TechStars Inaugural New York Demo Day Spotlights NYC Web Startups Focused on Fashion, Real Estate, Classifieds, Education, & More

4/14/11Follow @arleneweintraub

There was a long line outside of historic Webster Hall nightclub in New York this morning, where the marquis—quite appropriately—read “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.” A mix of more than 700 startup investors, journalists, and other interested parties showed up to check out TechStars’ first New York Demo Day.

TechStars is a mentorship program for startups in Boston, Boulder, Seattle, and as of January, New York. Companies accepted into the program received $18,000 in seed funding, three months of coaching, and the chance to pitch their companies to investors at events such as this one, which comes as the culmination of those three months.

About 600 companies applied for TechStars’ New York program; only 11 were accepted. During their three-month adventure, those entrepreneurs participated in 700 meetings with their mentors, and they ordered no less than 234 pizzas, according to TechStars’ data crunchers.

Before the entrepreneurs took the stage to race through their eight-minute pitches, TechStars co-founder and CEO David Cohen declared, “Wow, this is the biggest Demo Day we’ve ever had.” Latecomers milled around begging for seats.

Of the 11 companies that presented at Demo Day, seven hail from the Big Apple. Here’s a rundown of who they are, and a (slightly condensed) recap of what I caught from their pitches.


Nestio

Founders: Caren Maio, Matthew Raoul, Michael O’Toole

Elevator Pitch: Best web and mobile platform to organize your apartment search

Demo Day Pitch, from Maio: “Moving sucks. We’ve all experienced the stress, frustration, and time consumption of looking for a new place to live. Nestio is the easiest way for house-hunters to organize listings and collaborate to make the best, most informed decisions on their next home. Nestio delivers all the listings in one place. If you have a roommate, the two of you can collaborate on a common site. Nestio’s mobile apps sync up with your online account. No more folders. No more printouts. You’ll receive alerts when any listing is declared fraudulent or off the market. Nestio is working for you.”


FriendsList

Founders: Jonathan Wegener, Benny Wong

Elevator Pitch: Social classifieds

Demo Day Pitch, from Wegener: “The best opportunities come from the people you trust. Craigslist was so successful it obliterated the classifieds industry. But as it grew, it lost Craig-the personal touch, the curation. Craigslist today is an uncomfortable product to use. The problem is great opportunities get lost, wedged between egg donor and employment scams. Half are duplicates, half are outdated and half are duplicates.” [Huge cheers and laughs from the crowd.] “Imagine the same job post in the safe, curated context. FriendsList is a product that helps you help your friends. Your friends list is your personal community. It’s a place where your friends connect and trade opportunities with each other—jobs, apartments, hockey tickets, whatever you want. I have friends looking for employees, and I have friends looking for jobs. The same is sure of you. FriendsList can turn you from the middleman into a hero. It’s everyone you know and trust condensed into a social classifieds site. Here’s how we get to the next generation classifieds site: We empower an army of people with a tool that unites all of these people on a single platform. This idea is about user-generated content. Empowering people moves mountains.”


CrowdTwist

Founders: Irving Fain, Mike Montero, Josh Bowen

Elevator Pitch: Social loyalty and rewards platform

Demo Day Pitch, from Fain: “Live Nation is one of the biggest live event and ticketing companies in the world. They’re also our client. One of their festivals, Bamboozle, has to engage across multiple channels. How do they keep their audience active and engaged across all these platforms? Every CrowdTwist client has the same problem. CrowdTwist activates your audience wherever it is. We put real rewards in the hands of your biggest supporters. Live Nation’s online engagement has increased over 900 percent, from three page views per unique to over 27. We plug into our client’s site to create a seamless user experience. We activate the audience wherever the brand is. Live Nation has real rewards like signed t-shirts and the opportunity to meet favorite bands. They’re real rewards, not just virtual goods. There’s an entire portion of our platform where we pull information into a singular understanding of your audience across the entire ecosystem—Facebook, Twitter, all combined in a singular platform—so you see who your biggest supporters are. We take all the information we’re collecting and put it into a tool for more effective targeting. Do you want to reach people who have connected via Facebook but don’t yet ‘like’ your page? We can do that. Every brand today needs to activate and engage their audience across multiple platforms. We’re building a platform that sits above the social layer.”


