With a $70 Kit, This Startup Promises to Turn Anyone Into an Artist – Inc.

While on vacationfour years ago, Elad Katav decided to try to teach himself a new skill: painting. The software company COO had little artistic experience andthought it would be a good chance to clearhis mindand do something creative.He watched some tutorials on YouTube, picked up somesupplies at a local crafts store, andsat down with a photo of his 5-year-old son to try to paint a portrait.

A few days later, the canvas--half completed--sat at the bottom of a trash bin.An experience that Katavhad hoped would be therapeutic instead brought a lot of frustration.

Today, Katav is founder and CEOof Boston-based Cupixel, a startup that uses augmented reality to help people who aren't skilled artistssketch and paint. The company launched its first product, a $70 supply kit that's compatible with an app, on its website in January and quickly sold out of its inventory. In July, it launched on theHome Shopping Network's website, and Katav says the startup ison the verge of announcing partnerships with major brick-and-mortar retailers.

Katav previously served as COO of enterprise software company Correlsense. After his failed painting attempt, he believedthere was a business opportunity around the concept of helping non-artists create art--and, having a background in software, he decided the product should involve some advanced technology. He founded Cupixel in 2016 and soon raised$2 million in seed funding from private backers. After two years of developing the AR tech, he launched the product at CES this January. Katavdeclined to reveal the startup's revenue, but said the company sold out of its first batch of 1,000 kits within two months and hassince restocked with an additional 15,000 units.

For Katav, an Israeli immigrant with no artistic background, it's affirmation that there's a segment of the population who don'thave the natural ability to make artbut wantto. "Art creation has so many benefits," he says."It relaxes the body. It relaxes the mind. It gives you an opportunity to be creative. Yet it felt like this processwas closed off to people like me."

Cupixel's kit includes everything you need--canvas, pencils, paint, brushes, a frame--to producea hand-paintednine-by-nine-inch piece of artwork, aside from a smartphone or tablet. You start by choosing a workfrom Cupixel's online galleryor by uploading your own photo, whichthe software then converts into a sketchable image. On your device'sscreen, the image is divided into nine squares that correspond with the nine canvas tiles provided withthe kit. Youpoint your device's camera at the canvas, andon your screen, you see the image that you'll be tracing and painting. Using your pencil and brushes, you follow along with what's on the screen--an AR version ofpaint-by-numbers. When finished, you piece the nine squares together to form one larger one. Katav says the entire experiencetakes under two hours for most users.

Cupixel now has deals with more than 20 artists to include their work in its database. An artist receives a royalty each time his or her work is selected to be painted by a user.Katav says the startup is in the process of finalizing deals with two of the U.S.'s biggest arts and crafts retailers, though he declined to sharewhich ones. It's worth noting that one of Cupixel's board members is Lew Klessel, a managing director at private equity firmNew Mountain Capital and the former interim CEO of Michaels.

Cupixel's kit isn't the first AR product meant to help people create art. Lithuania-based SketchAR makes a$28 app that turns a phone into an AR device, overlaying a piece of paper or other canvas with a traceable sketch. Cupixel's product adds the painting aspect and includes the necessary supplies.

Katav'sgoal is to launchAR kits for other art forms likesculpting, woodcrafting, and paper crafting, though these three-dimensional processes clearly would be a bit more complex. Katav doesn't have a timeline yet, though he says the company has prototyped a paper-crafting AR product in its lab.

While the technology is exciting, Katav admits that some professional artists have pushed back about the ideaof using technology to turn just anyone into an artist. The founder objects to this sentiment. Instead, hecompares Cupixelto meal-in-a-box services that make cooking easier for those who lack the skills to do it all on their own.

"It doesn't make you a professional chef," he says. "But now you can participate in a beautiful process that you otherwise might not be able to."

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With a $70 Kit, This Startup Promises to Turn Anyone Into an Artist - Inc.

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