With Top Firms On Hand, Israeli-American Accelerator UpWest Labs Debuts Its Second Class

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At Aol’s offices in Palo Alto this evening, UpWest Labs pulled back the curtain on its second batch of startups. While the accelerator is open to companies of all breeds, be they advertising, mobile, or security-focused, its second class is largely consumer-focused and leans heavily towards video.

More than 120 private investors, angels, and firms were on hand for UpWest’s Demo Day Tuesday night, including representatives from Menlo Ventures, General Catalyst, CrunchFund, Accel, Trinity Venture, and Charles River Ventures.

Founded by Gil Ben-Artzy and Shuly Galili, UpWest Labs is a bit different than the traditional Silicon Valley accelerator, focusing exclusively on Israeli entrepreneurs. The accelerator’s mission is to combine the brainpower and R&D prowess of Israel with the market knowledge and capital resources of Silicon Valley.

As part of its three month program, UpWest typically chooses five or six promising Israeli teams and brings them to Palo Alto to live together in one house for the duration of the program — Real World-style. Typically, these companies have launched an alpha or beta in Israel and already have a product in development, as UpWest focuses on providing network and mentoring resources that will help its startups come to market and expose them to American customers and investors.

The accelerator offers $15K for a team of two and $20K for teams of three and above — a smaller capital investment than founders might find elsewhere — because the focus of the program is on helping its startups raise outside capital from Silicon Valley investors.

Galili told us, for example, that each of the five startups in its second batch are raising between $500K and $1.5 million and that several of its teams are close to closing rounds. (More on its first batch here.)

All of the companies are ready to expand to the U.S. and create momentum in Silicon Valley and intend to use funding to do just that. However, the goal of UpWest Labs’, she says, is not just to pull great entrepreneurs out of Israel and plant them in Silicon Valley, it’s to provide them with a bridge.

“Our companies often end up having headquarters in the U.S. with R&D offices in Israel,” the UpWest founder said. “But it’s difficult for these entrepreneurs to build relationships when they’re thousands of miles away, so being here for three months or more gives them a better chance to get Silicon Valley into their DNA early on.”

It’s a great program, and one that we’re seeing countries with strong entrepreneurial ecosystems adopt themselves, like the recently launched Chinese-American accelerator, InnoSpring, for example.

Unlike other accelerators, UpWest’s Demo Day doesn’t take place at the end of the program, so the companies still have two weeks left before they graduate. But the team is already beginning to think about its Fall Program, which will begin at the end of August.

But, without further ado, here are the five startups from UpWest’s second class:

Groovideo is a web and mobile platform for collaborative video creation, which enables a group of friends to create videos together, without the need to meet in person or manually edit the video. With Groovideo, each participant records their own part, at their own leisure. The recordings are then sent to Groovideo where they are automatically edited and mashed into a stunning looking group video.

PlayerDuel is a platform that transforms any single-player mobile game into “play with friends” game. Most of the mobile games today are built for single-player use even though it has been proven that social games are more attractive for players. The complexities and limitations for developers in making social games are real.

PlayerDuel believes that every game can be social, and every game can allow friends to play together, so it’s created a layer on top of mobile games enabling developers an easy 10 minutes integration. The startup aims to increase the user-retention, virality and revenue of any game on its platform.

Preen.Me aims to transform what is currently an inefficient $60 billion beauty market in the U.S. into a modern marketplace. Women today are overwhelmed by product variety, with little ability to discern which products are right for them. The lack of personalization means that purchases are hit or miss, and many purchases are unused or discarded.

Utilizing social graphs and crowdsourcing, Preen.Me provides personalized product recommendations based on preferences of women with similar profiles. Offering a broad variety of products, from budget to prestige, means that women can pinpoint and compare products at different price points. Preen.me provides everything necessary to make a confident purchase, while creating the fun and engaging experience that buying beauty should be.

Deja.io simplifies the online and mobile video experience. Its unique technology creates channels defined by the emotions they evoke. Deja employs a Pandora-like approach in order to continuously adapt each user’s taste and improve their viewing experience. The idea being that, with Deja, they’ll be able to lean back and enjoy a simple and beautiful TV-like experience, tailor-made to their specific mood.

Deja’s team of creative designers and coders recently brought home a victory at the Google TV Hackathon (after their second week at UpWest) and will be showing more of Deja at Google I/O.

Bites is a mobile platform for user engagement around live TV. The startup wants to turn every live TV event to an interactive, real-time, social experience by adding games, content and other engaging activities. Bites focuses on “DVR proof” events like reality TV, live sporting events and award shows, as those event drive the highest ratings, discussions and break frequency. It’s not yet ready for public consumption, but will be opening its doors soon.

UpWest Labs at home here.