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From Mobile Games to Connected Cars: Sneak Peek at Gazelle Lab’s First 6 Startups

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Earlier today, new TechStars Network member, the Tampa Bay-based Gazelle Labannounced its first full round of program participants. This 3-month, mentor-driven program based on the TechStars model is one of the first of its kind to emerge in the Tampa Bay region –  a region that’s been pushing to become a new home to technological and entrepreneurial innovation.

This first group includes some unique companies, like a location-based mobile platform for sharing digital media, an app that connects to your car to diagnose those baffling “check engine” messages and an online ordering system for restaurants that puts big company technology into the hands of SMBs, just to name a few. We got a sneak peak at all 6 of the new companies today, and are now eagerly awaiting their launches later this fall.

While a group of 6 is small compared with other accelerator programs’ outputs, for Tampa Bay, it’s a notable number. This under-the-radar geographic region, which was previously home to Wikipedia before its 2007 relocation to California as well as the recently acquired website builder Wufoo, isn’t really on the map of notable “tech hotspots.” But Gazelle Lab is hoping to change that with its new program for early stage startups.

Below are today’s Gazelle Labs’ first participants, all of which are in various stages of development. The startups will launch this fall, when they present to potential investors at Gazelle Labs’ Demo Day event.

AutoIQ

AutoIQ is a combination gadget and HTML5-based mobile application that listens to your car in order to save you money. The company sells an off-the-shelf diagnostic gadget that connects to the onboard diagnostic (OBD) port of your vehicle. There are several different payment options for the service’s users. For $50, you receive the gadget and a year of service. You can also choose to buy your own gadget from a third-party and pay just $3/month for the service, or you can choose to pay $5/month for both the gadget and the service on a subscription basis. The OBD port is a standard port, accessible on all modern vehicles without having to get your hands dirty poking around under the hood. The gadget, which the company calls the “translator,” listens to the car’s computer and then “translates” those mysterious error messages into understandable language. Messages can come to you through push notifications, text messages, emails or via the AutoIQ online service. How bad is that “check engine” message, for example? Do you really need an air filter, as your mechanic says?

In addition, AutoIQ not only makes it easier to understand what your car is trying to tell you, it will also help you find the best prices for servicing your vehicle in town. Repair shops will eventually be able to tap into the data AutoIQ generates and target offers to groups of customers. Pricing for that aspect of the service is still being worked out, however. The service will launch first in Tampa Bay and will then roll out to Southern California, followed by the rest of the U.S.

CityQuest

CityQuest is a new (in-development) mobile application that transforms normal metropolitan landscapes into adventure-filled mini-games that “promote local commerce and vanquish boredom.” While operating in the same general space as Foursquare and Gowalla, the app doesn’t see itself as competing directly with those “check in” based networks. Its goals are slightly different – promote local discovery, encourage users to “get out of the house” and explore their city, visit popular landmarks, discover new businesses and patronize those which are their favorites.

Instead of checkins, the game will utilize “quests” – simple and fun tasks that enable users to earn badges and points and acquire gold. But unlike other apps that employ gamification techniques, CityQuest doesn’t want the rewards users earn to be meaningless. That’s why players can choose to donate gold they earn to local charities, community groups or schools in the form of actual cash. And regular users who acquire “experience points” will actually be able to help shape the game’s future development, suggesting businesses that should be included in future quests, for example. Of course, there may be a “deals” angle, too, where gold could lead to discounts at local stores, but that’s further down the road. The app will initially launch on one mobile platform this fall, and will then be ported to more platforms in the future. CityQuest also tied for first place at Tampa Bay’s Startup Weekend last month.

Dropost.it

Dropost.it, another mobile app that emerged from Tampa Bay’s first Startup Weekend, allows you to “drop” text messages and media in a geographical area for others to receive when they get there. That media can be music, video, photos, games, or any other digital file. The best way to understand Dropost.it is to think of it as sort of “location-based graffiti.” It’s not designed to be a niche experience, but rather a location-based platform for sharing media. There are several possible uses for this sort of technology, ranging from geo-fenced location-based reminders to in-store promotions where the app’s users receive discounts at local businesses. But the most intriguing thing about this app is how it attaches a real-world location to the online, virtual world.

Using Dropost.it, you could see a video of an interesting event that happened at particular spot. Or maybe you discover a simple game to play while waiting in the long line at the bank. Or you arrive at the grocery store, and get a message from your roommate to pick up some milk. Messages posted to Dropost.it can be set to public or private, as desired. It will also integrate with social networks, like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, to enable friend discovery. Dropost.it will be available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone when it launches later this fall.

Leads Direct, Inc.

Leads Direct, LLC is an online lead aggregator and cost-per-lead provider for multiple service-based verticals. That description is being kept fairly high-level because the company’s founders are still at their day jobs. This company is taking a different approach from the other startups in Gazelle Lab in that it isn’t disruptive in terms of the core service being offered, but in the way that the service works. Lead generation is a business that’s been around for some time, and has a sound business model, the founders explain, but the company plans on making some changes to address specific needs in each vertical they target. The company will initially target property management and real estate, where it will provide advertisers with more control over budgets, a better understaning of where ad dollars are being spent and itemized billing – all things its competitors currently lack. In short, Leads Directo will offer a Google AdWords-like toolset for acquiring leads.

Red Hawk Interactive, Inc.

Red Hawk Interactive plans to integrate restaurant listings and menu ordering systems into streaming video services. While it can’t discuss specifics, the company says it’s in talks with a well-known streaming video brand. And it’s currently reaching out to others in the same market. To give you an idea of the clients RedHawk has in mind, streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, or Boxee are the types of targets the company is interested in talking with. RedHawk would provide a way for these service to display links to restaurants via the screen that loads before you start the movie. For example, under the movie’s description, would be a simple option that read something like “Order Food.” Clicking the link would take you to a list of participating restaurants with online ordering systems. The way this interface would look and operate is up to the streaming video provider, as this would be a white label product only.

However, RedHawk’s goal is not to function as an ad platform. That means local restaurants are not buying the links, or paying for a higher position. Instead RedHawk pulls from menu providers’ lists, and filters those by zip code in order to suggest the available restaurants to end users, along with delivery times and delivery areas. The customer would then be walked through a simplified online ordering system. RedHawk isn’t the final product name for the service, which has been in development since April.

Teburu

Teburu (Japanese for “table”) provides a web-based and mobile platform for restaurants to easily manage their online and mobile ordering services. For small to medium-sized restaurants, it’s still a challenge to get the information from the ordering system to the kitchen, says Teburu. Typical third-party systems often forgo expensive point-of-sale (POS) integration and instead phone the restaurant, fax in orders or send orders via email. Teburu makes POS integration a more affordable option, or restaurants can opt for the company’s specially designed HTML5 tablet application which runs on locked-down mobile hardware and software, like a customized version of Android, for example. The app will alert order takers to incoming orders via flashes or beeps. Then staff simply inputs the order in their own system.

The overall goal is to provide SMBs with the same level of control over their menus and online ordering presence as larger companies have. The product will be white-labeled so restaurants can control own branding. A mobile app framework is also in development which would allow restaurants to take orders via a branded mobile application. Teburu already has a large chain testing the service right now, but will open up to others later this year.