Startup World presents 10 NY finalists competing for most innovative startup

By Dennis Clemente

Is your company the world’s most innovative startup? In its quest to find out, Startup World has launched a pitching competition on a global scale with regional winners from 36 tech hub cities gunning for the grand prize in Silicon Valley late this year.

Last July 18, it was New York’s turn with 10 finalists presenting to an expert panel of judges. The international flavor of this startup tilt cannot be underestimated. Host Hermione Way, a tech journalist from the United Kingdom, announced the first three of her 10 presenters from France, Brazil and China, respectively.

New York’s finalists are Chefday, WeDemand, Lookboard, Now, Placemeter, Klickpicks, Makeably, Commune, Sketchfab and TextPride.

How much are they competing for? The grand prize package includes 3 month incubation period worth $30,000 at i/o Ventures; one year of Rackspace hosting worth up to $24,000; 5 million Echo real-time streams per month for one year worth $30,000, plus international media coverage.

Launched last December, French founder Julian Nackacha said Chefday is FreshDirect meets the FoodNetwork. If you like what you see on TV, Chefday provides you the pre-measured ingredients you need to cook the way it’s done by a great chef, complete with video instructions.

“We’re building an experience,” Nackacha said who has invested $500,000 already in the business and is looking forward to breaking even by September. To scale, Chefday looks forward to partnering with a major food company.

From Brazil, WeDemand is a social platform for crowdfunding and promoting concerts. Who do you want to perform near you? Raise funds so your favorite band can come perform in your city. Average crowdfunded concert reportedly netted $30,000 with a total of 48 crowdfunded concerts.

Founder Tiago Compagnoni aims to grow the business by engaging a big artist and by using its raised capital of $1 million to expand its footprint in the United States.

Asked about how it’s going to compete against ticketmasters.com, Compagnoni said WeDemand is going to rely on the long tail effect of his business.

Since when did wholesale become more design-oriented? Duy Huynh, Lookboard’s founder and CEO from China as well as former IBM software architect, is well on his way to convincing you it works.

“We partner with independent designers who are in the business of creating furniture, décor and accessories that are highly unusual and beautiful at the same time.” He sees home products as an $80 billion market for Lookboard.

How would you like to have a live city guide based on the crowdsourced photos? Ben Broca showed how his app, Now or getnowapp works as a discovery tool for local events with “live” images guiding you.

With over 500 photos taken every second on Instagram only, Broca said it can sustain itself as a living map. “It could even show you where celebrities are at the moment,” he said.

Now if you’re just too busy to shop for clothes, would you consider shopping for clothes you see on video? Klickpicks is a video production company that creates videos for fashion brands. Lulemon and Town & Shop are said to be clients.

The idea is to create a new breed of virtual shopping (tool) and create its own fashion advertising ecosystem in the process.

How would you like it if Placemeter can collect data about you and other people? Using publicly available video streams, the company aims to collect foot traffic data of people in public places. It will be indexing the world in real time and provide real-time insights, which brings the issue of privacy again.

It sounds impressive but “fail rate is historically high,” according to one judge. A consumer app is expected to be out soon, but this is clearly for retail stores and most likely for the government unless it has something better that people are not privy to.

It reportedly has partnerships with Walgreens and JetBlue, among others.

One thinks of Etsy with next presenter, Makeably, but co-founders Ryan Hayward and Anastasia Leng, former Google employees, offer custom-made products where Etsy has ready-made products. That leaves you some room to be part of the creative process with a maker or designer of, say, jewelry or arts and crafts

So how are they doing? “We’ve had a $10,000 run rate in the first six months,” Hayward said.

How do you get communities to rapidly scale initiatives in your neighborhood? Commune offers a mobile platform for creating the real-life changes and interactions you want to see in your neighborhood and city. It functions as a mobile neighborhood “bulletin board” that everyone can view and post events or initiatives to.

The best part about it is that it looks tidy and personalized where others have an excess of features. In its spare approach, it looks forward to having people collaborate on an idea or activity easily.

