Startups

DreamIt Ventures Demo Day 2009: our awards

Look at the nearly dozen graduates of the second class of the tech accelerator program.

A crowd of more than 200 in the Independence Visitor Center ballroom for the second Dream It Ventures Demo Day.

(Photo by Christopher Wink)

Demo Day marked the end of the second session of DreamIT Ventures, with the box score showing growth: one company sold, several pledging to retain ties to Philadelphia and six already moving on user acquisition.
A collegial crowd of 200 — t-shirt adorned developers, business casual 20- and 30-somethings and a crush of lawyers and investors — piled into the Independence Visitor Center ballroom, away from cloudy skies and occasional rain, to hear presentations from 10 tech startups that were housed in the University City incubator this summer.
The buzz was just how few of the 10 presenting startups were actively and openly seeking funding — just three by our count — and the growth DreamIt has seen.
Some estimates put the audience size at nearly double last year’s inaugural Demo Day, during which the incubated companies present their progress after the three month program. There was national attention not present last time, with coverage from ReadWriteWeb and Tech Crunch on record.
Below we run through the ten companies and, more importantly, give awards for their presentations.

NOTEHALL

“DreamIT worked. We’re staying in Philadelphia,” says Justin Miller, a co-founder of the online marketplace that gives college students a platform to buy and sell lecture notes and study guide materials.
Miller says Notehall, borne of four friends in Tuscon at the University of Arizona, has signed a lease to move their operations into live-work space in Manayunk after the DreamIt program officially ends Aug. 21.
The team is already pooling revenue by taking a 60 percent cut from the online sales of more than 5,500 documents between more than 13,000 users, after virtually launching at just their alma mater, Arizona State University and the University of Kansas. They plan to move on to 23 more this fall.
“A lot of people are interested in investing in them,” says DreamIt co-founder Steve Barsh. “If you are interested, find them now.”
For diving into a new place, chancing a vibrant new startup scene in the beginning and braving the harsh realities of an East Coast big city, we award Notehall the I Don’t Care what You Did in Ari-freakin’-Zona, Will Youse Just Pay the Business Privilege Tax Already? prize.

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POSTLING

Perhaps the most hyped of the DreamIt startups, Postling, which launched just two weeks ago, is backed by the Web 2.0 credibility of CEO David Lifson, who worked in the product management sphere for Amazon and Etsy.
“We help small businesses face the daunting task of online marketing,” Lifson said.
He left Etsy to build Waffl, a community marketplace for bed and breakfast businesses, which he brought to DreamIt. In doing market research, though, he found interest in a product that could publish to multiple social media platforms for marketing.
“They’re a group that made a 90-degree pivot and still delivered,” says Barsh.
Lifson rejected recent comparisons to Cotweet and Ping.fm, to which Mashable compared them, saying their wholesale combination of outlets — which will include video hosting sites in the future, Lifson says — goes beyond any other alternative out there.
The company has a few dozen paid subscribers in its first 12 days, charging $9 per month and $90 per year, with a premium model in the works.
For speaking authoritatively and broaching his big name resume just enough, we award Lifson the Best Speaker prize.

STRAIGHT UP ENGLISH

“Non-native speakers are painfully aware of how they sound in English,” SiNae Pitts says. “Many can read and write in English beautifully.”
It’s likely that that knowledge gave Pitts, herself a non-native speaker, the clear voice and direct presenting style she used today. Calling on two billion ESL speakers worldwide, Pitts says there is a growing market of users who need more help than the traditional read and repeat translation software can offer.
“[Students] who use them miss subtleties of a spoken language, especially English, because cloning dynamics make the lessons all the same,” says Pitts, who has a PhD in neuroscience from Columbia University.
Her Web-based software, Pitts says, is special because it gives and tracks the pitch line of a user. So, after watching the emphasis of an audio track while “AD-dress” and “adDRESS” are read, the user can record themselves saying it and track what’s missing.
The subscription-based program will also feature Web-based community learning and sales of Web-based device applications. They’ll also be leveraging traffic to their LanguageStyleSurvey.org site, which is meant to instruct users how to best fit their learning styles with language development.
Some of her team lives in Philadelphia, but Straight Up English will be officially based in the global hub of Web-based language software: Upper Darby.
For most clearly defining what her company offers, how and why it will profit and keeping the audience in check, we award Pitts the Best Presentation prize.

FANGAMB

You knew Justin Goldman was confident.
The 27-year-old Bucks County-native and Neshaminy High School graduate sported frat-boy chic as he spoke authoritatively on the coupling and cornering quintessential guy loves: sports, betting and money.
Later this month, the flagship product from his Three Screen Gaming will launch FanGamb, fantasy sports betting leagues for friends, in which you make wagers of virtual money against your friends about select leagues, beginning with the NFL and college football this fall.
“The average fan doesn’t care about how many yards the tight end from the St. Louis Rams gets,” he says in a pitch of populism. “We’re taking the best of these three mega industries.”
After launching the site, Goldman told Technically Philly about likely headquartering in the city, perhaps even in co-working hub IndyHall.
For clearly selling FanGamb as the hybrid of three growth industries, while also managing to include a Jim Belushi from Animal House head shot, we award Goldman the Best Pitch award.

