Money, Mergers & Expansions For Booktrack, Other SF Startups

While big tech companies like Google filed their quarterly reports this week, a number of their smaller brethren in San Francisco caught my eye as they recorded their own benchmarks of progress.

Booktrack, which enhances the allure of e-books by adding music and sound effects, said it had closed a Series B financing round that netted $5 million from investors including COENT Venture Partners and Sparkbox Ventures.

Booktrack, whose backers also include Peter Thiel, will use the money to try to grow the market for its suite of offerings. They include e-books called Premium Booktracks, which have soundtracks created by the company’s own engineers. Booktrack also operates a service that allows authors to add a score to their own books, and the Booktrack marketplace, an e-book store where all these audio-enhanced books can be sold.

“Booktrack is creating a new marketplace for authors, publishers and musicians to create soundtracks for their eBooks and reach a new audience of more than 2.5 million readers while earning new revenue streams,” CEO Paul Cameron said in the funding announcement. “Booktrack will continue to help schools, parents and people looking to re-engage with reading in a modern, immersive and fun way while also increasing comprehension and retention.”

Two other San Francisco consumer-tech companies are growing their markets:.

Luxe is expanding its online valet service to Seattle. Luxe is an Uber-like service for people who have their own cars, but sometimes want a driver on-demand to park it while they rush to a meeting, or to drive them home from a party.

Luxe already operates in San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago. With its latest expansion, Luxe will now serve downtown Seattle and other city neighborhoods including Pioneer Square, South Lake Union, Belltown, and Capitol Hill.

Weddington Way, an online wedding commerce site that started by helping brides collaborate with their distant bridesmaids to choose dresses for the big event, has opened a new Gent Shop for tuxedo and suit rentals.

Now the groom and groomsmen can also be totally color coordinated with the rest of the wedding party, the company says, because the rented suits include the coat, pants, shirt, vest, tie, cufflinks, and studs. As Weddington Way puts it, “everything but the boxers.”

Lastly, two San Francisco companies have teamed up with other startups to augment their services:

—Edtech company Handsfree Learning is merging with a Philadelphia-based startup, ApprenNet, which has similar goals and methods. Both have been expanding the scope of online learning to hands-on skills through the use of voice-controlled videos and other media. Handsfree Learning’s system has been used to teach cooking, dentistry, and cosmetology.

The merged company will continue to operate in both San Francisco and Philadelphia under the name ApprenNet. Handsfree Learning co-founder and CEO Paul Freedman will be the chief executive of ApprenNet. Sadly, former ApprenNet CEO Rachel Jacobs, 39, died in an Amtrak train derailment outside of Philadelphia in May.

Zendrive, whose smartphone sensors track driver behavior, is teaming up with Urgent.ly, an on-demand roadside service company whose free app is challenging the venerable subscription-based leviathan AAA.

The partnership will take advantage of synergies between the ability of Zendrive’s sensors to tell when a car has been involved in an accident, and Vienna, VA-based Urgent.ly’s communication features. Urgent.ly detects the accident location, allows the customer to request a tow truck or other help, and also notifies a family member or other contact person.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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