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BOSTON: On July 9th, I attended the 13th Web Innovators Group meeting in Boston. The meetings, which are are organized and hosted by David Beisel of Venrock and held every other month, provide a forum for startups in the Boston area to present themselves to the tech community and to potential investors. They’re also a great place to network.
[qi:021] I would estimate that there were more than 250 people at the July meeting, which was my third. So far, each has been bigger than the last, a sign that the high-tech startup community in Boston is doing very well.
The meetings follow the same general format, but there are variations and it is evolving over time. The general format has three companies (main dishes) making a seven minute presentation each, and six others companies (side dishes) at tables on the side where people can see what they are offering. The variation this time had the six companies making a one minute presentation each.
The main presenters at the most recent meeting were BandDigs (YBR Entertainment), Beacon Street Girls (B*tween Productions) and GameBrix (Digital Brix).
BandDigs (Gary Wheeler & Aby Alexander) is a web site that allows fans to interact with music bands and with each other. The site is very much video-based. You can view videos of the bands or see them live. You can also talk to band members — or whomever represents the band — and to other fans. The site has been in operation since the start of the year and says that it has signed up 450 bands. It will be interesting to see how this develops. I suspect that bands will want to connect with their fans when starting up, but that connection will be hard to maintain if the bands gets much bigger.
Beacon Street Girls (Addie Swartz) is the online venture of an already well-established brand that sells books and gifts to girls aged 9-13. The products revolve around a number of characters with whom the users can identify. Apparently a lot do: 500,000 books have been sold to date.
The founder, Addie Swartz, described her company as the “anti-Paris Hilton.” Up until recently, the web site has been used to support the bricks-and-mortar operation, but it’s now being developed into a product in its own right. With little marketing, the web site currently gets 300,000 uniques a month with users sending in stories and testimonials.
The point was made that this is a very large market indeed, a total of 10 million girls representing $51 billion/year, but Addie did not give any indication of what proportion she was aiming to capture.
GameBrix (Naveena Swamy & Nanu Swamy ) demonstrated an online games toolkit that allowed users to create online games. This was probably the most unconvincing of the three presentations. These games are AJAX-based and are playable in any browser.
The GameBrix folks demonstrated the creation of a very simple game, but it wasn’t very compelling. And while they also showed some of the functionality available for creating more complex games, they didn’t show what these more complex games would look like. They really should have shown a good example of a complex game and compared this to Flash, which is what they’re up against.
Other startups that presented at the meeting were Zync, Teachade, Curbside.md, nextcat.com and Frevvo.
Zync (Brad Rosen) connects consumers to local events and local businesses, basically a recommender system for consumers.
Teachade (Wade Dyke) was interesting, a social network for teachers to communicate with each other about a variety of subjects such as curriculum, professional development, etc. They currently have 8,000 members.
Curbside.MD (Kevin Gilpin) was very interesting to me, mostly because of the work I have done in the past on medical/genetic databases. This product amalgamates a number of medical databases and ontologies, allowing users to query the system with medical questions and get the best results possible. Right now the system is open to the medical profession only; it will soon be available to the general public.
Nextcat (Jeff Pucci & Richard Viard) is a social networking application targeted at the entertainment industry. Think LinkedIn for the entertainment industry.
Frevvo (Ashish Deshpande) is a toolkit which allows you to create AJAX-based forms.
The next meeting is scheduled for September 10th.
François was a co-founder of Feedster, an RSS search engine. Prior to that he was an information retrieval consultant for 10+ years, during which he created ScienceServer, an electronic journal browsing product he sold to Elsevier Science. He is currently looking for the next “Big Thing”.