IBM SmartCamp Makes Its Debut in New York, Attracts Startups From Across the Atlantic

6/29/11Follow @jpruth

[Updated 6/30/11. See below] Eager entrepreneurs armed with ideas they believe can improve our way of life gathered on Tuesday for the first ever New York edition of the IBM Global Entrepreneur SmartCamp. The competition, which came to Boston last June, brings select groups of startups together with mentors from the investor community. Deborah Magid, director of software strategy with IBM Venture Capital Group, says the objective is to help new innovators hone their plans and foster a fresh crop of companies that IBM may collaborate with.

“What they are working on are outcome-based ideas for changing our corporate and personal lives,” Magid says. SmartCamp, held nine times a year around the world, works in tandem with IBM’s Smart Planet initiative by developing technology to tackle big problems like environmental issues and infrastructure management.

Five finalists are chosen for each SmartCamp and, following their presentations, meet with venture capitalists who help steer their ideas to survive in a competitive market. The New York finals began at Baruch College and will conclude tonight at the SUNY Levin Institute. The startups will be judged and one winner will be chosen to receive 12 weeks of mentoring, Magid says. The winner from each SmartCamp city goes on to compete in the global finals slated for first quarter 2012.

The growing ranks of IBM StartCamp alumni include Irish software company TreeMetrics, which uses lasers to measure the trees in forests prior to harvesting, and Sproxil, whose software helps confirm the authenticity of pharmaceuticals in developing countries.

For the mentors, the competition offers a chance to give startups a bit of a reality check. Kirill Sheynkman, venture partner with venture capital partnership Greycroft Partners in New York, says he looks at the nature of the problems the startups are attempting to solve, the products they create to meet those needs, and the quality of the teams. “Not only in terms of education or professionalism, but their ability to execute and build the company,” he says.

Such advice is welcome as SmartCamp—in just its second year—arrives in New York at a time when everyone seems hungry to build a startup, even entrepreneurs from well beyond the city limits. Applicants do not have to be based in the city where they compete. Switzerland’s EnvEve, one of the finalists, is developing a wireless sensor network to provide real-time information on the environment and infrastructure. For example, the company envisions making sensors affixed to trees that can alert authorities to forest fires.

EnvEve may have traveled the farthest of the five finalists but was not alone in its lofty ambitions. Envirolytics from Prince Edward County, Ontario presented its iViro software which runs on the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod touch to determine where the most energy is used in homes. Cloud10Apps from San Rafael, CA presented its MediaFunnel dashboard which monitors social media faux pas such as inappropriate tweets sent from corporate Twitter accounts and unanswered complaints from customers posted on company Facebook pages.

Cambridge, MA-based software developer Localytics presented its app which works with other apps to gather analytic data to help developers better understand their users and monetize their products. “In 2008 … we were developing apps but we quickly realized the fundamental tools and platforms that publishers needed to build successful apps simply didn’t exist,” says Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics. His company was named the winner Wednesday night. [This paragraph was updated with the winner of the competition---Eds.]

Examville, the only New York-based finalist, pitched its platform for collaborative learning. Nilanjan Sen, Examville’s founder, says his company aggregates knowledge and tailors it to users’ needs. “We want to disrupt education by personalizing the way you learn,” he says.

Nilanjan Sen, founder of Examville.

Examville is a Web-based content platform for educators, publishers, and students to share their knowledge through recommendations, peer review, and other collaborative tools. Sen says his company already has content partnerships with providers such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, textbook publisher Milliken Publishing, and document sharing website Scribd. Sen says his company uses a personal recommendation engine to help users guide each other to the materials they need. “Social learning should be about harnessing the knowledge we create on a day-to-day basis,” he says.

Though IBM does not invest in the startups featured at SmartCamp, Magid says the entrepreneurs may partner with her company by using IBM software in the underpinnings of their own technology. Mike Riegel, IBM’s vice president of startups, independent software vendors, and academic programs, says his company currently works with more than 650 startups and expects that to increase to 1,000 by year’s end.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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