaller retail brands to test products and compete in a space with Amazon, and software that gives existing retail kiosks and other forms of automated retail the ability to collect, analyze and report customer and sales data.

The company has six full-time employees and is ready to roll out airport kiosks for an unnamed consumer products giant. PopCom also has smaller retailers in its pipeline, plus deals for cannabis dispensary sales.

PopCom's partnership with the top U.S. kiosk manufacturer, Colorado-based Kiosk Information Systems, makes its software available to clients who buy the company's machines.

The company has received investments and support from TechStars Los Angeles accelerator, Canopy Boulder, Rev1 Ventures, NCT Ventures, Loud Capital, Backstage Capital and more.

Will PopCom achieve startup success?

“Retail is experiencing an amazing transformation due to the swift change in consmer demand. ...PopCom's technology offers a ‘smart' opportunity to further enhance omnichannel strategy with the hope of nurturing customer engagement and ultimately increasing sales.”

Industry Expert: Gordon Gough, CEO, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants

“I'd want to make sure there is a foothold for the company that prevents the existing incumbents from simply replicating what has already been done. That said, I see very few instances where incumbents ‘steal' the new ideas. I usually see them watch companies like PopCom just roll past them.”

Potential Investor: Wil Schroter founder & CEO, Fundable

“The PopCom kiosks fill every gap we've imagined. Traxler Tees has played with retrofitting vending machines, however it was time consuming, expensive and more of a pain to manage from the standpoint of knowing when stock was low and restocking. Sales reports were completely manual and often incorrect due to data being inputted incorrectly. We look forward to seeing the growth of PopCom's products.”

Potential User: Zachary Traxler, founder & CEO, Traxler Tees

Nationwide Embraces VC

A plan by Columbus' largest insurer to harness the power of startups is giving it access to artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensor technology, drone capabilities and all the glory that comes with real-time data.

Nationwide has made nine venture capital deals to date. The $43.9 billion insurer pledged last year to invest $100 million in companies that align with its goals of protecting customers' digital assets, covering them in the next era of mobility and making retirement comfortable.

“We want to accelerate current business models where we can and provide insight to our strategy and business leaders as to where we want to go and where our members want to be,” says Erik Ross, who leads Nationwide's venture capital business.

The most recent investments were in startups Betterview, which uses drones to assess storm damage and predict claims, and Israel-based Nexar, a dashboard app that uses a vehicle-to-vehicle network to avoid and report crashes.