TechCrunch’s top 10 picks from Techstars’ May virtual demo days

A month after TechCrunch watched, discussed and parsed the startups from Techstars’ April batch of virtual demo days, we’re back with the handy May edition.

Over the past few days, TechCrunch has been catching up by watching the shared video pitches from the five presenting demo classes, including the Lisbon demo day, its Seattle batch, the Los Angeles-based music-focused group, the Air Force-sponsored accelerator and the Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator Powered by Techstars.

We’ve also included links to the pitch pages themselves, so you can take a peek and vet the new companies for yourself. The categories are:

  • Social impact
  • Lisbon
  • Seattle
  • Music
  • Air Force

As before, we’re narrowing from a half dozen to around 10 companies in each group; what follows is our completely unscientific opinion.

Social impact

“If you’re going to make a diverse world a better place, it starts with diverse innovators,” said Barry Givens, the managing director of the Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator powered by Techstars, as he kicked off the new accelerator’s first demo day.

Launched in January 2020, the three-month-long program included a company creating supply chain management and distribution services for biomass-to-energy and waste-to-energy businesses; a company trying to create a better process for hiring diverse employees; and a virtual reality company giving kids access to exclusive content and tools to develop their own VR experiences. All of the companies had built interesting, early businesses, but our favorites were those providing college students with access and listings of available resources and a company that’s created an app for teaching math through music:

  • BestFit: College is a stressful time for anyone, but especially for students who don’t have the resources that their wealthier peers may have. Imagine having to worry about how to pay for books, housing, food and healthcare on top of worrying about the day-to-day curriculum concerns. That’s the issue that BestFit hopes to solve. According to co-founder Asha Owens, billions of dollars in potential student aid is left unused every year. BestFit wants to give students tools to access the resources they’re entitled to. It’s a step that could help more people realize that college is within their reach.
  • Make Music Count: Make Music Count is a new app development company founded by Marcus Blackwell that’s meant to capitalize on the $252 billion edtech market that serves nearly 71 million would-be learners and students globally. Since the pandemic, the company, which initially targeted schools, is using a freemium subscription model that sells for $5.99 per month or $49.99 per year, and Blackwell says it works. Users have increased math scores by 28%, and that success has also brought attendant benefits in classroom changes, according to company data. Celebrity endorsements from star athletes have also boosted growth: Chris Paul and Jidenna have each promoted the app, and the company has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to get access to five million students nationwide. For investors doing the math, that’s a big market.


Techstars’ Lisbon accelerator is a partnership with Semapa Next, the venture capital subsidiary of publicly traded Portuguese conglomerate Semapa. The accelerator itself is focused on digital transformation — the process of bringing lagging industries into the software age — for a number of different verticals.

This is the accelerator’s second class and it’s an incredibly strong batch, with pitches ranging from the rental marketplace for businesses and individuals, Rnters; the quality control software developer, QSee; and the administrative assistant software as a service developer (which pivoted from being a group-travel service), Left.

But in the end, these were our picks:

  • Apres: The constant knock against artificial intelligence or machine learning programs is that they’re a black box where data comes in, answers come out and there’s no real window into what went into the software’s decision-making process. The startup’s pitch is to companies that find themselves under new regulations that require an auditable trail of the steps that went into creating their machine learning tools. If the technology works as well as its founders claim, it could give any company a second set of eyes that reviews their data sets and models to ensure that they’re not setting up conditions for unintended (bad) consequences. Any AI company would do well to remember Tay.
  • EMOTAI: If you’ve ever watched an F1 race, you’ve seen the team bosses sitting on the pit wall and staring at monitors full of squiggly lines. Yes, you think while watching them on your TV, I bet those make sense to someone. Well, now you can generate your own performance squiggles at home with EMOTAI, a combination hardware and software startup. Video game fans (or esports pros) can wear EMOTAI’s headband, which tracks their “brainwaves and heart rate” the startup claims, helping you find the parts of your gameplay that are throwing you off. Nerdy? Yes. Awesome? Just maybe.


The Seattle outpost of Techstars launched back in 2010 and has attracted press throughout its life, including this interesting Seattle Times piece on the program’s improving diversity metrics. Because Seattle has grown into being the unofficial cloud hub of the world with both AWS (Amazon) and Azure (Microsoft) based either in the city or right next door, the expectation is for companies to lean to enterprise software and deep tech.

