Enplug founder and CEO Nanxi Liu was a finalist at our 2013 PITCH competition. One year later, her startup has secured $2.5 million in funding.

By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)

Now that we’re all so hyper connected and check into the restaurant we’re having dinner while tweeting about our new jeans, businesses around the world have a problem — How can they tap into everything happening online and make it matter in real life? Or in marketing speak, how can they engage online communities in real life and in real-time to improve ROI?

In 2012, founder and CEO Nanxi Liu had an idea to solve that problem with her digital display startup. While most people are already plenty familiar with screens that display advertisements, Enplug takes a bit of a different angle. Their technology displays bring to life real-time social media activity such as tweets, Instagram photos and check-ins, which encourages customers to interact and post to their own channels.

So for example, you might be at a coffee shop when see someone’s Instagram photo of their latte pop up on a screen behind the counter. You might then be compelled to snap an artsy photo (or even artsier photo to one-up them) of your own latte. The coffee shop wins because you’re creating content that markets their awesome coffee to other people in the shop as well as to your followers. This is exactly the type of engagement businesses are looking for — a mash-up of online and in-real-life engagement. All sorts of businesses from coffee shops to retail stores to car dealerships have installed Enplug displays. Plus, Enplug is plug-and-play, so any business can easily set up their own digital screen.

Liu’s startup was so compelling that we was invited to be one of our 2013 Women 2.0 PITCH competition finalists, where she pitched her idea to investors and judges and built exposure for Enplug. A year later, Enplug just announced that it raised a $2.5 million seed round from top investors.

“With the new funds, we’re able to grow our customer base,” said Liu. “Our clients that we focused on at the beginning were restaurants, bars, and cafes, but with the new funds, we’ve been able to hire more people to support clients that include gyms, hotels, retail stores, office buildings and event spaces.”

Enplug will also use the funding to further expand their customer base into new cities such as San Francisco and New York.

“Our long-term plan is to not just be a top digital signage software solution, but to be the leader in building digital technologies for the physical world,” said Liu. “We want to be the go-to tool for all brick-and-mortar stores to improve their customer experience and sales.”

For a bit more background on Liu, who graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2012, check out some of the stuff she did as a student: In college, she built a text-based 911 system for the university police department and developed a chemical polymer for vaccines, founding Nanoly Bioscience. She chronicles her adventures at her blog, where we’ll definitely stay tuned to what this founder is up to. Liu clearly has some amazing ideas up her sleeve!

What companies do you think could benefit from having real-time social media displayed in their businesses?