About a year ago, Stanford University students Dan Ha and Cameron Teitelman co-founded SSE Labs, a startup accelerator designed to assist aspiring entrepreneurs at the university develop their businesses and provide them with the space and educational resources they need to grow a successful business. At the time, the Stanford student government (which operates independently of the university) had just disbanded SSE Ventures, a student-run venture capital fund that invested directly in student-led start-ups. In turns out that this was just the catalyst the founders were looking for. Teitelman turned SSE Ventures into SSE Labs, refocusing the program on the acceleration of its local entrepreneurial talent through experiential education, rather than providing investment and equity. Ha then joined Teitelman at the helm and has run the program since its summer launch.
“At the creation of the program, we interviewed 220 Stanford founders to gauge what, if anything, was missing from Stanford entrepreneurial community”, SSE Labs co-founder Cameron Teitelman said. “For the most part, students agreed that there was little in the way of direct support, through resources, advisors, and other educational opportunities for entrepreneurs trying to launch their companies”.
So, to address this issue, SSE Labs forged a partnership with Aol to offer startups office space in Palo Alto and began recruiting a group of mentors and advisors who could share their startup experience with the student entrepreneurs. In turn, SSE Labs offered customized education through workshops and office hours on topics ranging from UI/UX design to marketing and employment issues, as well as free web hosting via Amazon, and legal services from the local arm of law firm Dorsey & Whitney.
SSE Labs has also made its office space available to Stanford alumni companies, working out a mutually beneficial deal that meant, instead of paying rent, the alumni would become entrepreneurs-in-residence and in-house mentors to the student startups. Ha said that Labs is already playing home to several Y Combinator graduates as well as Disrupt finalist, Lark.
Similar to its well-known peers Y Combinator and 500 Startups, SSE Labs consists of a three-month-long mentoring program, consisting of three sessions — one in the fall, spring, and summer. At the end of each session, the accelerator holds a demo day, in which companies present their businesses to a group of potential investors. (Labs will be hosting its latest demo day on June 1.) Of course, unlike its fellow accelerators, Labs is a non-profit, educational initiative focused on the university’s entrepreneurially-inclined — and it does not take equity in its startups. Though, of course, if you want to participate, your whole team doesn’t have to be at Stanford; the program simply requires one founder to be enrolled in the university within the last 3 quarters.
Stanford has seen many successful entrepreneurs pass through its doors; thanks in part to its proximity to Silicon Valley and the abundant proximate financial and educational resources, the university has long cultivated an entrepreneurial (and innovative) spirit. As an example of the level of interest in entrepreneurship, Ha tells me that, in the year since Labs’ founding, 300 companies have applied to the program.
With so much student interest in the program, Labs has been able to build an impressive bullpen of advisors, partners, and mentors that would make any young entrepreneur eager to gain entry into the program. In fact, about a month-and-a-half ago, Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and successful venture capitalist (and a Stanford graduate himself), signed onto the program as a sponsor and advisor.
And today, the list of advisors and mentors has been rounded out to include the likes of Greylock Partner and former Mozilla CEO John Lilly, Charles River Ventures Parnter and Twitter early investor, George Zachary, August Capital Partner Howard Hartenbaum, Google Developer Advocate and veteran of Microsoft, AltaVista, and Napster, Don Dodge, and more. You can find the full list here.
“It’s been great to be involved with SSE Labs so far; they’re off to a fantastic start in terms of finding and supporting awesome entrepreneurs associated with Stanford”, John Lilly said. “It’s a great combination of community, mentorship and support, and I’m really excited to see them turn SSE Labs into a long-lasting, high-impact Stanford & Silicon Valley institution”.
SSE Labs has already graduated 24 companies, ranging from cleantech and biotech, to consumer web and enterprise. Of those graduates, at least 6 have raised seed capital, including educational game creator Motion Math, which took part in last year’s summer session. (You can read our coverage Motion Math last month here.) Another 5 Labs startups are in the midst of raising funding, including Game Closure, which we wrote about in February and Qwhispr. What’s more, George Zachary said that he has already invested in 2 SSE Labs startups and is working on closing a third deal. So, the money is flowing into the accelerator, and startups are more than eager to take advantage.
And, for the first time, SSE Labs is giving TechCrunch a sneak peek at its latest batch of startups. Below are 8 of the 10 startups from Labs’ spring program. (The last two aren’t quite ready for public viewing yet.) You can check these companies out live on stage at SSE’s Demo Day in Palo Alto on June 1st, at which point Ha said that the Stanford accelerator will also be announcing some exciting news of its own. So stay tuned.
Qwhispris a team of Stanford PhDs who are building a new type of social search technology and are closing a large seed round soon. The team has been iterating on its product for the last few months testing it with the closed community of alpha users. Qwhispr is still in the stealth mode.
6dot Innovations has developed the first label-maker that gives users the ability to produce Braille labels independently, in a portable and easy to use package. 6dot has secured its first investor and is planning to find a few more investors to close their first investment round of $500K in the next few weeks. The team plans to release its product first in the U.S., by December 2011, and is hoping for international release to follow shortly after.
WiFiSlam is commercializing indoor positioning and mapping technology. Its technology can run on any smart phone,and has the ability to create indoor maps or location based services, with no initial setup, in any Wi-Fi-enabled building, and claims to be 50-times cheaper than any existing technology on the market.
Clear Ear is a medical device company developing devices that will provide ENT standard of care for the first time in the lower cost and more accessible primary care setting. Clear Ear has developed the patent-pending Clear Ear Kit that will enable nurses to remove earwax in a safer, quicker way for the 35 million Americans and 350 million people affected by ear wax problems worldwide. Clear Ear will be looking for funding after Demo Day.
Game Closure offers the first practical HTML5 gaming platform. Building a game is hard; constructing a multiplayer game is ridiculously difficult. So, Game Closure’s tools remove the pain points from the process of developing, hosting, and maintaining games, enabling authors to focus entirely on the gameplay even when building realtime, multiplayer games.
Juntos Finanzas creates innovative personal finance tools that empower first-generation Latino communities. The startup’s SMS-based products allow people to track their spending using text messages and feel a new sense of control and confidence as they save for things that are personally meaningful to them.
SongSpring offers users a vast and highly available selection of music that they will be able to stream from the cloud. The service will use a consumption based model, in which users are only charged for what they actually listen to. This ultimately lowers the barrier to entry for users to have access to an extensive and personal music collection without actually purchasing it or paying upkeep.
PredictiveEdgeis a SaaS-based e-commerce pricing solution that drives profits for online retailers by helping them set the right prices for their products. The startup aims to bring Amazon’s pricing capabilities to all online retailers.