For those keeping score, here’s another round that goes to San Francisco. The blindingly beautiful metropolis is sending a dozen finalists to this year’s edition of the competitive SXSWi Accelerator startup competition, which kicks off Monday in Austin, TX. Boston is a decent second, tied with New York (grrr): Each has five finalists. Over 500 applied for 48 finalist spots. But cautious optimism for the home squad: last year Boston startups took home 3 of the 7 awards.
The spoils? A little bit of cash ($4000 per company, plus swag), and a lot of exposure. Judges include reps for top investors like Kleiner Perkins, SV Angel and NEA. Over the first four years of the challenge, startups that competed later raised a total of $500 million in investment, and 10 percent were acquired, according to event producer Chris Valentine.
Let’s take a look at the contenders from 617. They run the gamut from health care to news to travel, but most feature well-grounded go-to-market models with clearly identified business customers. They include alumni from a range of local startup dream factories: MassChallenge, TechStars, Harvard Innovation Lab, Betaspring, and PayPal’s incubator space. In no particular order, then:
Fung Wah may be gone, but the explosion in discount bus travel it sparked is still going strong. Where there were once only one or maybe two buslines on individual intercity routes, there are often now several options. Making a connection? The options multiply headily. Wanderu, an 8-person startup based in the PayPal incubator space downtown, thinks it sees a problem software can solve. They’re building, effectively, the Expedia of rail and bus travel. With a plan to create a comprehensive database of US ground routes, they have deals with northeast bus carriers BoltBus, Concord Coach, DC2NY and C&J, and are finalizing an agreement with Amtrak. They plan an east coast public launch by early summer. A soon-to-close angel round that includes investments from a former Greyhound CEO and the current chairman of Expedia may break $1M, according to CEO and co-founder Polina Raygorodskaya.
Local developer Anna Callahan (Raizlabs, TechStars) has built a smart system for connecting brands with makers of viral videos. For a set price, a company like VistaPrint (a current ZoomTilt client), can get pitched by dozens of filmmakers, the start of a process that ends with a series of viral videos tailored to their message. Callahan says online efforts by Old Spice, BMW, and Degree have blazed the path for edgy, creative video campaigns, and smaller firms are taking notice. Pricing ranges from $20,000 to $250,000. ZoomTilt’s financing so far is from “a small friends and family round.”
TechStars-bred Careport Health is a matchmaker, too. Founder Lissy Hu, while a med student interning at Beth Israel, was shocked by how little support patients got once they left acute care in the hospital. They usually had to go to a so-called “aftercare” facility, but generally had no idea how to choose one. The problem was roughly akin to making a restaurant reservation on another planet – using fax machines. Careport offers a solution to the mess by filtering the options based on what treatment the patient received. Then the patient can browse options based on location, and amenities like visiting hours. MGH is a pilot customer. Hu told me they expected to close a $900K financing round this week.
PAR Works is the furthest along of the bunch on the financing path. They’ve received a $1M seed-round from Arch Street VCs Allied Minds, and are working on an A round, to be led by Allied. They also have the deepest technology of the group: software that can recognize real-world objects in photographs to a high level of accuracy. A pilot project with Turner Construction helps the builder with “quality and progress monitoring” and lets contractors access things like plans and building codes just by taking a snapshot at a construction site. The company has a southern flavor, with core team members in Blacksburg, VA and Nashville, while PAR’s management team works out of Allied’s office downtown.
ShoutAbout, like ZoomTilt, is a kind of professional dating service. Instead of brands and videos, they connect non-profit advocacy organizations with news organizations. Check out the Christian Science Monitor’s dcdecoder.com for an example of how it works: at the end of each article, you’ll see a list of non-profits whose work is related to the piece’s subject. They get an email from ShoutAbout when an article in their area of interest gets published, and can get their message posted with a click of a button. ShoutAbout’s founder works out of the Harvard Innovation Lab; his two partners are in Southern California. They’re currently living off a seed round of $35K hope to raise $500K more from angel investors.