Where can you put all your 3D files? Sketchfab was inspired by the PS4 launch that wasn’t and decided to create a web service for publishing and displaying interactive 3D models—and what it promotes largely is how you don’t need a plugin, you just upload your model, embed and share accordingly. It has partnered with Kickstarter and Wix.

Last presenter was TextPride with Sean O’ Brien saying that the mobile application provides users with a platform to insert licensed images and logos from their favorite brands into their text, Twitter, Facebook and email messages.

“Our goal is to bring branding to the social messaging world in a way that has never been available,” O’ Brien said.

Currently, TextPride has 48 new brands to work with including the NBA and 111 licensing partners, among them Nascar.

The panel of expert judges present last July 18 was Harrison Weber (East Coast & Design Editor for The Next Web), Kevin Smith (Reporter, Business Insider), Elliot Tomaeno (Founder, AstrskPR), Jason Oshiokpekhai (Business Development, American Airlines), and Marvin Avilez (Founder, CEO VisualOps).

The grand prize winner will be crowned Startup World’s Global winner with three-month incubation period worth $30,000, 1 year of hosting worth up to $24,000 and 5 million real-time streams per month 1 year worth year worth $30,000. Regional prize winners will receive a subsidized flight to the Startup World Grand Finals in San Francisco to battle it out in front of a panel of expert judges and venture capitalists plus Silicon Valley tours, 6 months of hosting worth up to $3,000, one million real-time streams per month for 1 years worth $7,000 and 12 months of Tropo credits worth up to $12,000.

Networking group expands to business pitches with crowdfunding platform

By Dennis Clemente

Last July 17, the New York Entrepreneurs and Startup Network, a kibitzing version of the tech world, joined the format of most tech startup events in the city and opened the floor to business pitches, giving Pitch Night competition in its format of 60-second presentations 60 floors above the Empire State Building.

The meetup’s format went beyond networking this time, as organizers Nick Tang and Cedric Wong said they know the significance of raising funds these days. So as Tang asked 15 or so presenters to fall in line and make their pitches, he gave this reminder, “We grow as fast as our resources.”

The presenters were a mixed bunch—many in the non-tech variety, a few in the service industry and some who actually presented in Pitch Night a week ago, like Bluwired which pitched how it can run analytics with sensors placed in a physical item, say, a piece of clothing. How much does bluwired need in funding? A cool $4 million—the highest this blogger has heard since January.

fundingcomm

The non-tech businesses included a guy who pitched neckties for wintertime followed by a woman who promoted a soon to be launched trade-your-closet site. What you don’t hear often is an online magazine idea, especially one for film enthusiasts called Next Breakout Hit, presented by a guy in his sixties.

The beauty of the tech startup world is that it’s not judgmental. You could be the oldest guy in the room like the last presenter, a man in his 80s perhaps who called for better ways to understand technology.

After the hour-long pitches, Alex Binkley, a Harvard and Boston University educated corporate lawyer, took the stage to talk about Raising Capital with Funding Community, a crowdfunding platform for small business loans.

Individuals make loans to support small businesses in their community and are repaid principal and interest every month. These supporters also receive “rewards” like store discounts from the borrowers they have supported.

How does it work? Small businesses apply to Funding Community for a loan. Funding Community then asks the community which small businesses it should support. Individuals show their support by making an interest-bearing loan to Funding Community so it can make a similar loan to the small business.

To sign up, create a profile by giving information about your business and the loan you are looking. Having a reward system is important and the site gives a discount and other perks that is supposed to turn lenders from passionate supporters into champions of your business. Will it support your cash flow in the process? That remains to be seen. Next step is to encourage customers, family and friends to support your loan.

How does the loan mechanism work? Individuals lend $25-$1,000 each to support your loan. Once it is fully funded Funding Community deposits the money directly to your account and automatically withdraw your payments each month.

At present, the company can only lend to businesses in New York State. But why should you borrow money from Funding Community?
By borrowing money on Funding Community you will reportedly receive better rates and access to capital than from traditional lenders. You will also have the ability to turn each and every lender into a customer and champion of your business.

