Hero’s Journey: A Look Inside This Year’s Class of TechStars Boston Startups

6/14/11Follow @gthuang

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that’s based on interpreting patient behaviors is “to find partners that can help you to establish the trust that you need with the user and get you to scale.”

Meanwhile, Dave Bisceglia’s company, The Tap Lab, is a slightly more traditional TechStars company, focused on building a location-based mobile game (and eventually a software platform for driving foot traffic to stores). The game, called Tap City, pits players against each other as they build, defend, and attack virtual cities made up of real-world properties around them (like the corner Dunkin’ Donuts). It’s a new spin on the mobile check-in, and it plays out like “Monopoly meets the real world,” Bisceglia says.

Tap City evolved over the course of TechStars to become much more social, with stronger group-play dynamics that involve players recruiting friends to help defend territories or launch an attack. Some of the best feedback came from friends, colleagues, and fellow TechStars entrepreneurs, Bisceglia says. (Some avid and successful players include local investor Reed Sturtevant and Dan Koziak from Promoboxx.)

TechStars was a trial by fire—which is what it needs to be. Bisceglia, a recent Boston University grad, says, “I’d recommend it to any young entrepreneur. We’ve surrounded ourselves with people with experience who believe in us.” He adds (about Tap Lab’s experience), “Katie had a plan for us. That’s how we made it through.”

At the other end of the work-experience spectrum is Heather Keith, a 20-year veteran of the medical device industry. Her startup, Strohl Medical, makes a low-cost device for diagnosing stroke in emergency rooms. The machinery consists of a testing box and an electrode array, somewhat similar to an EKG system, which compares the electrical activity on the left and right sides of the brain and can detect key indicators of stroke. The test is designed to work accurately in less than 10 minutes.

Keith has weathered the experience of being a medical-device entrepreneur among mostly techies—and has learned a great deal from them. “The tech side of things iterates really quickly,” she says. “The sense of urgency and rush to get the feedback, improve, and get to next milestone was an excellent catalyst for the company. If I had not been in the program, I wouldn’t have had the continuous pressure of hitting deadlines.”

She also sang the praises of the group’s camaraderie. “It was much more collaborative than I thought it would be,” Keith says. “This is a connected group of companies that understands each other like nobody [else]. It’s like when people have been through a war together.”

One other theme was hammered home by everyone I talked to: the quality of mentorship in the Boston program was top-notch. “I have been shocked and delighted by the depth and commitment from all the mentors in Boston,” Rae says. “They’ve helped every company tremendously.”

It all comes to a head tomorrow, when each TechStars company will stand up and give a six-minute pitch to a room full of potential investors and partners. From there, the teams will go their separate ways; four of them are moving on to the MassChallenge accelerator program this summer, others will move into different office spaces, and almost all are looking to raise more money and sign up more paying customers.

Indeed, it’s safe to say their adventures, and grueling work, are just beginning. Yet Tap Lab’s Bisceglia is up for the challenge, and no doubt he speaks for his entire class.

“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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