But the pitches from Seattle ranged a bit more widely, including MD Ally’s service to route non-emergency 911 calls to telemedicine providers and ShotCall’s Cameo for gamers. Ultimately, though, it was a fintech company and a coffee-supply-chain startup that carried the day:

  • Spyn Pay: Steve Strauch, former head of the R&D labs at Capital One, knows fintech. He also knows that Americans are trapped under more than $1 trillion in credit card debt and that credit cards have really great perks. “Those perks are packaged in a dangerous product, designed to hurt the people who use them,” says Strauch. Spyn monitors bank accounts and analyzes data to predict cash flow, helps manage income and bill pays and projects how much to spend against goals. The company autopays customers’ credit card bills every day. “Spyn makes it easy to spend responsibly,” says Strauch. Applications cost $1. “Credit is a $160 billion industry that preys on its customers,” says Strauch. “Our families and our kids deserve better. It’s time to disrupt credit.”
  • Yave: Coffee is good, but the economic process by which coffee beans are grown, sold, shipped and the like is far from equitable. Indeed, the economic benefit of the coffee trade often ends up in countries that didn’t actually do the work to grow the beans. That’s where Yave wants to make a difference. The company wants to use blockchain (stay with me) to provide “democratization and transparency for all coffee growers.” That’s a big, lofty goal, and one that will require lots of buy-in and more. But if Yave can help improve the coffee supply chain from growing to processing to exporting to the retail world, it could move money back into the hands of growers in countries that suffer from far-smaller per-capita GDPs than we do at home.


Techstars’ music-focused accelerator is a little younger than its Seattle effort, having been born in 2016, but the project is no less timely. As Seattle has grown as the epicenter of global cloud tech, music has increasingly become a technology-first enterprise. The days of music having a huge physical footprint are largely behind us; the future of music distribution is digital. And even more recently, we’ve seen the music world adapt to stay-at-home orders by putting on more virtual, and distributed shows. So we were pretty excited to see what this batch of startups had on offer. While the cohort included businesses as eclectic as ULO, a company providing pop-up experiences for music and brand tie-ins, and Audigo Labs, which developed a nifty device and software combo for recording sound and video, our two favorites were some hardcore software affairs:

  • Splashmob: Taking advantage of the industry’s move to virtual events and digital distribution, splashmob is offering artists and production designers new tools to make second screen experiences more engaging. Instead of simply live-streaming a show, artists and production teams can curate and create digital effects and integrate fan experiences into their streaming distribution. It’s a neat add-on that creates opportunities for merchandising sales, interactivity and new effects during the stream of a live performance. And everyone who’s ever been in any kind of band (that’s not a multi-platinum selling one) knows that the real money’s in the merch and the concert experience.
  • Delta AI: By now it’s common knowledge that TikTok is a critical pathway for musicians to go from obscure to viral. Social video isn’t new (we all remember Vine) but TikTok has made it once again a hot part of the digital world. So, brands and other companies are going to want to know what’s happening on those platforms when it comes to their IP in all its forms. Delta AI wants to provide analytics for those companies as they try to understand the new social and musical landscape. Aside from being able to spot products and other bits of intellectual property, Delta can track users’ movement in dance, so that brands and musical acts can see what’s taking off and where. That’s cool.

Air Force

Techstars and the U.S. Air Force have worked together since a partnership kicked off in 2018, graduating new classes (here’s 2019’s for reference) on a regular basis. According to marketing materials, the tie-up “focuses on the next generation of technologies for any and all uses of interest to the U.S. Air Force.” In practice, that appears to mean lots of drone startups, building tech and the like. It’s an interesting mix of companies. But like with every batch, we had to pick some favorites from the group. Here are our top two:

  • Mesodyne: Everyone needs power, especially people in remote locations or places not connected to the grid. Nobody knows this more than the military. That’s why they selected Mesodyne for their accelerator. Based on technology developed at MIT, Mesodyne converts fuel to electricity using light. Specifically, a small micro-combuster burns small fuel to heat a crystal to incandescence and then the light is converted to electricity using a solar cell. The company’s high-energy density brings power to the meso-scale. It has a multi-fuel burner that’s compatible with commercial and military fuels — so there’s no special infrastructure. It can be used for under 100 watts to 2 kilowatts. The prototype is designed to attach to drones to boost flight and generators can be stored in the pod and consumes only 100 milliliters to generate 150 watts continuously.
  • Vermeer: If you’ve seen really any piece of cinematography — from commercials to blockbuster videos — in the last the few years, you’ve seen drone footage. But as startup Vermeer notes, it’s hard to explain a drone shot to someone who isn’t with you. Their technology fixes the issue. Using a phone, users can virtually fly a drone over a cityscape, allowing drone operators to upload the path to their equipment and get the same shot. Videos of its tech in action were incredibly neat. Drones are only going to become more common, and more important. Vermeer has some cool tech in a growing space. The perfect location for a startup.