Betaspring Unveils First Class of Startup Groups in Providence, Plans Micro-Seed Fund Akin to Y Combinator

8/28/09

Ji Kim was able to raise $100,000 in seed financing for his ad software startup Dijipop this summer through connections he gained in a new program called Betaspring, which was launched this year to support young entrepreneurs in Providence, RI, in their quest to form technology- and design-oriented startups.

Dijipop was one of the seven startup teams that presented its business plans at Betaspring Investor Demo Day yesterday at the RI Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Providence’s Jewelry District. It was their big day to shine in front of angel investors, venture guys and gals, and other business types. Many of the team members wore suits, and some even wore ties. (My gosh, I don’t usually see ties at techie events unless something big is at stake, and even then…) Indeed, these groups represented the future businesses that could lift Rhode Island’s ailing economy and deliver jobs in high-growth sectors.

Owen Johnson, a Providence Web and real estate entrepreneur, gave me some insights into why he and colleagues Jack Templin and Allan Tear formed Betaspring. “The thinking behind it was to provide acceleration for teams thinking about going into business,” he said. He noted the teams presenting Thursday received help from nearly 50 mentors with experience in their respective fields during the 12-week program. And while this first class of teams received no seed funding from Betaspring, he said, the plan for next year is to have a micro-seed investment fund that provides somewhere around $5,000 for each group that gets accepted into the program. That would put Betaspring more on par with earlier startup acceleration programs with investing capabilities such as Y Combinator in Mountain View, CA, and TechStars in Boston and Boulder, CO.

Providence is certainly not a hotbed of startup activity like Boston or Silicon Valley, but Johnson and Templin pointed to some recent startup successes in the city to inspire more young innovators to follow in those companies’ footsteps. Zeo, a developer of headbands that detect sleeping patterns, was formed by a group of Brown University students in 2003 as Axon Labs and has since gone one to close a $8.3 million Series C round of financing. (However, like many attractive Providence startups, Zeo has moved its headquarters to the Boston area.) Another promising startup with roots at Brown is Shape Up The Nation, a Providence-based corporate wellness firm that helps offices organize teams to try to outdo each other in losing weight, quitting smoking, and other health-minded challenges.

“The momentum is building,” Johnson said. “Every day I meet people who have moved to Providence and are, in one way or another, involved in the tech scene.”

Here’s a look at the seven startup teams that were part of Betaspring first 12-week program:

Accelereach, led by Brown graduate and CEO Adam Emrich, has developed Web-based software that supports communication between health workers and patients through a combination of interactive voice responses, e-mails, and cell-phone text messages. The idea is to … Next Page »

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