That's what was on my mind on Monday evening, when I got an early look at the thirteen companies that will present in Providence tomorrow as part of Betaspring's fall "Launch Day." (A group of investors saw the company's present Tuesday morning.)
Betaspring essentially doubled in size this year, by accepting a spring and fall cohort of entrepreneurs. Here's what the fall group is up to. I've starred the ones I think are most likely to succeed, and offered an explanation in bold as to why. Just my opinion — and I hope a few of the non-starred ones keep me humble by proving me totally wrong. (In the photo above is Kirsten Lambertsen of Kuratur, which collects social media posts and transforms them into nicely-designed "web magazines.")
★ AutoBike. Designing and marketing a bike that shifts gears automatically, based on road conditions. "The continuously-variable rear hub has an unlimited number of gear ratios, so you can always find that perfect gear," says co-founder Sean Simpson. The computer that decides when to shift is powered by the bike's movement. AutoBike is targeting consumers who don't bike much today, and plans to initially market the AutoBike in housing communities for active seniors. Pricing will start around $1000. A former executive of Giant Bicycles has signed on as an advisor. AutoBike has already raised $250,000, and is hoping to raise an additional $500,000.
Why It's High-Potential: No manufacturer yet owns the category of bikes with automatic transmissions, and there's a nice opportunity to sell them through channels other than bike shops, which tend to cater to people who are already serious cyclists. (At right, Simpson and Kevin Smith of AutoBike.)
Crunchbutton. Crunchbutton seems to have begun life as a jokey mobile site for Yale students: click a button on your phone's screen, and get a Wenzel chicken sandwich delivered from Alpha Delta Pizza. The site helped sell $60,000 worth of sandwiches, according to founder Judd Rosenblatt. Now he wants to help simplify the process of mobile ordering for other restaurants. Past orders, delivery address, and payment information are saved on the site, so the second and third orders are even speedier than the first. Crunchbutton is free to diners, but charges a transaction fee to restaurants. Already operating in New Haven, with plans to do Providence and DC next. Hoping to raise $500,000, with $155,000 already committed.
Greentape. Pairing a mobile app with specially-designed sensors placed throughout a restaurant or store to deliver special offers to customers when they're nearby, or inside, and to help the business collect data about customer behavior. "We can provide analytics to the owner about how often people come into their business, share offers with their friends, or redeem deals," says co-founder Chris Daltas, a veteran of the videogame industry. (At right, Daltas and Owen Biddle of Greentape.)
Health ID Profile. Designing a line of stylish bracelets for kids that contain NFC (near-field communication) tags that store medical data. In the event of a medical emergency, like an asthma attack, first responders or doctors could easily access the information with a mobile phone that contains an NFC reader. Patients with chronic conditions like diabetes could also archive and access trend data about their illness using the Health ID web site. Health ID is planning to sell the bracelet for $30, and charge $2.99 a month for the service. Hoping to raise $400,000 to get to 25,000 users by the end of 2013.
Kuratur. Developing what seems to be a better-designed version of Paper.li, allowing users to collect and curate tidbits from their social media streams onto a web page. Will offer both free and premium services. Seeking to raise $150,000 to start working with partners and expand its beta test to more users.
Pennant. Tools to design and distribute interactive, animated ads for web sites. Founder Gerald Lewis is a veteran of Brightcove and Euro RSCG. Plans to start working with agencies in 2013. Not raising money now.
Plandree. Helping groups of people who go on vacation together evaluate, schedule, and book activities that they'll do together. Plandree anticipates taking a 10 percent commission on all activities booked. The startup is planning to launch in December, and isn't raising money now.
Rootless.me. Ride-sharing website, with plans to rely on organizers of major festivals — like Nova Scotia Music Week this month — to help it reach users. Drivers and passengers can rate on another on punctuality, friendliness, and, of course, safe driving. Will take 10 percent of all payments (when a passenger chips in on expenses.) Hoping to raise $250,000.
★ Scholrly. "People in academia and industry don't talk to each other," says founder Corbin Pon, a veteran of Lockheed Martin. But many companies can benefit from data that researchers have already gathered, and also from working with researchers as consultants. Scholrly wants to facilitate those connections, with a powerful search engine that combs through about 50 million research papers. Seeking to raise $500,000.
Why It's High-Potential: If Scholrly works as advertised, its prospective customers will be willing to pay big bucks.
★ Tennishub. Wants to become the "OpenTable for tennis," helping players book courts and lessons, and connect with one another for games. Founder Eddie Ross says that he decided to create the site because, "I wanted to get out and play more tennis." Tennishub takes a $2 booking fee, on average for court time and lessons. "Bringing new players into tennis clubs makes them more money," Ross says. "Courts are like airline seats or hotel rooms. If they're not being used, that's lost revenue." Company is hoping to raise $300,000 to get 45 clubs using the service, and has $100,000 in funding commitments already.
Why It's High-Potential: Solid solution for clubs that want to attract more players, and players who want more opportunities to play a game they're passionate about.
★ TouchVu. Pretty elegant idea: since many small business owners are more capable of creating and updating their Facebook pages than creating or updating a website, TouchVu simply takes a business' Facebook page and transforms it into a website. And the site looks equally good on PCs or mobile devices. Founder Satish Boppana says there are about 42 million Facebook business pages. He plans to offer a free trial for two weeks, then charge customers $20 a month, which includes their own domain name. (Bernard Huang and Satish Boppana of TouchVu are pictured at right.)
Why It's High-Potential: Solves a problem many small business owners have, simply and inexpensively.
★ Umbie Dental Care. Cloud-based software that helps dentists schedule patients, maintain records, and run their business. Optimized for iPads and Android tablets. Umbie founder Jeremy Hamel says he got the idea for the company after helping his twin brother, a dentist, set up the systems he needed to run his practice. "Dentists get no love from other EHR (electronic health record) companies," he says. Umbie charges $625 per month for its service, which is already being uused in 300 office locations to track the records of 12,000 patients. Company is raising $750,000, with $250,000 already committed. (Founded in 2010, Umbie has previously raised $270,000 from individual investors and Connecticut Innovations, a state investment fund.)
Why It's High-Potential: Team has first-hand experience in the industry. Product is built and already getting traction with customers.
★ WorldBrain. Over a million teachers try to organize class trips each year, says co-founder Jakob Garrow, but not all will be successful. WorldBrain says that its web service can double the success rate by making it easier for teachers to plan and promote trips, and to collect money. The site also integrates with social media, so that when students sign up for trips, that can help build momentum among their friends. Garrow says WorldBrain will earn $75, on average, from each traveler that signs up. Company says it is working with University of Rhode Island and UMass-Lowell already, and is hoping to raise $400,000 to sign up more schools.
Why It's High-Potential: Garrow and his co-founder, Laura Wallendal, previously worked with teachers and schools in sales roles at Cambridge-based EF and its Smithsonian Student Travel division. And teachers will likely be open to trying an online service that saves them time and headaches when they're planning trips.
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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.
May 22: MIT Sloan CIO Symposium
Chief information officers from Guess, Haemonetics, Intel and other companies talk discuss "architecting the enterprise of the future."
June 3: MITX Innovation Awards
Economist & blogger Jodi Beggs hosts at the Westin Copley.
June 25: TEDxBoston
The oldest and biggest of the locally-organized TED events is back, at the Seaport World Trade Center. Tickets are free, but tough to get. Also streams on the web and airs on WBUR.