The rewards system considered:
• 10% off any product during the term of the loan
• Buy one, get one free during the term of the loan
• One free product when the loan funds

What about interest rates? Your interest rate will depend on your company’s operations and type, as well as the credit score of your owners and/or personal guarantors.

“Because our primary purpose is to support small business growth we strive to offer lower rates than you could receive from a bank,” Binkley said.
Launched last May 2013, Funding Community currently has a 21-day time limit on all loan campaigns, so get your ideas kickstarted, er, funded, whether you’re choosing established crowdfunding sites or new ones like Funding Community, which has lower interest rates. For more information, visit or email alex@fundingcommunity.com

Freelybe, Wedidit, CommonBond are new startups for social good

FreelyBe Launch Party Promo from Leah Danielle Guaglione on Vimeo.

By Dennis Clemente

Three new startups for social good, FreelyBe and WeDidIt and CommonBond, presented at the Center for Social Innovation’s new co-working space slash incubator and community center near Chelsea Piers last July 15.

FreelyBe is a platform for turning your social life into a social investment. By attending premiere events at New York’s most exclusive venues, Jessica Marquez, CEO/co-founder, said FreelyBe members directly benefit non-profits working for social change.

Inspired by the business model of Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes, Marquez launched FreelyBe last September. She has since made use of her previous hectic social life for social good. American Express is reportedly coming in as sponsor.

Marquez was in events and promotions for 15 years but in her search for meaning, she quit in 2009 and traveled to 12 different countries where, along the way, she discovered non-profit work. Her travels to the Philippines, Malaysia and Africa opened her eyes to other people’s hardships which made her decide to help them on a much bigger scale.

Freelybe works as experiential marketers with corporations. She gets venues to use for free because of her established relationship with them. The venues then participate in social investment. Nightclubs can take a percentage off revenues to donate to a cause.

The next presenter, WeDidIt is a web platform and mobile app for non-profit fundraising, making it easy for non-profits to acquire new donors and engage supporters while raising money for their cause.

WeDidit Mobile App: The Power of Crowdfunding from your Mobile Device from WeDidIt on Vimeo.

Launched in 2012 by founders Ben Lamson and Su Sanni, the two talked about how they are going to revolutionize the world of fund-raising. It’s essentially about how you can raise funds for your event by loading up a video on their site.

Truth be told, every entrepreneur has an interesting story to tell about their start. For WeDidIt, it was how they created a video 10 months before the app was going to be launched. “We only launched it last week,” the two admitted.

The app and contraption in the video show how you can donate money on the spot using a smartphone. They call it WeDidIt Mobile. It’s a real-time, in-person cash register. To use, just swipe a donor’s credit card then spread the message to friends, increasing the viral effect of any campaign.

The two guys have not accepted outside capital yet but to get the money they needed to launch their company, they had to make some sacrifices. They moved out of their separate cushy apartments in Harlem and Hoboken, respectively and moved together in a more affordable apartment in Bushwick, living frugally as possible to build the site.

They also quit their nice, steady jobs at a global software company. “You have to be crazy (to be in this business). We’re not technical people. We don’t know how to code.” Sunni said. At least, Wall Street Journal thinks it has one of the Best Startup names.

In handing out marketing advice, Sunni said, “One thing crowdfunding teaches you is marketing.” Citing an example, Lamson said, “Empower your early adopters to spread your message.”

The last presenter, David Klein, CEO of CommonBond, said his startup is a student lending community that connects student borrowers and alumni investors to lower the cost of education for students and improve financial returns for investors.

For him, CommonBond is the way to fix the student loan market with an innovative, socially responsible lending model.

There are two types of borrowers—current students seeking new loans and graduates who are paying off school loans. To solve this, CommonBond raises money from alumni and a community of investors who believe in their students and recent graduates.

“We pool these funds to offer more affordable loans to our creditworthy borrowers,” Klein said.

In the process, CommonBond students and recent graduates are able to pay lower rates on their student loans, while investors receive an attractive financial and social return for participating. By how much?!

