Best New York tech meetups of 2013

By Dennis Clemente

Let me introduce the best New York tech meetups of 2013, my extremely biased assessement of the best New York City had to offer from its startups, investors and tech meetup groups last year. I do hope you can give me some leeway in terms of my choices. After all, I was in more than a hundred tech startup meetups, fairs and other similar events.

It’s also what I could call the 2013 Reimagine Tech Awards or how I spent my night life attending one meetup after another. All in all, I wrote, mentioned and talked to more than 650 startups and investors (angel and otherwise) from these meetups–the ones who make it possible for many of these startups to get funding, of course.

I also logged in some hours talking to lawyers—those who offered their services and those who threw in the towel to join startups. It’s interesting to point out how so many of these so-called secure jobs are not just secure anymore.

So many professions are being disrupted. Jobs are scarce, as operations are being automated. And those who can’t get into entry-level jobs find themselves—what else?—transformed as entrepreneurs, which can be a good thing, if your startup makes it.

Different people from different parts of the world were in the meetups—either to pitch and present, lurk or watch closely. How are these startups doing now? We’ll just have to wait and see how they emerge a year or so from now.

Here are some of the best I’ve seen last year in New York’s tech meetups, not counting those pricey trade fairs I can’t afford to go to, although I managed to make it New York Tech Day and NYC Big Apps with Mayor Bloomberg in attendance.

BEST MEETUP GROUP. Hatchery’s Are You Serious meetup. You want honest-to-goodness feedback on your startup, business model and presentation style? You’ll get it here. Guest panel of investors from venture-backed firms are regulars and are familiar with the five-year long structure of the meetup. Host Yao Hui Huang runs a tight ship.

BEST MEETUP TALK: Steve Blank at Startup Grind. The native New Yorker who made his name as a Silicon Valley giant was entertaining and engaging to listen to. Runner-up: Joe Meyer, former CEO of Hopstop now with Apple, gave us valuable startup advice in a talk that lasted more than two hours—the longest by any one speaker last year.

BEST VC TALK: Fred Wilson. You can divide VCs into two categories. Those who don’t crack open a smile but are very helpful and those who smile but are not really helpful. Wilson managed to be both accommodating and helpful, but he certainly had more bite to his talk, giving a no-holds-barred opinion on NY and its tech startups. The other VCs were just too guarded, most likely because they get wooed all the time but hats off to Shai Goldman of 500 Startups, Adam Quinton of Lucas Point Ventures and Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures for their amazing fireside chats.

BEST ANGEL INVESTOR TALK: John Ason. Last year, there were so many of them who taught us so many things about how to get funding, but Ason was very candid and generous with his time. He didn’t have the stage for himself, but as part of a panel, he stood out. He’s also very approachable.

BEST MEETUP MODERATORS: Helman and Horn. It’s a tie between Michael Helman of Startup Nation and Jeremy Horn of The Product Group. Helman, host of Startup Nation and co-founder of WILLiFEST and Crowdzu, is a great interviewer with just the right pace and structure to his gentle grilling. Horn, on the other hand, is able to make nearly all 400 of his attendees speak up.

BEST MEETUP TALK SHOW: Startup Grind. Hats off to StartupGrind’s Brian Park for having the most important people in the tech world open up about what it takes to succeed as a startup—or in the world in general. Guests have included Steve Blank, Gary Vaynerchuck and Chet Kanojia.

Best venue. Skirball Theater, NY Tech Meetup's home.
Best venue. Skirball Theater, NY Tech Meetup’s home.

BEST VENUE. NYU Skirball Theater, home of NY Tech Meetup. With its cavernous 700-seating capacity, it’s even bigger than most Broadway stages with balconies and boxes, and huge after-presentation mixer on another floor. Runner-up: Queens Tech Meetup is on the top floor overlooking Manhattan’s skyline.

BEST AUDIENCE. Startup Grind’s. It won me over for having the most engaged audience. Others have the most number of attendees for their venue but with Startup Grind, no matter where it holds its next meetup, the audience just keeps on coming.

BEST TIP OR QUOTABLE QUOTE. It’s a tie between John Ason and Shai Goldman. When pitching to Ason, you need to do the following, in order: “Entertain. Engage. Inform.” Goldman had this to say, “All startup teams need 3Hs—hustler, hipster, hacker.” Runner-up: Mike Bloomberg, on not joining 2013 NYC Big Apps contest: “I didn’t join because it would be unfair to everyone here.”