ToVieFor

Founders: Melanie Moore, Eric Jennings

Elevator Pitch: Fashion + e-commerce + Gaming

Demo Day Pitch, from Moore: “The online fashion industry is a $30 billion market. This market is inefficient. The way companies price merchandise causes them to lose millions [of dollars] per year. We use an innovative auction model to discover what every customer is willing to pay, then we let the market determine the price. We have 25 top brands on board. We have a partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Fashion is a predictable business. From January to June a given item will be discounted until it sells out. What if there was a way to discover exactly what a consumer is willing to pay and use that info to collect that lost revenue? There are two steps separating a woman from her handbag. She can find it on our site and buy it instantly. Or if she wants to vie for it in an auction, she can. Since launching 10 days ago, we have grown to over 5,000 users. We’re producing gross margins over 50 percent. Our goal is to conduct 1,000 auctions over the next year. We are disrupting price inefficiencies in an antiquated market.”


Red Rover

Founders: Kevin Prentiss, Tom Krieglstein, Dan Storms

Elevator Pitch: Engagement platform for institutions and enterprises

Demo Day Pitch, from Prentiss: “Red Rover is a peer-to-peer learning platform that increases employee productivity. Your employees are your biggest expense and opportunity for growth. But 30% of your employees’ time is spent looking for information to do their job, and half that time is wasted. There are too many systems to search, the information is in someone’s head, and it’s too hard to find the right person to ask. These problems lead to $300 million in waste. Red Rover starts as an employee directory. When the employee sets up a profile, he puts his resources there. If an employee can’t find what he’s looking for, he asks a coworker the question. He gets aggregated search results, new connections, and an expanded knowledge base. This is how Red Rover solves the $300 million in waste. We have one tier 1 Fortune 250 client and nine tier 2 clients.”


Shelby.TV

Founders: Reece Pacheco, Dan Spinosa, Henry Sztul, Joe Yevoli

Elevator Pitch: Your personal Web video network—all the video you want to watch, when you want to watch it

Demo Day Pitch, from Pacheco: “Shelby is the most amazing way to discover and enjoy Web video. Every day 89 million people will watch 1.2 billion videos in the United States alone. They’re doing it socially. They’re sharing with friends. But it’s fragmented. It’s all over the place. Shelby solves this by looking at the people around me and pulling all their videos into one awesome channel. With one click I’m brought to an instant-on experience. I’m given the context around the video. I see my buddy Joe’s tweet, his comment. Shelby learns from this. It knows I like videos from my buddy Joe, and it recommends more. Shelby knows not to show me bad videos. What’s left is one awesome channel of videos just for me. I can tweet about the videos right from Shelby. I can share them on Facebook, too. I can curate my own channel on Shelby, which anyone can follow. We think brands can use Shelby to engage users just like I have. These aren’t ads. This is stuff I want to watch.”


Veri

Founders: Lee Hoffman, Brian Tobal, Angela Kim

Elevator Pitch: Veri makes learning online simple, engaging, and fun

Demo Day Pitch, from Hoffman: “We started Veri because we saw this problem: Why is it that people will spend thousands of hours farming fake crops online but not learning? How do you get people to want to learn? By combining aspects of social gaming with the classroom, you can make learning fun and addictive. It’s so addictive that the average time on our site is over 27 minutes. When you get a question right, you move to the next level. When you get a question wrong, we take you to the information you need to know. Veri creates the learning moment. Let students fail, and then learn from it afterwards. People come to learn about wine, philosophy, even Harry Potter. We don’t build Veri—our users do. The same dynamics work for mathematics, even parenting. The key point is that anybody can contribute to Veri, and everyone benefits from it, even brands. We’re driving sales. We’re working with the largest crafts supplier online, which uses Veri to find buyers. When you make learning something people want to do, the potential is limitless.”

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