With CommonBond, MBA students and graduates can reportedly save up to $29,000 and $17,000 respectively with lower fixed rates and flexible terms.

The idea is to become part of a community of individuals committed to helping each other succeed. “By expanding this community, you drive our social promise to increase access to high quality education at home and abroad,” Klein said.

Locally, for every new city to which Common Bond sponsors a graduate loan program, it funds financial literacy education in a local underserved community.

Globally, for every degree fully funded on CommonBond, a student in need is funded for a full year. “We have partnered with the African School for Excellence to make this a reality and have 31 of their students in 2012.”

To round it up, Klein said the more students CommonBond fund, the larger the community grows, the greater impact it creates.

The meetup was organized by Bubbleproof: Social Good for Profit at the Center for Social Innovation, which was launched last May. The Center is a co-working space

ER Accelerator gives startup advice to 17 presenters on Pitch Night

By Dennis Clemente

New York’s tech startups are an interesting bunch. There are those in their advanced early stages who’ve had their Website or their app for a year or so and already have a solid structure or following in place. Then there’s New York Pitch Night which attracts even more new tech founders, earlier than most, say, those who have just launched their app. The group was designed that way. People attend and pitch for 60 seconds and an industry leader gives them startup advice from the ground up.

Last July 10, the pitch night proved to be much more interesting with Murat Aktihanoglu, founder and managing director of New York’s Entreprenus Roundation Accelerator, as its guest speaker. Folksy and friendly in his presentation, Aktihanoglu gave the 17 presenters and more than a hundred attendees invaluable advice on how to refine their ideas or get funded. He is also founder of Holoscape Inc.

“What is it like to go into business for yourself?” he asked the audience. “It’s like jumping from a plane without a parachute but making one while you’re going down.”

One after another, the 17 “pitchers” took to the stage to talk about their products or services in 60 seconds. Attendees are then asked to vote the pitch of the night.

Startoiletpaper.com clearly gives new meaning to place-based advertising where the Nuqaq app tells you about meetup-like events in your area. Jobsuitors, for its part, promise to match your personality with a job. Not an issue for the all-female Kookopa team who have shown its commitment to their business by quitting their jobs.

With over a hundred attendees hanging on his every word, Aktihanoglu addressed several basic issues, ranging from fundraising to pitching strategies. “Building relationships is the only way to raise funds, because investors back people, not deals. Just remember, you are pitching your personality.” To do this, he believes in getting warm introductions and keeping a database of investors.

Of course, you may not need to sell yourself as much if you approach friends and family, still comparatively easier but then he also knows you may have to deal with accelerators and angel investors when the time comes you will need to grow your business.

“Who knows what a convertible note means?” Aktihanoglu asked. That’s when you sell equity to a venture capitalist—not to be paid in cash; it’s a short-term raise for a startup to get, well, started. The typical terms: a 20 percent discount at a 6 percent interest for a cap of $2 million to $10 million.

Then there’s the price equity round wherein you sell a share of the company to an investor, usually with a lead and closing date. It’s for bigger fund-raisers of $500,000 and up. “Use this when you’re ready to expand,” he said. The typical terms for this are a pre-money valuation, preferred stock, a board seat, a lead investor with other participating investors.

The extensive business plan we have to come to know is passé to him. “Just give a one-page executive summary—with all the information a VC will need, plus both a pitch deck and email deck.”

Below are some more of Aktihanoglu’s startup tips:

What your pitch deck must have (in order): 1. Problem. 2. Your solution. 3. Business model/market size 4. Underlying magic/technology. 5. Marketing and sales strategy 6. Competition 7. Team. 8. Current status/milestones. 9. References

How to make your startup look good to a VC. “You have to emphasize your biggest assets, your team, previous successes, traction and technology. “Just don’t generalize and say we improve how business is done. Know your numbers: market size and growth. Show how big your company can get.”

In his ER Accelerator, he said he looks for the following when investing: a good team, 70 percent; market size, 20 percent and idea, 10 percent only “because ideas change all the time.”

