Startups

Up-And-Coming Accelerator First Growth Venture Networks Introduces Sixteen Cool New Startups

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We here at TechCrunch love startups, and we love the programs, networks, accelerators, and funds that help these startups grow and take over the world. There are a lot of them out there, and for entrepreneurs, it’s all about finding the right fit. First Growth Venture Network, also known as “FGVN” or “First Growth”, may not be as well known as awesome accelerators and incubators like Y Combinator, TechStars, LaunchBox, or DreamIt but the New York City-based startup incubator has a lot to recommend it. Especially for very early-stage startups that haven’t raised any outside funding.

For starters, application to the venture network is free and, if the startup is accepted, there’s no enrollment fee. What’s more, the accelerator doesn’t take equity, your company doesn’t have to be located in NYC, nor is it required to have raised funding to be eligible. First Growth is looking for companies that have raised less than $1 million. All applicants need is a business plan, a PowerPoint deck explaining their mission to take over the universe, target market, why they’re disruptive etc.

Like other accelerators, First Growth offers its participating startups the opportunity to participate in classes, which focusing teaching founders the important business and product strategies they’ll need to take their ideas from seed to market. These classes and sessions are led by industry experts, VCs, angels, and other entrepreneurs, and are supplemented by networking events, meetings with advisors, and so on.

The list of advisors includes VCs and entrepreneurs like Joshua Abram, Partner, Coriolis Ventures, Co-Founder Media6Degrees & AdSafe, CFO of Yext Alok Bhushan, Kleiner Perkins Partner Eric Feng, Accel Partner Sameer Gandhi, North Bridge Ventures Principal Dayna Grayson, Spark Capital Principal Mo Koyfman, Michael Lazerow, Chairman and CEO, Buddy Media, and College Humor Media CEO Paul Greenberg.

Today, First Growth is announcing its Fall 2011 lineup and the fourth “vintage” of its startup accelerator program, which will include sixteen young companies looking to go pro. In its inaugural batch of fifteen companies back in 2009, ten of the startups were able to attract funding by the time of their “graduation”, along with one acquisition. In its second vintage, seven of the ten startups had received funding by graduation.

It’s encouraging to see this kind of success rate for an accelerator in the now burgeoning New York tech scene. Especially as First Growth is taking a somewhat unique approach in that it’s not trying to make money off of its startups. As First Growth Founder and Executive Committee Chair Ed Zimmerman told us, the accelerator is “exciting in its un-cola approach: We don’t take equity, it’s free for the companies, and there’s no demo day. Instead, it’s simply about building a community of companies and advisors that lead to long-term success”.

Furthermore, Zimmerman said that roughly 70 percent of the network’s startups have gone on to get funding, and the under-the-radar accelerator has already hatched startups like Birchbox and FanBridge that have attracted some high-profile investors and a few big numbers to boot. Not bad at all.

So, without further ado, here is an introduction to First Growth’s newest batch of startups:

105 Looks is video-centric website for makeup. Founders and Caroline Marcus Dahllof use video to show women how to increase their style points and what products to use to do so. The goal is the offer a superior alternative to traditional ways of learning about makeup products and how to use them. 105 Looks’ weekly “Trend Guide” covers the latest trends and provides inspiration for trying new looks, along with videos that show how to make them come alive.

72Lux is a personalized destination site that allows users to shop multiple high-end retailers from a single location, with a single checkout. It also licenses this universal checkout to provide enterprise publishers with a turnkey ecommerce solution and new revenue stream.

Frustrated by an experience looking for a specific dress online and with the technical knowledge that a better, more luxurious experience was possible, founder Heather Fitzpatrick resigned from her job to found 72Lux Inc. in 2009. The 72Lux team also includes Jason Cain and Michelle Montgomery.

Adaptly is an easy way to advertise across the social web. The company allows businesses to create ads and deploy them across multiple social ad platforms instantly. Until now, every social network had its own distinct set of data, ad formats and advertising platforms, so advertisers and media buyers had to broker individual deals with each network.

Adaptly opens up these walled gardens, providing one simplified social media ad buy to reach the 1.5 billion people on social networks, monitors data in real time, and delivers actionable insight. In April 2011, the company, founded by Nikhil Sethi andGarrett Ullom, raised a total of $2.7 million in seed and Series A funding from First Round Capital, Charles River Ventures, Kirschenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners, and Lerer Ventures. (You can read our coverage here.)

