Tampa’s New TechStars Network Incubator, Gazelle Lab, Launches 6 Companies

It’s Demo Day for Gazelle Lab, the new Tampa Bay-based TechStars Network member, which is seeing its first class of startups launch this morning in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The accelerator, based on the successful TechStars model, was founded in early 2011 with three goals: build an entrepreneurship community in the Tampa Bay area, create a seed stage pipeline (something notoriously lacking in Florida today) and create more jobs.

Despite its struggle to register as a tech hotspot, there’s actually a fairly sizable tech community in the Tampa Bay region – it just doesn’t always involve early stage startups like the ones you would see featured on sites like TechCrunch. Developers here often seem content to work at larger firms, like in banking, healthcare, and of course, given MacDill’s presence, for the military.

With Gazelle Lab, that may soon start to change.

The Lab was founded by Brent Britton, Bill Jackson, John Morrow, Marvin Scaff and Daniel James Scott, all of whom bring considerable knowledge and experience to the startups who participate in this 3-month program. Britton has been helping companies for more than 20 years in Boston, San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, New York, and Florida. Bill Jackson is a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Director of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship & Innovation Alliance at USF St. Petersburg’s College of Business. John Morrow is the Entrepreneur-In-Residence with the Sustainable Entrepreneurship & Innovation Alliance at USF. The experienced software entrepreneur and technology innovator Marvin Scaff and entrepreneur and author Daniel James Scott round out the group.

Ideally, the startups that launch here will remain here, bringing much-needed jobs to the Tampa Bay area. That may prove to be a challenge – after all, as many VC’s will still tell you that your startup’s location still matters. A lot. But in reality, kick-ass companies can be built anywhere, so it may as well be Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay: where the housing is affordable, the white sand beaches can be enjoyed year-round and where others’ tourist attractions are just our weekend activities. (Yes, Tampa resident here. I like it, too).

Tampa Bay has another benefit which Gazelle Lab happily taps into: the University of South Florida. The accelerator is a part of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship & Innovation Alliance at USF St. Petersburg’s College of Business, which means it’s in a unique position to leverage the expertise of the student and faculty’s expertise. As a part of the Gazelle Lab program, the startups are asked tough questions by USF entrepreneurship majors who help the companies with their due diligence.

And, as a TechStars Network member, Gazelle Lab has access to other TechStar resources, including mentorship and hosting deals and discounts. It also offers the usual benefits of an incubator, like free office space, local mentors, legal assistance and, of course, seed stage funding. Each of the companies gets up to $18,000 ($6,000 per founder) in exchange for Gazelle’s 6% stake. The group is now looking to raise a $3 million dollar fund which will keep the program going for another five years.

Based on this first round of startups (below), that investment may be worth it.

And now, the new launches:

AutoIQ.co is built around solving very common points of pain for drivers like, “what does my check engine light mean?” and “who do I trust to get it fixed?” The service combines automotive diagnostics, mobile technologies and data analytics to create a “health record” for cars. Drivers use an easy-to-install hardware device ($29.99) to get access to engine diagnostics while an accompanying mobile app provides additional service record scanning, plus trusted referrals from your social networks and AutoIQ’s network. Consumers dump their service record receipts in a pre-paid envelope, which AutoIQ digitizes and inputs in the app. The apps and service record scanning are free, but when a provider match is found, they pay a modest messaging fee to contact the consumer in need. Started in August, AutoIQ’s Android app and service are in private testing now. More mobile platforms and broader beta testing is scheduled later this fall. Although there are many competitors (CarMD, AuotMD, etc.), AutoIQ sees them as potential partners for programmatic access to the historical car “health” data it collects from customers.

Dropost.it wants to change the way you share gifts by allowing users to drop gifts for friends at a given location. These gifts are somewhat like virtual gift cards that show up when you visit a particular venue. The service uses the geolocation capabilities in modern smartphones to know when you’ve arrived, and will then ping you about the money your friend left for you. For example, you show up for dinner at a favorite restaurant and get a message that says, “happy anniversary, this meal is on us…love mom and dad.” This message can be written out or recorded as a video. The service works on top of PayPal for now, but plans for mobile wallet integration are on the company’s roadmap. The potentially interesting part to Dropost.it’s offering is how it recommends which gifts you should buy. The service accesses social networking data from Facebook and soon, Foursquare and Twitter, to make suggestions as to the venues and merchants your friends favorite.

Kngroo wants to help you discover your city by way of an urban scavenger hunt application that uses game mechanics. Players receive trophies and gold, redeemable for deals and gifts, for their interactions with locally owned and operated businesses. In addition to being a fun game, Kngroo is also a powerful marketing platform for local businesses. Merchants can sign up for a premium account to access the demographic data Kngroo collects on their customers and can customize the experience of their location using the company’s “Tools For Engagement.” While not entirely novel, the new app presents an interesting mix of local discovery (e.g., Foursquare Radar, Gowalla) with check-in deals and scavenger hunts (SCVNGR, Shopkick, etc.).

Teburu is a complete online platform for small-to-medium sized restaurants that allows them to better serve and connect with their online and mobile customers. Customers can order from any of the restaurants’ locations over the Web or from their smartphone, as well as place reservations, receive coupons and newsletters and more. Restaurants using the service can then increase revenues (in testing, Teburu saw increases of 25%) by making pickup and delivery orders easier and more accurate. All this is run through inexpensive Android-based tablets or through the restaurants’ existing POS, if the restaurant desires. The tablet can either print out a ticket or can be used alongside the POS system for manual entry. The system is currently in a closed, live beta with five chains and is raising capital for expansion and scale. Although other solutions exist for facilitating the online/mobile ordering process, they are typically expensive or are managed by third-parties who handle orders by sending them to the restaurant’s fax or email.

Red Hawk Interactive Inc. has created an e-commerce, white-label platform that allows content creators (home fitness, education, college sports, independent Web series, kids content and more) who normally distribute content over DVD to make it available through streaming media platforms via a subscription service. Content creators can upload their video to one platform (Red Hawk) for distribution to other devices like Boxee, Roku and Apple TV. By creating these micro-channels, Red Hawk Interactive Inc., wants to enable companies to monetize their content while also giving consumers instant access to the content across a wide array of mobile, tablet and other devices. The company is currently working with sports training video producers and creators of other unique content to secure distribution rights.

PropertyManagementdirect.com is a new service offered by Leads Direct Inc, a pay-for-performance Internet lead provider for niche service-based verticals. PropertyManagementDirect.com connects property owners with property managers in a new way, simplifying the entire process. Property owners use the site to learn about property management, learn how to hire a property manager, interact with other property owners, get advice and find the right property management company for their needs. Property management companies receive high quality leads and only pay for the leads they receive. PropertyManagementDirect.com will launch December 1st 2011, with a soft launch November 15th. The formula will then be replicated across other verticals.