3 big mistakes you can make while pitching. 1. When you don’t listen. 2. You refuse to acknowledge the competition. 3. You have implicit/explicit assumptions regarding the knowledge level of the audience.

Learn your risks. Identify and minimize your specific risks–product, market, technology, execution and timing risks. Understand how startups are valued. It’s key to know you have a scalable sales model.

Final thoughts. Understand how investors think; minimize their risks; raising money is just the beginning; pick an investor carefully, because there may be no divorce between an investor and a startup; look for a co-founder you’ve been with for a long time. And lastly, be humble and be open to advice.

The ER Accelerator reportedly offers 3 months of free office space, legal advice, workshops and accounting services with over 250 mentors. For more information on ER Accelerator, visit eranyc.com. For more information on the meetup Pitch Night, visit startuppitchnight.com or Pitchnight.tv

Airbnb envisions a better web experience with Rendr

By Dennis Clemente

Last July 2, the Cleanweb group at NYU-Poly in DUMBO, Brooklyn hosted a special talk with Spike Brehm, front-end engineer of Airbnb who flew in from San Francisco. The topic was Airbnb’s passion project–an open-source project called Rendr that it thinks will help make for a better web experience.

Presented by Brehm four months ago in the West Coast, Rendr now has some curious developers testing its library of running Backbone.js apps on both the client and the server sides.

What is Rendr? Under the hood it is JavaScript MVC on client & server; Backbone & Handlebars, Base View, Base Model, Base Collection, Base App,Client Router, ServerRouter with a set of Express middleware. What’s good about it, Brehm said, is that it has minimal glue between client and server.

Imagine a better Javascript, a better SEO (search engine optimization), a better, faster web experience used by everyone from a company known more for worldwide accommodations. Initially, the focus was on improving SEO, but it turns out that a new way of building web applications is much more interesting for them—and hopefully, the outcome is good for all.

Brehm clarifies that the intention is not to replace Rails, Meteor, Ember or Backbone, but to explore the problem of isomorphic Javascript applications and stimulate discussion in the community.

Here is Brehm’s simple set of design goals guiding Rendr’s development:

Write application logic agnostic to environment. Indicate what data to fetch, which template to render, which route to match, how to transform a model’s data. This logic can and should be abstracted from specific implementation details as much as possible.

Library, not a framework. In true Backbone style, Rendr strives to be a library as opposed to a framework. A small collection of base classes which can be built upon is easier to adopt and maintain than a batteries-included web framework. Solve the problem at hand without imposing unneeded structure on the application.

Minimize code like if (server) {…} else {…}.
If your application has a bunch of conditions that look like this, then it means you’re doing something wrong. It’s a sign of a leaky abstraction. Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to know which environment you’re in, but that logic should be consolidated and abstracted away as much as possible. Which leads us to…

Hide complexity in the library. There are a few really tricky problems that need to be tackled to achieve these other goals. The complexity of the solutions should be hidden in the library, keeping the application code clean, but remain accessible when it’s time to override core behaviors.

Talk to a RESTful API. Backbone is great at integrating with a RESTful API. Let’s follow that convention, keeping the data source separate from Rendr itself. It should be possible to write adapters for different data sources, such as Mongo, CouchDB, Postgres, or Riak, but the library shouldn’t impose structure on your model layer.

No server-side DOM. We prefer string-based templating over using a DOM on the server because DOM implementations are slow, and, well, because it feels hacky. You shouldn’t need a DOM to render HTML. However, I’m curious how this will change though once WebComponents become commonplace.

Simple Express middleware. Express is the de facto Node.js web server. Rendr should fit with Express convention, exposing a few simple middleware. A nice effect of this is that you can tack on Rendr routes onto any existing Express app, or have Rendr and non-Rendr content served from the same codebase as necessary.

With Rendr, it is hoped that developers could just concentrate on writing application code and the app could serve up genuine HTML on first pageload, resulting in an improved SEO.

Find out more about Rendr at https://github.com/airbnb/rendr