Updated: The startup beauty pageant that is Techstars Boston Demo Day took place Tuesday morning at the House of Blues on Landsdowne Street. You never know who will show up on stage to help the entrepreneurs sell their ideas: past editions have seen cameos by Big Papi, fashion models, and poetry slam champions.
This will be the last class of Techstars run by the power trio of Katie Rae, Reed Sturtevant, and Bob Mason. They’re peeling off to focus on their own seed-stage investment firm, Project 11, and will be replaced by Semyon Dukach, an entrepreneur, angel investor, and former member of the MIT Blackjack Team. Dukach is the third person to head the Boston program, which began in 2009.
Here are the 12 startups that pitched today, along with brief descriptions and links to past coverage. The hashtag for the event was #TSDemoDay. Companies are listed in the order they presented; this time around, the entrepreneurs didn’t talk about the funding they’ve raised, or are hoping to raise.
Founders: Dipul Patel, right, and Joel Kelman
ecoVent makes a wireless system to control heating or AC vents that allows you to adjust temperature in your home using a mobile device or computer. Five beta systems are already operating in Woburn, Cambridge, Beacon Hill, among other places. Twenty additional beta customers have already signed up to buy systems of their own, according to Patel.
Here’s ecoVent CEO Dip Patel on a December 2013 episode of The Entrepreneurs Grill.
Founder: Marc Regan
Directions provided by GPS are broken, Regan says. Turn left in 700 feet is too abstract, and it forces you to keep your eyes on the screen. “We want to make your GPS sound like a local,” Regan says. “When a local gives directions, they mention the most obvious visual landmark.” Mapkin is building a GPS app that crowdsources guidance from users, and incorporates open data sources, to create a GPS app that offers clear directions without requiring you to consult the screen. “The best instructions rise to the top,” Regan says. Like, “Watch for Harvard students jaywalking” near Out of Town News in Harvard Square. Regan previously worked at Nuance, the speech recognition giant. (I wrote about an earlier incarnation of Mapkin in November 2013, after it raised $200,000 in seed funding.)
Founder: Jag Gill
Curated marketplace to help designers find materials for clothing and accessories. Designers spend more than 75 percent of their time seeking and sourcing materials and suppliers, Gill says, “not doing what they love, which is being creative.” Currently working with 50 suppliers, with 300 others interested.
Founders: Leo Koenig, Johnny Hujol, and Ytzen Zeilstra
A motion sensor device for action sports like kiteboarding or snowboarding, along with a companion app, that lets you track your performance and compare it with others. The waterproof device clips onto a board or bike to measure performance — perhaps as a companion or alternative to a GoPro camera. The app can track things like “highest jump” or longest distance traveled in a day on leaderboards. Red Bull is interested in using the technology in all the competitions it organizes, Koenig says. Product will launch this summer, at first in kiteboarding circles. Koenig says the company already has its first $250,000 purchase order, from Best Kiteboarding.
Founders: Gershon Goren & Steven Lehr
Cangrade helps companies identify better hires using an online questionnaire for assessing candidates that produces a “candidate grade,” based on data from more than 200,000 employees and 500 companies. “Our model would tell you that an organized and persistent introvert is as good in sales as your outgoing and assertive extrovert,” Goren says. “Every job has its own complex success model.” CareerBuilder is already using the product, as are Sheraton, Molina Healthcare and a dozen other customers.
Founders: Eliza Becton, right, Frank Lee, and Sean Grundy
Refresh is building compact and eco-friendly vending machines that can bottle water and other beverages at the point of sale. “It takes a huge amount of fuel to get water from bottling plants into customers’ hands,” Grundy says. “And when you buy a bottle or water or soda, a quarter of what you’re paying for is transportation.” Refresh’s machines purify water — using filtering technology from PUR — and bottle it at the point-of-sale. Grundy says the technology can quadruple the profit margins in beverage distribution. The machines can also support refills. A prototype has been in operation at the Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym in Somerville.
• Change Collective
Founders: Ben Rubin and Derek Haswell
Delivering content over mobile devices to help people change habits or develop new behaviors, turning books and video into mobile self-improvement courses. Rubin says the completion rate for courses during the company’s test phase has been 80 percent; for a course on gratitude, 1000 users paid $30 each. Change Collective is focusing initially on fitness, productivity, and diet — but Rubin says the platform could also be used for corporate training. (I wrote about Change Collective back in January, when it raised $1.4 million in funding prior to the start of this TechStars session.)
Founders: Boken Lin, Zheng Han, and Harry Feng
Onion is creating software for Internet-connected devices — like a “smart” air conditioner — that lets them connect to the cloud for communication, data storage, software upgrades, data processing, and other tasks. Works with popular hardware like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Team comes from iRobot, Siemens, and Ericsson.
Founder: Matt Sornson
Helping companies identify the best freelancer to work on a given project, and manage the collaboration. “Even as a great freelancer, it’s hard to find new clients to keep your pipeline full,” Sornson says. The company is starting with software developers who have experience doing API integrations. Three hundred developers are already part of the network, Sornson says. WordPress.com is the company’s first marketing partner.
Founders: Mark Singh & Akansh Murthy
Takes faxes, e-mails, and other unstructured data in the healthcare system and transforms it into more useful digital data. “There’s just too much data for a physician to review every day,” says Singh, an MD. Yet a missed piece of information in a fax can lead to a malpractice lawsuit. Docs can transfer incoming faxes or e-mail feeds to Hermes, which matches incoming reports to individual patients, labels them (a blood test or chest x-ray, for instance), and highlights important findings. HermesIQ creates a dashboard of information and to-do lists for the doctor, which can be accessed from a PC or mobile device. The company’s first paying customer is Plymouth Bay Medical Associates, which has 15 physicians.
Founder: Ben Anderson
Developing “mobile-first” community platform for users interested in a particular subject, like anime, the game Minecraft, or K-pop music. Anderson says there have been over 500,000 downloads of an Amino app devoted to anime. “Our vision is to become the best way to experience your interest on mobile,” Anderson says.
Founders: Danny Fein and Corey Fein
What if you could print an entire book on a t-shirt, poster, or tote bag? Litographs sells customizable literary merchandise. “We create art from books,” says Danny Fein. Litographs works directly with authors, who tend to control merchandising rights to their own books. The startup has bootstrapped its way to $1 million in revenue, primarily by selling products based on literature in the public domain.
Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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