The annual TechStars Boston investor presentations tonight were a hot ticket: I'm told some people were turned away at the door for fear of violating the fire code, and Boston's digerati filled the 10th and 11th floors of Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center.
TechStars aims to help teams of entrepreneurs build a working product in three months, with as much as $18,000 in seed funding and mentorship from local investors and entrepreneurs.
All ten companies tonight were building Web-based businesses, ranging from online survey tools to social networking apps to customizable Internet radio stations. Two of the start-ups, Sparkcloud and Marginize, had received some sort of funding even before presenting to the audience tonight (Sparkcloud from Avid Technology founder Bill Warner, who helped bring the TechStars program to Boston in 2009, and Marginize from angel investors Joe Caruso, Jean Hammond, and others.)
During the course of the evening, HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah tweeted me to let me know that he'd also decided to invest in Marginize — and the way he chose to let the company's founder know that was by using Marginize, a browser add-on that lets you annotate Web pages and see what comments others have added. "How very meta," wrote Shah. (That's founder Ziad Sultan, a former analyst at Longworth Venture Partners, at right.)
In the audience were folks like Rob Go and Lee Hower, who are working together on a new early-stage investing firm...NeoCarta Ventures managing director Jarrett Collins...Jim Savage of Longworth Venture Partners... Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital...Betahouse co-founder Jon Pierce, who also organized this week's first-ever Angel Boot Camp...Oneforty founder Laura Fitton, part of the 2009 TechStars Boston class...Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki...Google Ventures managing partner Rich Miner...Viximo CTO Sean Lindsay...ex-Microsoftie Reed Sturtevant...FastIgnite's Sim Simeonov...North Bridge's Dayna Grayson...Elliot Katzman from Commonwealth Capital Ventures...Steve Kane, Gamesville founder, angel investor, and master of the Twitter koan...Harmonix co-founder Eran Egozy...and Rich Levandov of Avalon Capital Ventures.
Katie Rae, formerly of Microsoft, mentioned that she'll be teaching a course with Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT this fall, along with the aforementioned Sturtevant. And Janet Kraus, founder of Spire and Circles, is joining the faculty of Harvard Business School this fall to teach entrepreneurship. (Rae is at left, Kraus at right.)
Richard Dale of Sigma Partners, who writes the blog Venture Cyclist, with Izhar Armony of Charles River Ventures.
Google developer relations exec Don Dodge, who maintains the blog "The Next Big Thing," with Gus Weber of Microsoft NERD and John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures.
CommonAngels managing director James Geshwiler, who observed that I am one of his Foursquare friends, before correcting himself: "Or maybe you are just one of my square friends."
I was somewhat alarmed to learn that Ron Schmelzer, an MIT alum and one of the early Internet entrepreneurs in Boston, has (A) moved to Baltimore, where his wife is teaching at Johns Hopkins, and (B) started a baseball cap company called Zoptopz.
Shawn Broderick oversees the TechStars Boston program. He had a great sticker on his Macbook Air: "Those who say it can't be done shouldn't interrupt the people doing it."
OK, on to a few random awards for the entrepreneurs who presented, each of whom was impressive in his or her own way... (As with TechStars 2009, there was just one female CEO in the bunch, Francesca Moyse of Monkey Analytics.)
Most persuasive: Leon Noel of Social Sci, a site that intends to help scientific researchers conduct online surveys efficiently, dangling incentives (a free iPod Touch!) to entice participants. Noel presented first, and by the time he was done, it was easy to imagine every university in America buying a subscription to the service.
The Jerry Lewis Telethon Award: Marginize founder Ziad Sultan, for casually mentioning that he'd already raised $250,000 for the start-up, and just needed $100,000 more to complete his planned $350,000 seed round. (It worked, at least partially.)
Best Acronym Deployed: Appswell founder Daniel Sullivan, building a service that will help companies crowdsource ideas from their customers, talked about "HIPPOS." At big companies, HIPPOS make most of the decisions. Appswell wants to put that power in the hands of the customer. What's a HIPPO? The highest-paid person with an opinion. Love it.
Best Logo: Usermojo, trying to capture the emotions that users feel when they visit Web sites (like confusion) to help site designers improve the status quo. The colorful logo elegantly captures the concept that this is a product about both design and emotion.
Best Multimedia Demo: Brandon Casci of Loudcaster, an Internet broadcasting start-up that lets (paying) users launch their own radio stations. Casci showed some fun examples of how beta testers have been using it to create stations like "Infinite Accordion," a station that plays all accordion music, all the time.
Can't Wait to Use It Award: Jeremy Levine of StarStreet Sports, creating a stock market for trading shares of athletes and sports teams. Levine says it'll be legal for players to trade with real money, though for the World Cup soccer tourney, they're still using play dough. Every sports fan I know will invest at least $100, with StarStreet planning to take 2 percent from the sell side of every transaction. (That's Levine at right, pitching his "Big Vision.")
Appswell founder Sullivan mentioned to me that all of the TechStars Boston start-ups have found office space for the summer in Boston, to "keep the band together," as he put it. Most will wind up at the Cambridge Innovation Center's co-working space (thanks to a sponsorship from Microsoft that will pay the rent); a couple will shack up at Dog Patch Labs Cambridge; and one will share space in Somerville with Viximo. That's good news...and I'll be curious to hear whether some more fundings happen after tonight.
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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December 9: Web Innovators Group
Demos of new mobile apps and web ventures at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. Free admission; cash bar.
December 10: Fintech Demo Day
Short demos from startups in the financial technology realm.
December 11: Unpitch
Entrepreneurs and investors sit down for lunch, advice, and feedback. Entrepreneurs must apply to participate.