Artsicle is a web-based art rental service for consumers, small businesses and interior designers. The company curates the best pieces from emerging artists at the top MFA programs. It asks potential customers to fill out short quiz to start discovering the art they’ll love. Then, Artsicle’s curators put together a personal gallery for browsing. Clients can try the art for as little as $25/month and earn credits towards purchase. Artsicle co-founder and CEO Alexis Tryon is the site’s connector guru, finding collectors and artists, while co-founder and CTO Scott Carleton is chief geek.

Binksty is a comprehensive online personal finance tool that helps uses organize and pay their student loans. Binksty launched in private beta in October 2011 and now manages nearly $1 million in student loans. In 2009, Binksty’s founder Brendon McQueen graduated from Columbia University with 12 loans and over $100,000 in debt. He realized how frustrating organizing his student loans was and began to envision a real world tool for people who are fed up with wasting time, energy and money. (Read TC’s coverage of Binksty here.)

irrive is a social travel application that consolidates the past and future plans and destination recommendations of a members social graph into one clean, actionable UX. Irrive was founded by Steven Cohn.

Jagimo/Woern is a mobile social network that plays like a game. Users can share ideas and photos in a realtime, spontaneous, game-like environment with people from around the world. Toss a jagimo, and random people catch it and add their own ideas and photos. Once you catch a jagimo, you then have five minutes to retoss. The name Jagimo! is a play on the Japanese word for potato, “Jagaimo”, and thus an allusion to the early “Hot Potato” idea. The company is overseen by President and iOS developer, Erich Wood.

Keaton Row is an online platform that leverages technology to bring the traditional stylist-client relationship to the masses, while creating a far-reaching and quality distribution channel for brands. It is launching with a focus on the professional women’s wear market, offering a personalized selection of work wear, pieces and outfits delivered virtually by a Keaton Row stylist. Co-founder and President Cheryl Han was formerly head of the online division for Clarins, where she was responsible for Sales, Marketing and Online Business Development.

OpenFin is a secure, cross-device app platform designed exclusively for the financial community. The platform makes it easy for financial providers to deliver apps to users on tablets, smartphones and desktop. The company was co-founded by CEO Mazy Dar and President & COO, Chuck Doerr.

StyleOwner is making it super easy and fun for anyone to create an online store and personalize it for their social network by curating from an amazing catalogue of more than 2,000 fashion brands. “STYLEpreneurs” provide friends with customized recommendations and make a 10 percent commission on every sale. The company seeks to make the web shopping experience more personal. Founder and CEO Joel Weingarten realized that by combining the best marketing tool (a recommendation from a family member or friend) with the power of social media, StyleOwner could empower people to become entrepreneurs.

Shopperseeks is a demand-based marketplace for clothing and accessories. By focusing the shopping experience on the customer, Shopperseeks makes online ordering more efficient for shoppers and retailers. Founder Andrea Gouw is an fashion an ecommerce veteran, having worked for companies including May Company and walmart.com. The site is currently in Beta.

Tidal Labs is a platform that identifies the best content from tens-of-thousands of the best online contributors and connects them to publishers or brands. The company powers fashion look-books for Teen Vogue, Zagat and Neutrogena. For Conde Nast, publisher of Teen Vogue, the platform produces ten times the editorial-quality content for 1/5th the cost of a staff editor. The platform was developed by founder Matthew Myers.

TreSensa is building an HTML5-based game development platform that enables developers to author, publish and monetize casual/social games across the Web, mobile devises and connected televisions. The platform will provide support for games across the entire life cycle ofgame development, driving significant efficiencies and increased monetary opportunities for large, mid-sized, small and independent game studios. TreSensa was founded by CEO Rob Grossberg, President Vincent Obermeier and CTO Rakesh Raju.

Tutorspree is a marketplace for local tutoring. The company has tutors across the United States focused on academic subjects ranging from Elementary School Math through Quantum Physics. The company launched in January 2011. Currently there are over 160 tutors signed up in four cities: San Francisco, Washington, New York and Los Angeles. Tutorspree was co-founded by CEO Aaron Harris, Ryan Bedner and Josh Abrams.

Venmo is a mobile payments platform designed to payments between friends simple and fun. Iqram Magdon-Ismail and Andrew Kortina, met as freshman year roommates at The University of Pennsylvania and built Venmo because it was difficult for them to exchange money with each other, and they wanted to improve this experience for everyone.

Yabblr is a platform to unite consumers around products they want to buy to pull deals from brands, the reverse of the prevailing model of marketer pushed deals. Co-founders Jeff Zaresky, John Garbarino and Bryan Migliorisi are levering combined years of experience helping brands develop social media marketing programs to disrupt the current deals model and is creating new efficiencies for both consumers and marketers.

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