Searching for a VC Heart of Gold at Rock Stars of Innovation Summit

3/30/12Follow @bvbigelow

Reading between the lines, it seemed as if Chuck McDermott was trying to set the tone—or maybe just the backbeat—for San Diego’s “Rock Stars of Innovation Summit” when he chose a 1979 John Stewart hit as the closing song for Tuesday night’s VC jam session. McDermott, who is a general partner in the Boston office of Rockport Capital and namesake of the unheralded “Chuck McDermott Band,” belted out a pretty fair cover of “Gold,” which includes the lyrics:

Drivin’ over Kanan, singin’ to my soul
There’s people out there turnin’ music into gold

In this case, the music would be the pitches delivered by top executives at 10 San Diego Internet startups at an event that drew close to 250 venture investors and business and academic leaders. The presentations yesterday afternoon topped a fascinating morning that included some insightful founder-funder chats, keynote talks, and discussions on topics that included emerging trends in venture investing, the convergence of genomics and “big data,” and the promise of gene therapy. The fourth annual summit was sponsored by Connect, the San Diego non-profit group for entrepreneurship and technology, and Xconomy.

When everything was done and said, you could argue that innovation is alive and well in San Diego (despite a regional shortage of venture capital rainmakers). At the end of the program, the audience voted for their favorite startup, although, alas, there was no prize to go with it. Under the circumstances, it seemed only fitting to add a few awards of my own.

Audience Choice for Best Presentation

SwoopThat.com. The audience favorite is a Web-based business that helps students save as much as 75 percent on their college textbook purchases. SwoopThat enables users to compare multiple online offerings in much the same way that Kayak.com enables travelers to compare air fares. CEO Jonathan Simikin says SwoopThat generated about $450,000 in book sales since he launched the business in August. The startup earns a commission on every purchase no matter whether the sale came through Amazon, Alibris, AbeBooks, or another online retailer. The company has been working to establish exclusive partnerships with campus bookstores to integrate its price comparisons technology with student courses (which include reading requirements). What’s next? “Obviously, if we have campuses tied down on our technology, we can do a lot more than books,” Simkin says.

Best Name for a CEO Giving a Presentation at the Rock Stars of Innovation Summit

Deal Current Network CEO Jimmy Hendricks. The goal of the two-year-old startup is to create the largest transaction-based advertising network for local media broadcasters, publishers, and advertisers.

Startup With the Single Most Passionate Customer

Gamer Grub, which makes “high-energy snack food for video game fanatics.” CEO Keith Mullin says one customer asked for copy of the company’s official Gamer Grub logo and had it tattooed on his hands.

Best Bid to Attract Same-Day Media Attention

Independa. The startup’s founding CEO, Kian Saneii was scheduled to make yesterday’s presentation in San Diego. But Saneii was instead at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. yesterday to announce a new partnering agreement the startup had just reached with LivHome, a Los Angeles-based provider of at-home care for the elderly. Under the deal, Independa is making its Web-based elderly care services and social engagement technology available to LivHome customers as “LivIndapenda.” (Saneii was participating in a press conference held in connection with the “What’s Next Boomer Business Summit.”) The CEO’s stand-in, chief medical officer Richard Della Penna, says the company was founded out of the conviction that “We can do better than ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.’”

Most Enticing Invitation to Follow-Up After the Presentation

Tap Hunter. This startup provides Web and mobile apps that help beer lovers find the best craft and micro-brewed beers that are being poured at bars and breweries across the U.S. CEO Melanie Gordon says Tap Hunter’s GPS-enabled app for iPhone and Android mobile phones provides search results on the all the specialty beers that are being served at the closest restaurants and taverns., “Stop by our table and share a beer with us at 3:15,” Gordon said. The program ended at 3 p.m., and within minutes the Tap Hunter booth was mobbed.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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