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The Curious Vaporization Of Jesta Labs, A $15 Million Startup Incubator

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Here’s a puzzler. Back in September 2011, less than 6 months ago, Jesta Digital loudly committed $15 million to establish Jesta Labs, a New York-based mobile services startup incubator. Fast forward to today, and the incubator has vanished from the face of the planet. Their website has been taken down, and we hear pretty much everyone who had anything to do with Jesta Labs has moved on.

For the record, I’m not the only one who caught on to the incubator’s curious disappearance – see Ben Yoskovitz’s report (Next Montreal). Here’s the full account of what we’ve pieced together.

Jesta Digital, which owns notorious mobile ringtones, games and apps provider Jamba / Jamster, used to be Fox Mobile Group when it was still part of News Corp (which acquired Jamba back in 2006 and combined it with its Fox Mobile Entertainment assets). Jesta Group took the division off News Corp’s hands for an undisclosed sum in late 2010. Still with me?

Jesta Digital also operates Bitbop, an interesting wireless subscription service for TV and movies delivered on-demand to smartphone, in case that brand is more familiar to you.

Update: PaidContent recently reported that the future of Bitbop is also uncertain.

Anyway. When the company launched Jesta Labs, they said it would become “an independent business unit dedicated to the entrepreneurial development and growth of new direct-to-consumer products for the web, mobile and social spaces”. From the release, which was widely picked up:

Jesta Labs will introduce several new digital and mobile products to the consumer market this year and plans to open funding to other entrepreneurs worldwide next year. Jesta Labs will focus its creative efforts and technical know-how on identifying capital efficient digital business models that will benefit from the company’s experienced full-time staff of developers, product managers, and marketing professionals.

Sounded good, and the first startup to come out of Jesta Labs was actually rather nice: Gush let people store an infinite amount of photos on a ‘hard disk in the cloud’. I used Gush, and liked it.

But, 5 months after its debut, Jesta Labs is no more. A source familiar with the situation asserts that the division is going to kill every product that was being developed under its wings (3 according to Next Montreal’s report), and that Jesta Digital simply “lost interest in the whole incubator thing”.

My source tells me there’s no one left working on Gush anymore, though the service is still live, and that Jesta’s NYC offices are now basically empty. Most of the people that were working on Gush have moved on to mobile payments company ISIS, I gather.

Judging by his LinkedIn profile, former Jesta Labs managing director Joe Bilman has also moved on from the incubator – he’s now CEO of gogofire, which has a mission statement that sounds suspiciously similar to that of Jesta Labs.

And thus, quietly, a $15 million incubator vanishes less than half a year after its debut, almost without a trace. If there’s anyone reading this that knows more about this, and would like to share it – on or off the record – it would be great if you could let us know what happened.