BEST STARTUP. It’s hard to determine this from more than 600 startups I wrote or talked about last year. Besides, what would the criteria be for that? Instead, I have the BEST STARTUP PITCH OR PRESENTATION: The Lux Animals team and Dennis Crowley of Foursquare. The Lux team came in full force at the Microsoft Building to talk in detail about the many facets of its gaming business and advertising work. On the other hand, Dennis Crowley of Foursquare proved to be an engaging storyteller about his beginnings and his success now.

One final award goes to the MOST GRATEFUL STARTUP, because they took the time to say thank you for my write-up even with just a Tweet. It’s a tie between Lux Animals and Warby Parker. They thanked and tweeted me profusely for the blog write-ups. Thanks, guys.

VC Ben Sun and new apps at ER Roundtable

Ben Sun, partner at High Peaks Venture Partners and LaunchTime LLC
Ben Sun, partner at High Peaks Venture Partners and LaunchTime LLC

By Dennis Clemente

Which of these names (in no particular order) match the latest crop of apps presented at the ERA Roundtable meetup last January 16 at the Microsoft Building in New York? Each of these apps is a sentiment analysis tool, a home for your child’s artwork, a “paperless” medical record system, a live video stream of your favorite bars, and a financial analysis engine.

1. PeepsOut by Nobles Crawford, CEO and Founder
2. Accern by Kuwesh Aroomoogan
3. Thinknum by Justin Zhen
4. Healthjump by Clifford Cavanaugh
5. Canvsly by Amit Murumkar

ERA Roundtable’s 66th show-and-tell also featured internet entrepreneur and angel investor Ben Sun who served as guest judge to these presenters. Sun is a partner at High Peaks Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital fund based in New York City. But he is also known for his early forays into the internet. He was on it as far back as 1999 and soon after when his company, Community Connect Inc. made household names of AsianAvenue.com, BlackPlanet.com, and MiGente.com.

It’s seldom to hear an investor who is both an engaging storyteller and frank speaker. As he talked about how he got his start, Sun recounted how an investor before the dotcom crash almost tricked him into changing terms of agreements last minute, but fortunately, an an angel investor stepped in to save the day. He qualified that this may have been more in the past and the only thing you have to worry about nowadays is how investors will invest in your startup but may be hands-off all the way.

At the meetup, Sun certainly made sure he was fully invested in giving feedback and answering questions from the crowd and presenters who each gave a four-minute show-and-tell.

Accern offers sentiment analysis for investing in financial markets–the use of natural language processing to extract emotions out of data. But with other companies like Accern, what makes them different?

Aroomoogan said Accern has a customizable sentiment analysis platform where you can choose your own sources and filter those sources, including ratings for each source, topic, keyword or phrase based on importance and relevance. “We have 80 percent accuracy.”

The next presenter, Canvasly, is in the business of collecting children’s artworks and putting them on the app, for safekeeping. In giving his feedback to the app, Sun said it needs a “ton of scale,” as he also discouraged efforts to go school-to-school, because of the challenges this presents to the sole founder.

Healthjump’s presentation elicited issues of security and privacy. After sign up, Healthjum coordinates with people’s physicians, so the former can keep their medical records. The price of convenience is also about giving up certain information. What Healthjump removes is the chore of filling up medical forms every time you go to another clinic or hospital but the startup guarantees security with encryption.

“We don’t collect your (customers’) data,” Cavanaugh said.

Talking again about privacy, PeepsOut and its live stream network helps venues find new patrons and patrons find venues that they may like “to be found in.” Crawford guarantees that the streams are anonymous and not recorded at all.

A former ad man, Crawford announced a couple of recent accomplishments, including its partnership with 45 bars and other establishments, its new office in Austin Texas; its 1,500 uniques in New York as well as its return rate of 83 percent on its app and 63 percent on its website.

Thinknum’s Zhen presented his web platform for financial analysis and how it’s different. “We’re focusing on collaboration and solving transparency.”

Thinknum aggregates the abundance of financial data and insights on the web and presents it to our users in an intuitive format, indexing the world’s financial information in the process.

Thinknum’s Cashflow Model values companies based on fundamentals just like Wall Street research analysts do. Its Plotter tracks over 2,000 sources of data and enables users to analyze trends easily. Thinknum’s institutional clients include Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

Later, Sun answered questions from the audience, but one thing that stood out is how open he is to e-commerce startup idea. “It’s a $700-billion dollar industry with only a 6-percent penetration rate. In terms of potential, it’s more execution, than concept.”

Even Amazon, he added, is on Day 1 with e-commerce.

Late last year, comScore reported that Q3 2013 U.S. desktop-based retail e-commerce sales grew 13 percent year-over-year to $47.5 billion, marking the 16th consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth and the 12th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.