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TechStars Boston 2011: Who Got In

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 24, 2011 10:00 AM

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A dozen start-ups moved into the new TechStars Boston digs in Kendall Square last week — which feel a bit starchy and corporate for a program that aims to churn out radical new businesses. They'll spend the next three months developing products and services that they'll present to a roomful of prospective investors on June 15th. The teams that participate receive an $18,000 stipend, plus free office space and mentorship from local entrepreneur and venture capitalists; in return, TechStars takes a six percent stake in each company.

This is the first year that Katie Rae, a former executive at Microsoft Cambridge and Lycos, has run the program in Boston.

A dozen companies made it into this year's class. (Last year's included ten.) About half are from New England, and two are from outside the U.S. I had a chance to meet with the founders earlier this week, and here's a quick run-down of what they're up to (note that their strategies can change radically over 90 days — as can company names). Only one company, a real estate-related venture, for some reason doesn't want to disclose that they're part of the TechStars program (even though they have a live Web site), so they're not included on this list.

- EverTrue. Developing mobile and tablet-based applications to help colleges and prep schools stay in touch with alums, and help alums find each other. One feature is a location-based alumni directory: what if someone living on the next block in Manhattan was also a graduate of your alma mater, and worked for a company where you'd just booked a job interview? What if you could share photos you'd taken at a Northeastern hockey game with fellow alums? I covered these guys last June, as they were first getting off the ground.

- Ginger.io. A spin-out from the MIT Media Lab that wants to gather data from your cell phone — like how often you place phone calls or whether you stay at home all day — to assess your health. (Going nowhere and talking to no one, for instance, might mean you're knocked flat with the flu.) The company might also be able to collect data about how your behavior, health, and activity level changes after you start taking a new prescription drug — info that may be hard for pharmaceutical companies to gather using traditional survey methods. Ginger.io grew out of the Social Evolution Project at the Media Lab. The company's service will be called DailyData.

- GrabCad. Founder Hardi Meybaum says his start-up has already raised about $400,000 and begun booking revenue. The company, founded in Tallinn, Estonia, connects a community of mechanical engineers with small and medium-sized companies that need help designing new products. The engineers can do everything from come up with a quick 3-D product rendering for use in a brochure to designing the detailed CAD models necessary to get a product into high-volume production.

- HelpScout. Entrepreneurs from Nashville who previously built Feed My Inbox, a freemium service that converts RSS feeds into e-mail. HelpScout will help teams access a single e-mail inbox, to deal with customer complaints, for instance, or new business inquiries. They plan to launch the service during the TechStars program, and have about 40 beta customers using it already.

- Kinvey. Kinvey's three founders met at the University of Texas. They want to make developing mobile and tablet applications easier by helping developers connect to an array of cloud-based services, like transaction processing or storage.

- Memrise. Using insights into how memory works to make language learning fast and fun. Co-founded by Ed Cooke, the British memory coach who helped Joshua Foer win the US Memory Championships. Foer's book "Moonwalking with Einstein" was recently published.

- Promoboxx. Helps Web sites build and run online contests, giveaways, and other promotions, for a $100 fee. Massachusetts and New Hampshire-based team.

- SircleIT. Israeli team that ran a question-and-answer site, but is now cooking up a new business helping companies figure out who is an expert on what topics within their walls, by using natural language processing to analyze questions posed in an e-mail. The new service will be called Senexx.

- Scout EP/Strohl Medical Devices. Heather Strohl has licensed IP from Tufts to develop a device that emergency rooms would use to evaluate patients who may have had a stroke. Strohl says she hopes to submit a 510k application to the FDA, required for the device to be sold, sometime this year.

- Spill. Creating an anonymous, peer-to-peer support system for college students. Ten schools are already using it. The founders suggest that students will more readily talk about difficult issues — whether drug use or loneliness — if they don't have to go to a counseling center in person. Team is from Madison, Wisconsin, and plans to sell the service to universities as a way to better understand the mental health and environmental stresses students are dealing with.

- The Tap Lab. Boston University alums developing and promoting a mobile game called TapCity. Your goal? To capture and defend your favorite hang-outs, whether its a floor of your dormitory or your favorite pub. Focused on cultivating a cluster of users in Boston first, then expanding to other cities.

It'll be interesting to see the progress (and pivots) they make between now and June...

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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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