Northwest Entrepreneur Network Showcases Startups in Health Care, Software, Clean Power, Apparel, & Plenty More

4/13/11Follow @curtwoodward

A really interesting variety of startups made their initial pitches to the broader investing crowd yesterday at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s First Look Forum. The 12 presenters represented a wide array of sectors, from food to retail to software services and—seriously—nuclear fusion power. “I don’t think we could have imagined a more diverse slate, in every sense of the word, than what we have today,” NWEN executive director Rebecca Lovell said.

The event itself was the culmination of a long coaching process that readies a select group of companies and entrepreneurs for their turn in front of the investor audience. And there’s a real emphasis on showcasing many different kinds of businesses—which is notable in an investing scene (and media landscape) that can seem dominated by techies.

Each of the 12 companies on display had five minutes to give a pitch (with slides), and then five finalists were grilled by a panel of venture capitalist judges: Mark Ashida from OVP Venture Partners, Michelle Goldberg from Ignition Partners, and Bill McAleer from Voyager Capital.

The winner was Guide Analytics, a mobile-connected bracelet and monitoring system that keeps track of edema, a swelling that can lead to hospitalizations, particularly in heart patients. Chief executive Deborah Kessler’s previous work includes time at Rosetta Informatics and NASA—”My advisers tell me I’m supposed to say, ‘I am a rocket scientist,’” she quipped. The device itself boasts low manufacturing costs, even though it has a battery, transmitters, and sensors. Investors did question whether relying on elderly heart patients to have a new smartphone for transmitting critical medical data was asking too much. Kessler said it was possible, however, to work with patients who have a lower-end cell phone. The company won a year of free office space from Martin Selig Real Estate.

I put together these snapshots from the four other finalists, and you can check out the longer list of participants over at NWEN.

Snuggle Cloud is a private, one-on-one social network for couples—especially those in long-distance relationships. Co-founders Emily Marshall and Kiran Gollu were actually in separate long-distance relationships themselves. Their idea is that, although Facebook is hugely popular, people are not going to post a bunch of lovey-dovey stuff in the wild where anyone else can read it. Snuggle Cloud is walled off from everyone else, with a bunch of typical social networking features built in. Interestingly, a key part of the beta test was a spouses’ support group at the Fort Lewis Army base near Tacoma. The business model is a combination of advertising and lead-generation revenue from online purchases. “We got a lot of grief for our name, but we found that the guys go where the gals are, and the gals don’t have a problem with our name,” Marshall said.

Location Genome Platform is a software service for app developers that helps people find places and things they might like. The company’s combination of location and recommendation data is pitched as a sort of “Pandora for places,” and was inspired by the Pandora’s intuitive music-predicting engine. Founder Maria Zhang, a veteran of Zillow and Microsoft, said she’s targeting a gap between costlier, more complex services and lower-end, less powerful suppliers. She said Location Genome’s data is compiled by crawling a ton of publicly available Web sources, tapping other open-source data pools, and allowing customers to upload their own data. It works on any platform, and is priced on a “freemium” model that charges based on usage and offers a premium level with more customization. UrbanQ is Zhang’s showcase app created using the software, and another Forum participant, Meevine, said it’s planning to use Location Genome for its own app.

Little Borrowed Dress is a new twist on the apparel-rental business that includes Seattle-based fancy-handbag online rental company Bag Borrow or Steal. Little Borrowed Dress is specifically targeting bridesmaid dress rentals, and doing so with its own line of five different dresses, all in silk, from a single designer. The company wants to expand the tux-rental model to more women, who traditionally are stuck buying a fairly expensive dress that they don’t wear again. Founder Corie Hardee said the next step is partnering with brick-and-mortar formal wear shops to give a fitting location, which will eliminate the back-and-forth trying-on process she currently faces. “The key to scaling this business is giving women the opportunity to try on the dress before they rent,” Hardee said.

Appitude, led by the only male presenter in the finals (kind of refreshing), is trying to find a new, more interactive platform for e-book publishing by making the content more like an interactive mobile app and less like a regular e-book. Founder and CEO Vj Anma, who basically ran onto the stage both times, is targeting specialty publishers and niche authors who have passionate fanbases. He said the ability to share notes, questions, and impressions of a book makes it “like crack for book addicts.” “For the first time, after a book leaves the store, authors have a way of having real-time chat with their readers,” he added. Publishers pay a flat fee for each book published as an app, and pay Appitude a 35 percent royalty on each sale in app stores, which Anma pegged at $10-$15.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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