New Jersey doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a startup hub, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any ambitious tech entrepreneurs there. It could be that they just tend to migrate to more established locales like New York City and Philadelphia.
In an effort to keep that talent within the state, New Jersey angel investor Mario Casabona and partner Travis Kahn organized the TechLaunch startup incubator at Montclair State University. Today, six months and more than 90 submissions later, TechLaunch’s first class of 10 startups took the stage in Montclair to show off the fruits of their labor.
Those 10 concepts really ran the gamut (with some naturally more “out there” than others), but it was a surprisingly strong showing considering how little experience there was behind the event. Even the jovial Casabona seemed a little surprised at just how well everything turned out, but he was pleased enough with the experience that he said he wanted to turn out two more TechLaunch batches next year.
But hey, that’s enough hemming and hawing from me — meet the members of TechLaunch’s inaugural class:
- Flying Kick: Standard paper menus are passé, or at least the team at Flying Kick thinks so. To replace those tattered bits of antiquity, they demoed ZenMenu, a tablet-centric menu experience that caters to smaller restaurants. Their plan? To design an easily tweakable menu for participating restaurants, load them up on 7-inch Android tablets, and rent them out for $10-$15 per tablet per month. Flying Kick believes that the additional monthly cost of paying for electronic menus easily outweighs the cost (not to mention the hassle) of having replacement menus printed up every time a change needs to be made.
- QuickCliqs: There have been plenty of attempts to fix the process of group buying, but QuickCliqs is all about remedying the hassles of group event planning. It plans to do that thanks to its eponymous iOS app (an Android version is on the roadmap) from which users can invite their contacts to form groups for specific events — think a birthday party or a girls’ night out. From there, they can ask questions, vote on answers, and plan the event as a group, all while daily deals from Groupon and the like are pumped in as the event evolves.
- Echolocation: With its 140 character updates, Echolocation’s Echo aims to be a super-local version of Twitter that gets people interacting with others in the community. It’s not just about jumping into conversations in your own neck of the woods, though; users can find locations by country, state, or city/town to see what’s happening in nearby neighborhoods or far-flung hamlets. Echo supplements these brief messages with links and content culled from popular local blogs. The way the Echo team looks at it, users get relevant information, bloggers get to boost their readership, and advertisers get to target highly specific groups of people.
- Pervasive Group: There’s no doubt that smartphone penetration among the younger set will grow in the months and years to come, and Pervasive Group wants MMGuardian to be the way for anxious parents to keep tabs on their kids. The company’s Android app is capable of locating a child’s smartphone, prevent texting while driving, set up time limits for phone use, and even monitor text messages for sassy/sexy language.Oh, and perhaps most importantly, MMGuardian has devised a way from keeping the kid in question from uninstalling the app entirely. MMGuardian’s app is already live in the Google Play Store (with an iOS app on the horizon), and has already picked up some decent traction — it’s been downloaded over 45,000 times and plays host to about 4,600 monthly paying users.
- Nickelbus: Despite having a name reminiscent of perhaps the worst rock band in history, Nickelbus instead aims to make inter-city bus travel easier by letting users scour a sizable database of bus routes from a handful of carriers (think MegaBus, Bolt Bus, and the like). Pickier passengers can also search for a bus’s amenities — after all, they may not want to be stuck on a seven-hour ride without Wi-Fi or power outlets. Oh, and Nickelbus’s biggest draw? The ability to put together long, multi-route bus trips that span multiple bus services. Where was this when I was in college?
- CodeSquare: Instead of the usual, often convoluted process of redeeming rewards, CodeSquare touts a shorter, sweeter method. Users with smartphones can interact with a company or brand by way of a website, a QR code, or a quick NFC-enabled tap on a physical sign or window ad — from there, they’re taken to a simple, mobile-friendly website where they can Like, tweet, share or otherwise do whatever it is the company promising the deal wants them to. Once that’s complete, they’re granted the deal they so deeply desired, and all without the hassle of creating accounts, downloading apps, or checking emails. CodeSquare has been conducting field tests with a local Dunkin’ Donuts, and plans to go bigger… once they lock up some more seed funding.
- Photoflow: Think of Photoflow as part photo-sharing app and part visibility platform for event photographers and venues. Founder Daniel Ackermann (an occasional wedding photographer himself) wanted to create a way for all the attendees of an event to share the photos they take from their iOS devices. He took the idea one step further by opening it up to the events’ DJs, photobooths, and photographers, too. Submissions from those vendors are pushed into the main photostream, but they’re color-coded and also point to the vendor’s profile page in case other users want to purchase prints or hire them for future parties.
- SeamBLiSS: Fashionistas, pay attention. SeamBLiSS is a web-based platform meant to connect consumers to fashion designers willing to craft them some custom threads. Seriously, the extent to which users can fiddle with their clothes is impressive — they can customize color, fabric, style, and even the deadline for the garment. The end result are custom-made clothes that can sometimes end up costing less than off-the-rack equivalents (even with StyleBLiSS’ 8 percent commission charged on top of the designer’s list price). The service launched its beta a few weeks back, and already has 90 active designers and 113 customizable product listings. The only downside? There’s nothing on the site for guys (for now, anyway).
- LivinSport: LivinSport bills itself as the LinkedIn for athletes of all stripes, and will allow them not only to bond over sports but show off the highlights of their athletic careers. The notion of a sports-centric social network is one that more than a few companies have tried batting around, but LivinSport is pegged as less of a way to share commentary on last night’s game as it is a way to boost visibility of younger athletes to potential scouts and recruiters.
- NuSkool: The only edtech startup of the bunch, NuSkool provides teachers and schools with pop-culture infused lesson plans meant to help teach concepts in a way that students can relate to. It’s a bit weird to see lessons like “The Physics of Angry Birds” among those being offered, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. For $9.99/month, individual teachers (NuSkool offers group rates for entire schools and districts, too) can search for carefully vetted class ideas by grade, subject, and genre (think music, TV, video games, etc.).