OURSHELF

The social cataloging site from Drexel University’s Paul deGrandis and company pledged a new beta next week, after launching a public beta in May.
Already with 400 users and 2,500 items cataloged, the site allows you to bookmark anything you own with ISBN and UPC codes, like books or movies, to share and trade with friends and learn about new likes.
Plan are to allow users to also sell items on eBay, Craigslist and elsewhere and develop a reliable Flash-based scanning device, something deGrandis says has eluded other similar startups.
For presenting ably and professionally in a vest, we award deGrandis the Best Dressed prize.

PARSE.LY

In 2010, your interest meets your Web, says the crew from Parse.ly, which aims to solve that ongoing fight of culling down the voluminous stream of information hitting the Web every minute. They launched a private beta today (entry code “dreamitventures”).
The Web-based application will prioritize content from news and blogs based on selected interest and continue to develop personalized selections based on what you click, what you don’t and how you interact.
They’re gunning for small businesses and mid-size PR firms by offering a freemium model, topped off with $25 per month and $75 per month options.
For speaking in taglines and sound bytes, we overlook their 67th ward origins and award the fellas from Parse.ly the Web 2.0 Marketer’s Dream prize.

KIDSZILLIONS

They’ve settled on a name and the allowance and money management platform to unite kids and parents that we profiled last month is on the hunt for financing to fund their second phase.
Gunning for roughly 1.26 million U.S. children they estimate regularly receive allowance and want to use it to make online purchases, Kidszillions wants to supplement sponsorship funding for its family-allowance contracts by becoming a third-party channel through which kids can make purchases online, something they think they can do by late 2010.
“In today’s economy, it’s much tougher for children to see the correlation between what they purchase and their savings,” says Michael Connor, the company’s chief operating officer. Throughout their presentation, his soft baritone played straight man to the dry wit and innocent shtick from Kendra Gaeta, the company’s CEO, who displayed that similarly at Ignite Philly 3 back in May.
“What have we learned from the many carcasses that litter the online allowance highway?” asked Connor to a barrage of laughs. “We have to approach this as a social and cultural problem…And kids are fickle. The parents are the stabilizing factor, so we need to bring them on.”
That’s something the marketing duo say they’re doing primarily by reaching out to “mommy bloggers.”
For getting more laughs, smiles and nods of entertaining approval than anyone should during a business presentation, we award KidsZillions the People’s Choice prize.

JOBAPHILES

Presented by Boston-area-native CEO Thai Nguyen, the job auction marketplace already has more than 6,000 users, 1,500 jobs and 1,300 bids on display.
Companies will eventually pay to put jobs up, mostly in the targeted niche of internships and part-time work, and users will bid their hourly rates, including their qualifications, resumes and cover letters.
Nguyen said it’s not always the cheapest that wins, but the best value package.
The company plans to roll out in the next eight weeks in Boston and New York City — no, not Philadelphia, not at all — and plan for 50 paying employers by Oct. 15.
For using video, screenshots and brands to define a trusted concept, we award Jobaphiles the The PowerPoint prize.

TRENDSTA

Let us market your product to the valuable teenage demographic because we do it better than you is the heart of Becki Heller’s sales pitch.
She has a strong enough background in selling to teens that she says she knows the best use of your money is in getting other kids to talk about whatever product you’re boosting.
So, like her team is currently doing for Neutrogena, Trendsta will partner with thousands of teenagers to test and spread the word about your product via multiple social media by way of Trendsta’s dissemination platform.
Heller also managed to squeeze in a swipe at print media.
“Why deal with [advertising in] teen magazines with declining readership?” she asked.
For using data, graphs and existing brands to make a concise criticism of existing and pitch for better teenage marketing, we award Trendsta the Owning a Demographic prize.

SEATGEEK

A couple of Dartmouth cats and a team of developers came into DreamIt with blog directory idea Scribnia, then sold it for an undisclosed sum one month in and got working on another idea.
That second idea is a Web application that estimates the prices of concert and sports tickets on the secondary market, like what Farecast does for online travel.
‘There’s no company with our data or academic rigor,” says co-founder Russ D’Souza. They’ve patented their algorithm and say they stand by their outputs with 90 percent confidence.
In addition to affiliate relationships with secondary markets like stubHub and Craigslist, they’ll take 7-12 percent off transactions that users can make on their site via those secondary market brands. With average transactions at $500 — jacked up by multiple purchases and high-end tickets — that’s $40 profit per purchase.
For selling their initial plan in a month and turning around another geek-tastic concept, we award Scribnia the Best Second Idea prize.

CLOSE

These ten presentations chock full of businesses with at least ostensible profit potential was evidence of DreamIt’s positive trajectory, and that would be hard to be seen as anything but positive for Philadelphia.
That said, only NoteHall is moving their operations to the city. KidsZillions and OurShelf will remain. Some Trendsta staff will continue to split their time here, and Straight Up English will represent the region. FanGamb, which already has ties to the city, made mention of its move, but the majority of the startups won’t make any changes about their location and instead will clear their DreamIt desks Aug. 21, leaving University City and Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
DreamIt co-founder and current congressional campaigner Steve Welch, who was pleased with another successful session, says going forward he’d like to see DreamIt feature an increasingly diverse array of companies, of focus and origin.
Both Welch and Barsh made reference to the importance of developing the region’s startup community, too.
“All we want to do is give these companies the best Philly experience we can so they want to work here,” Welch says. “Whether they started here or end here is less important.”

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