TechStars, the pioneering startup accelerator, just graduated its first New York class today, introducing a strong and polished group with a lot of promise. The class of 12, which have been working for the past 13 weeks with TechStars, made their best pitch to investors at a demo day as they tried to secure seed and, in a few cases, Series A funding.
Some 700 people packed Webster Hall to hear the eight-minute pitches. In many ways, the event itself was a measure of how hot the New York startup scene has become. Techstars is just one of many incubator and accelerator programs that have launched recently in New York. VC Fred Wilson tweeted that the event was a “watershed moment” for New York. David Cohen a TechStars co-founder called the New York class, pulled from 600 applicants, arguably TechStars’ strongest, adding that there’s a good chance that all would find funding.
Here’s a look at a handful that stood out to me.
Immersive Labs turned heads with its ability to help give digital signs better intelligence in targeting consumers. The technology, reminiscent of that in the movie Minority Report, allows a sign to pull in data from a camera — as well as from other signals such as check-ins, tweets, geo-location information and weather reports — to help place relevant ads in front of passersby. When the software, which can be plugged into existing digital signs, is paired with a camera, it can get 90 percent accuracy in identifying the gender and general age of a person, data that helps determine the most appropriate ad to serve. I tried it out and it was pretty accurate; it even noted how many times I glanced away and how much time I spent viewing the ad. I like the company because it’s got a good take on how to make digital advertising smart and very targeted.
Onswipe, which provided another visually impressive demo, allows web publishers to easily convert their content into touch-optimized sites that look and feel like native tablet and smartphone apps. The company is already integrating its product into WordPress blogs and is talking to thousands of publishers. It’s a great way for publishers to get their content on to tablets and phones without investing in native apps for each platform. If Onswipe catches on, it could help tilt the native versus web app debate more in favor of the browser. Onswipe will make money by placing full-page ads among the content. The ads will likely sell for a premium because they’re like interactive magazine ads. Onswipe solves a growing problem for many publishers, who don’t have the money or desire to build native apps but want their content to shine on touch devices.
Veri is an interesting take on using gamification to spur on learning. Users can learn about subjects by completing multiple-choice trivia quizzes. When the user makes a mistake, the site takes him to a link that provides the answer — it could be a blog post, video or some other type of content. Veri doesn’t supply the quizzes, but instead, it lets users create them. What Veri will do is sequence the questions to guide people along a path to learning a subject while balancing the questions to ensure they’re sufficiently challenging. Veri said it’s found that users stay on the site for an average of 27 minutes, a pretty impressive showing for an educational site. The company plans to make money by including and promoting quizzes submitted by brands and companies. I think Veri could be a very cool company to watch if it can ensure that quizzes and questions are relevant and the process is smooth and thoughtful and actually helps people learn.
Thinknear helps local merchants drive foot traffic to their stores during slow periods. The company takes into account a merchant’s traditional slow times and pulls in a bunch of other data like weather, events and traffic to determine when to deliver mobile offers to nearby users. The company uses ad networks such as AdMob and Where to push out discounts to users, who have a limited time to redeem their offers. The whole system is designed to be easy for merchants, who specify how deep the discounts go and then trust Thinknear to increase traffic at the times they need it. I like this approach because it’s merchant-focused, trying to solve a pain point for businesses, who just care about getting more people through the door. And it’s a big opportunity: Restaurants alone spend some $26 billion on marketing.
The class included some other standouts, including Crowdtwist, a social loyalty and rewards program that I recently profiled. Other notables included Migrationbox, which helps enterprises migrate their data, Red Rover, which builds “company directories on steroids” designed to help employees learn from each other, and Shelby.tv, a social service aimed at helping people discover and enjoy online video.