Boston Startups Join New NY Incubator With Women, Mobile Niche

4/4/12Follow @xconomy

A New York startup incubator program is underway with a new class, and before you call me Captain Obvious, let me say I’m not talking about TechStars.

This particular program may be navigating its way through the oft-reported incubator bubble with a very specific niche that should be obvious in its name: Women Innovate Mobile.

“Accelerator programs are a proven model for helping high-potential tech companies,” says co-founder and managing director Kelly Hoey. “We just haven’t seen a rate of participation in those programs by women-founded companies. [Mobile] was another vertical focus in terms of what we were doing to distinguish our program from others.”

Women Innovate Mobile’s structure resembles the TechStars model, with its three-month duration, $18,000 investment in startups in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake, product development and marketing resources, and its mentorship-driven structure. Its first class includes four companies, each of whom have at least one female founder. Two participants, Loudly and AppGuppy, come from Boston.

“The part of the accelerator model that is really not broken is the structure: 90 days, access to networks, the culmination involving pitches to investors,” Hoey says. “That part of the model we’re not messing with.”

The Women Innovate Mobile founders are a trio of women with diverse career tracks, but a shared interest in supporting women in entrepreneurship. Hoey is an attorney and business strategist who went through the Pipeline Fellowship, a program for training women philanthropists to be angel investors. Deborah Jackson is a former investment banker, member of the angel investor group Golden Seeds, and CEO and founder of the women’s business accelerator JumpThru. And Veronika Sonsev is founder of Women in Wireless, CEO and founder of the e-commerce tech company inSparq, and a former VP of the mobile ad startup Jumptap.

The incubator’s mentors are both men and women, and include entrepreneurs, consultants, venture and angel investors, and other industry experts. That should be helpful for Sophia Chou, the founder of Loudly. Her startup is developing a “social phone number” that lets consumers control how others call and text them, and connects features like status messages and social profiles to those particular phone numbers. She says her startup is looking to tap into the incubator’s network to ink strategic partnerships and a funding round.

I also caught up with incubator participant Anagha Nadkarni, whose startup AppGuppy is looking to shake up how mobile apps are distributed. Organizations can use the platform to quickly build apps that work on all mobile devices, and distribute them through their existing social networks rather than app stores. The bootstrapped startup already has some traction with customers, but “we came to a point where we not only need financing, we need guidance to make smarter decisions,” Nadkarni says.

She also says that her client base is largely women, so the female incubator group could help her get better insight overall into her customers. And the specific focus on mobile drew her to the program.

“It’s a different experience talking to someone who understands mobile, to someone who understands tech generally,” she said.

As far as the incubator goes, we’ll have to keep our eye on how it can stand out. Hoey says outside parties have already expressed interest in providing funding for future classes and others have inquired about taking the program abroad.

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