Dave McClure Rides a “Sharknado” into NY for 500 Startups Demo Day

8/1/13Follow @jpruth

Leave it to Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups, to compare the intensity of running a startup to chain sawing one’s way “out of a great white shark’s stomach.”

At Wednesday’s demo day in New York, the latest batch of 29 startups to emerge from the Mountain View, CA-based accelerator program gave the expected spiels to sway potential investors. It also gave McClure an excuse to show a clip from schlocky TV movie “Sharknado” (you know, the one with sharks flying around inside tornados—never mind), which this month stirred up huge amounts of online buzz. “We were impressed with the social media explosion of ‘Sharknado,’” McClure said. “We hope maybe some of our startups have near that level of success today.”

The self-proclaimed Sith Lord of 500 Startups was probably only half joking. Growing far beyond meager beginnings—minus the cheaply made awfulness of “Sharknado”—is clearly what McClure hopes for the startups he cultivates.

International companies made up the bulk of this latest class, 22 out of 29 startups, and McClure seems likely to keep up the diverse mix in the future. “We’re in six countries,” he said. “We have people in China, Brazil India, Southeast Asia, Mexico and this other strange place called New York.”

Several teams at demo day pitched ideas with education technology themes. Floqq from Spain developed a marketplace for videos courses, particularly for Latin America. There are plenty of user and professionally-created videos on the Web but the ever increasing volume of clips makes it hard to find the right one. “YouTube sucks for learning,” said Floqq co-founder Carlos González. “It’s not optimized for educational content.” He said it is also not easy to pick the best qualified experts to watch. Floqq brings together video courses vetted for quality and their appeal with a Latin American audience.

Dehli-based School Admissions developed a platform to streamline the way parents choose the schools for their children. Koemei, which operates out of San Francisco and abroad in Switzerland, creates algorithmic transcriptions of educational videos that users can search to find information within the content. Users can also take notes on the videos, which they can share through the platform with other students.

The emergence of these new potential players in education technology comes at time of churn in the space. On Wednesday, social learning company Grockit in San Francisco announced it agreed to sell its test prep platform and brand to Kaplan. Grockit said it will focus on its Learnist business, which lets people share knowledge on a Pinterest-style site.

One team at demo day brought a playful pooch on stage. PinMyPet from Brazil developed software for monitoring pets’ activity via a small device that attaches to collars. The device can help owners track down lost pets that scamper off in addition to showing how much exercise they get. PinMyPet is getting into a market that is quickly getting crowded with the likes of FitBark in New York and Whistle of San Francisco which are also developing devices and apps to monitor pets’ activity levels.

Sverve, which helps businesses connect with female influencers for online word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, was the lone New York-based startup to demo on Wednesday. “Word-of-mouth drives up to half of all purchasing decisions,” said Rohit Vashisht, CEO and co-founder. The Sverve platform gives businesses a way to reach out to the highly fragmented community of women who have strong followings in the social media realm. The company also offers software to track and measure results of their campaigns, he said.

Finding influencers, who might be prominent in niche categories but not widely known, can be tricky. “These people don’t appear in any top ten list,” Vashisht said. “Businesses can spend hours searching for them.” Sverve currently has some 6,000 female influencers in its network. Vashisht said his company has raised $620,000 wants to raise another $750,000 to expand its sales, marketing, and technology teams.

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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