Editor’s note: The following report comes from Don Dodge, who blogs at Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing and is a business development executive for Microsoft. TechStars is a startup accelerator program that selects about ten companies and provides funding of $18,000 per team, as well as free office space, operational support, and mentoring from top investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders. TechStars operates annually in Boulder, Colorado and Boston, Massachusetts.
TechStars has now been operating for three years. Three of the original ten companies from 2007 have already been acquired (SocialThing by AOL, Intense Debate by Automattic, and Brightkite by Limbo). In February, we covered the news that TechStars had expanded to Boston. Today, TechStars debuted nine new startups from the inaugural Boston class. The teams presented on Thursday to about 200 VCs and Angel investors for the first time. These companies are about three months old and have two or three founder employees. Don was in attendance today and these are his notes on the startups that presented at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center (MS-NERD)
TempMine is looking to change the temporary staffing market. The company believes that they’ve found a way to make the temps, employers, and agencies happier with a single solution. Temp workers create a profile on TempMine that is automatically updated as placements occur, providing more transparency and traceability to the process. Employers can search directly for temps across the inventory of multiple agencies, finding the right fit. Agencies retain control over placements of their best temps. The temp agency only gets involved after the employer finds the exact temp they want. There is no cost to employers or temps to use TempMine, but they do take a 1% commission from the agencies. It is an $86B industry, so 1% can add up.
LangoLab is the most entertaining way to learn a new language—by watching popular TV shows and videos with subtitles. LangoLab leverages the American media machine that is constantly churning out entertaining content and then provides an engaging “watch and learn” experience complete with translations, definitions, user generated language notes, and self testing. Many people have learned English just by watching TV with subtitles, and this is the online equivalent. English as a second language is the largest market. As an example, Rosetta Stone had $250M in revenue last year, and the total market is around $30B.
Localytics provides mobile usage data and analytics for the mobile market, similar to companies such as Flurry and Medialets. Localytics says that it has both real time and “deeper” analytics than the competitors, allowing you to slice and dice the data in a variety of ways to gain better and more immediate insight into the usage of mobile applications. They also explained that they’ve open sourced critical components so that developers can know exactly what they’re putting into their applications, and that their mobile components are highly optimized for performance. Localytics is cross platform and already supports Blackberry, Android, and iPhone applications, with Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Palm planned for the near future. Localytics uses the Freemium model: free basic service, with paid premium services. They already have 60 customers, adding 10 new customers each week, and they just launched.
AmpIdea is working on web-enabled baby monitoring as a platform for delivery of various services such as video monitoring, sleep tracking and analysis, statistical comparison, music streaming, and even an integrated baby encyclopedia (Baby 411) which suggests techniques to soothe sleeping babies based on age. While they’re at it, they’re using wifi as the delivery mechanism for audio and video monitoring, which eliminates the static and range issues that plagues traditional baby monitors. For new parents money is no issue when it comes to safety and a good night’s sleep. The sleep scheduling monitor keeps a record of when the baby is sleeping and waking up over time. This helps the parents schedule when to put the baby down for naps and night time sleep. AmpIdea sells the monitor hardware and charges for additional services.
HaveMyShift has built a tool that allows hourly shift workers to trade shifts online. The company is using a grassroots approach and encourages employees to sign up and trade shifts with or without the blessing of the company itself. They’re seeing strong viral adoption in the Chicago area market where, for example, 80% of Starbucks stores there already use the application. Many of the listings offer “bonus money” to tempt others who work for the same employer to pick up a shift, and last-minute shift changes can be filled with paid emergency promotional placement. HaveMyShift makes money by taking a percentage of the bonuses offered to other workers to cover a shift. Absenteeism costs US employers more than $200M every day. There are 74M hourly workers in the USA, working 888M shifts. HaveMyShift says that it’s simply facilitating a process that goes on anyway, and making it easier on everyone involved.
oneforty is creating an app store for Twitter applications, open to any developer who wants to build and sell a Twitter app. The company organizes the apps by category, allows for ratings, media coverage, profiles (showing what applications are used by various users), and the necessary e-commerce infrastructure. Oneforty takes a percentage of every sale. Funded by angel investors just 15 days after the start of TechStars, the company is also advised by Guy Kawasaki who says that oneforty founder Laura Fitton (@pistachio) was a major influence on his initial use of Twitter. Laura also taught Twitter for Business at Harvard Business School.
AccelGolf. 30,000 golfers are already using AccelGolf, after just 3 months in beta, for stroke tracking, range-finding, and personalized improvement of their golf games. The company showed off their BlackBerry and iPhone applications and explained that the heart of their system is really the community of avid golfers who are now connecting and building their own social network. AccelGolf offers personalized improvement tips by analyzing strokes of golfers who are just slightly better than you, and presenting areas for improvement based on your past performance. AccelGolf suggests which club to use, and where to place the shot, based on your past performance on a specific course. In one example the company showed the iPhone application calculating odds based on past performance for landing a risky shot over a sand trap on a dog leg left. AccelGolf already has 70% of all golf courses loaded in their system. They use the GPS on your phone to determine your position and calculate distance to the pin.
Baydin uses email, and the words in the email, to create keywords to search for other relevant information. It is similar to Xobni, but goes beyond email data and searches all the files on your hard drive, and document repositories across your corporate network. It automatically launches the search in the background while you are reading the email, and presents the relevant results in a side panel in Outlook. The founder used an example from his first job where he designed a USB circuit board. He didn’t know that five other divisions had already designed similar boards. Baydin would have found references to this and saved him the effort of reinventing the same board. Baydin is an Outlook plug-in so it is easy to draw comparisons to Xobni here, but Baydin seems to be more focused on unlocking hidden corporate knowledge vs.. analyzing email that you’ve already received.
Sensobi bills itself as a personal relationship manager (PRM) and also reminds me a lot of Xobni , but it goes beyond email and looks at phone calls and other activity on your phone contact list. In practice, it’s a BlackBerry address book replacement that shows you the last time you communicated with your contacts, who’s falling off your radar, and who you need to get back to quickly. You can set a reminder for each contact to remind you to connect with them within a specific time interval. It does this by analyzing the email, contacts, text messages, and phone calls on your Blackberry and then presenting your contacts in a relationship-focused view. For any contact you can see the last several communications of any kind with them. The team edition takes this one step further and allows co-workers to share and leverage a unified view of communications with each contact. Sensobi uses the Freemium model, with paid premium services for $50 or $100 per year. Over 6,000 downloads in just 6 weeks, while still in beta.
TechStars plans to bring about a dozen of the 19 companies from Boulder and Boston to San Francisco on September 30th for a “best of” repeat performance. Here is coverage of the San Francisco TechStars event from last year.