TechStars Demo Day Yields 10 New Seattle Startups—and a Lot of Work Ahead

11/15/10Follow @gthuang

It’s pretty impressive what a few startup teams can accomplish in 90 days with a lot of hard work, mentorship, and late-night Maker’s Mark bourbon-fueled sessions. But their real journey is just beginning—and it will be a long one.

That’s my main takeaway from TechStars Seattle’s first “demo day” on Thursday. The seed-stage mentorship program—which started in Boulder, CO, and has since expanded to Boston, Seattle, and New York—accepted 10 startup teams (out of hundreds of applicants) for its inaugural Seattle program this fall. It’s part of a growing effort by local entrepreneurs and investors to foster more support for technology startups in the Northwest.

Andy Sack, head of TechStars Seattle, said the business plans being presented exceeded his expectations in terms of quality. He implored the investors in the audience (nearly 200 strong) to “get to know the teams—and write checks.” After all, demo day is all about hooking up the program’s startups with active angel investors and venture capitalists, who are all chasing the next big thing.

But the bigger goal, Sack told the crowd, is to build larger and more successful local businesses—and ultimately provide some big exits for investors, which should in turn expand the startup ecosystem. “You’re playing for the future,” he said. “Live the dream of what Seattle looks like in five years.”

My first impressions: Very polished pitches. High-energy crowd and presenters. Beautiful venue (The Triple Door). Bigger ideas than you might expect, but also a clear focus on how to make money. Lots of work still to be done.

Reactions from others in the audience: High-quality presentations, ahead of the other inaugural TechStars classes. The companies came a long way in the past few weeks. Mostly “execution plays” and not new ideas. I used to hear these ideas every day as a VC. Some pitches were for tools, not companies. Consumer Web is very noisy, and it’s hard to extract a signal. Founding teams are solid (many from Microsoft, Google). It’s very early for these businesses.

Here are a few thoughts on each company (you can also read TechStars founder David Cohen’s synopsis here). The bullet points are based on my personal impressions and, in some cases, comments from outside sources:

Highlighter
Founders: Josh Mullineaux, Matt Blancarte, Nate Whitehill
Idea: Help bloggers and publishers engage with readers by enabling the latter to highlight text, post comments, and share content online.
Tagline: Highlight, comment, and share on any device.
Analysis: Needs to continue building an elegant service that publishers really value, and that enough readers want to use. Distribution will be key if you’re charging publishers for analytics, and using contextual advertising.

Cabin Fever Toys
Founder: Adam Tratt
Idea: Motion-sensing stuffed animals (Zoomigos) and rewards to get kids to play outdoors, away from screens.
Tagline: Technology should make it more fun to go outside and play.
Analysis: I don’t think technology will solve our child obesity problem, but Zoomigos might be really fun. If so, it could be a hit. But that’s what it has to be to succeed—a hit. I don’t see health clubs, clinics, or insurance companies helping them sell this.

GoMiles.com
Founders: Michael Komanitsky, Marc Kamaka
Idea: Help travelers manage their disparate mileage reward programs and book award travel.
Tagline: Take control of your frequent flyer miles.
Analysis: Lots of competitors, but a pretty interesting Web interface that helps business and family travelers earn points faster. If it catches on, it could be big. But quite a few sites have … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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