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Innovation Economy

Boston start-up gathers coupon offers in one site

By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / January 3, 2011

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Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

Organizing online offers in one place. Only the most compulsive bargain hounds have been keeping tabs on every new digital delivery mechanism for deals in Boston: There’s Gilt City, Tippr, LivingSocial, GetSugar, and BuyWithMe, among others.

Last month, Google reportedly tried to buy one of the more successful peddlers of online discounts, Chicago-based Groupon, for $6 billion. Groupon walked away from the offer, betting that it’ll be worth more in the long run. Also in December, Amazon invested $175 million in Washington, D.C.-based LivingSocial.

Clearly, there’s a sense that the sites are changing the way some of us buy products and services locally, from restaurant meals to hair coloring to Pilates classes to prescription glasses. Most invite you to purchase a certificate good for a product or service in advance, at a steeply discounted price ($28 for a complete dental exam and cleaning, for instance). The offers are only available for a day or so, and they’re often only for customers who haven’t patronized the business before.

A start-up based in Boston, DealGator, aims to make it easier to sift through all of the local deals in a city, and to manage the coupons you’ve purchased so they don’t expire before you use them. The company lets you see all the deals being offered at a given moment — there were nearly 70 on the site yesterday — for Bostonians and eliminate categories of deals that you’re not interested in. DealGator also displays each business’s Yelp rating, since you might not want to patronize a restaurant no one likes, even if it is offering two filet mignons for $10. The site also sends out a daily e-mail digest of deals.

DealGator was launched in early December by two brothers, Casey and Jesse Rankin, and it serves 21 cities in the United States and Canada. The Rankins, who grew up in Worcester, also run Newbury-St.com, South-End-Boston.com, and several other business directory sites.

Casey Rankin tells me that none of the daily deal services have asked to be removed from DealGator’s listings, and in fact, new services contact him regularly to ask to be included. As for DealGator’s business model, many of the coupon sites offer an affiliate fee to anyone who refers customers to them, which can range from 2 percent to 10 percent of the eventual purchase amount. And while there’s no advertising on DealGator’s site or its e-mails, that’s a possibility in the future.

DealGator plans to add another 50 cities to its service in early 2011. It’s in competition with other sites that aggregate deals, including Yipit, Urban Spoils, and Dealery.

Big funding for new vaccines. Genocea Biosciences Inc. is announcing today that it has attracted an additional $35 million in funding, some of it from the venture capital arm of Johnson & Johnson. Genocea, with just 34 employees, has raised more than $60 million.

The Cambridge start-up has a new approach to developing vaccines that it says is faster and less expensive than established methods, especially for stealthy bacteria that have been difficult for traditional vaccines to target. Genocea says its vaccines seek to employ T cells, a kind of white blood cell ordinarily found in the body, to trigger a powerful immune response. Chip Clark, the company’s chief business officer, said, “Our technology allows us to go from the blackboard to proof-of-concept in animals to vaccines that work in humans very quickly.’’

Clark said the new funding will be used, in part, to shepherd a vaccine for herpes simplex-2 through clinical trials. Genocea is also developing vaccines for malaria and streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the leading killer of children under age 5 worldwide. Genocea’s scientific founders are Harvard professors: Darren Higgins and David Sinclair. The company recently hired Seth Hetherington, formerly at the North Carolina biotech Icagen Inc., as its chief medical officer. The company is in the final stages of recruiting a chief executive to replace Robert Paull, the venture capitalist who served as its initial chief executive.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation.

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