Yesterday the Havana Room in the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) hosted Investor First Look, a preview of the fifteen companies exiting from the Spring 2013 session of Betaspring. The Providence-based startup accelerator will conclude its twelve-week program for the season this week with an official Launch Day in Providence on May 2nd, but yesterday Boston investors and a select number of press enjoyed the exclusive opportunity to hear fifteen new startups pitch their businesses, to meet company teams, and to make early-stage investments.
“We’ve assembled a range of investors to meet with an equal variety of startups incubated through our program,” said Betaspring Founder and Managing Partner Allan Tear. “Through events like Investor First Look in Boston I think we’re establishing a more consistent flow of startup ideas, entrepreneurship, and funding on a regional basis throughout New England.”
Tear said he hoped to show that the train between Boston and Providence goes both ways. But the geographic reach of Betaspring’s Spring 2013 cohort takes this concept even further. Among the fifteen companies represented at yesterday’s event, four hailed from India, and several more from beyond the East Coast. Many of those companies, including the notable heavy-hitter LocusPlay from Bangalore, plan on staying in Providence.
“When we came to the US we didn’t expect huge success,” said LocusPlay CEO Rahuldev Rajguru, “but we’ve had several amazing breakthroughs just in the last few days thanks to the network we’ve tapped in Providence.”
LocusPlay is a mobile and cloud-based technology platform focused on streamlining operations for small and mid-size lotteries in emerging markets like Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Thanks to the company’s proximity to Providence’s commercial gaming giant GTECH, the team securing its second partnership with the West African lottery in the last two days. With the Bahamian lottery already fully signed on and an expected ten more lotteries in the sales pipeline, LocusPlay appears well on its way to harnessing an estimated $95 billion market opportunity.
“Many of the executives behind our target lotteries are already based in the US, and with so many connections in Providence alone it makes perfect sense for our company to set up its new headquarters here,” Rajguru said.
But in Betaspring’s mix of local and international entrepreneurs, both sides—if sides may be drawn—appear to reap the benefits of internationalization. Anna Callahan, CEO of Boston’s own ZoomTilt, said she found the influx of foreign talent invigorating.
“[ZoomTilt] is all Boston, all the time,” she laughed. “We live here and commute to Providence, but we love that we’re working alongside so many companies from India. Those entrepreneurs are raising and tackling problems that we would never think of!”
“We’re fostering creative entrepreneurship at the regional level now, but this is our first cohort with so many international companies,” explained Betaspring co-founder and managing partner Owen Johnson.
Term to term, these rapid changes within startup accelerators may be evocative of larger ongoing shifts among startups worldwide. Betaspring’s proven track record of keeping companies in Providence—50% on average stick around, and 15 of their 16 companies last spring remained in the area—suggests that such programs are primely positioned as conduits for a steady influx of global talent into the local tech community.
It also helps to have vibrant additional components in your startup community infrastructure. Betaspring is one of many effective startup accelerator programs in the Northeast, but as its Chief of Staff Melissa Withers noted, the company is also working especially hard to collaborate with a range of institutions that foster entrepreneurial leadership.
“Here [in New England] we have a lot of entrepreneur-led centers,” Withers said. “Providence is home to places like the Founder’s League, and Boston has Dogpatch Labs and the CIC. Such a concentration of entrepreneurial leadership in these centers has drawn investors back into our cities and revitalized the deep capital networks running in a corridor from Boston to New York City.”
For the mentors and the companies that work in Betaspring, this combination of capital and entrepreneurial leadership has created an ecosystem for new business ideas to thrive. The connections these companies have gained through the Spring 2013 session of the program are impressive to say the least, and certainly suggest that New England is due for another influx of talent that will link the community with other startup regions around the world.
Here are the startups you can look for at this Spring’s Launch Day on Thursday. Their summaries are courtesy of the companies themselves, and special notes from the event accompany a select few (editor’s notes):
Bare Tree Media Bare Tree Media drives engagement between popular brands and their consumers through branded digital entertainment. The company creates, publishes, and sells branded virtual goods and mobile apps across leading online and mobile platforms. Brand partnerships include Garfield, Hello Kitty, and The Three Stooges, as well as emerging brands such as Domo, So So Happy, and Tokidoki. Editor’s note: Over the weekend, Bare Tree Media signed a licensing deal with the rock band, KISS, and will be a part of their world tour this summer.
Bolt Bolt is a fast and easy-to-setup API for large recurring transactions, like rental payments. Developers using Bolt can get started with collecting and dispersing payments on behalf of their customers in a fraction of the current industry standard time. Bolt acts as a payments aggregator that partners with software companies to provide their users with painless online payments and collections.
Designer Material DM is the first online marketplace where designers, architects, fashion houses, and product brands can search for, source, and buy materials to make their products all in one place. The current sourcing process—a never-ending one that repeats with each design, season, or year—is limited to consultants and internal research. DM changes all that by creating a curated marketplace of new and hard-to-source materials that is free to access online. The site is tailored specifically for the design community and captures a percentage of each sale competitive with industry distribution rates.
Eventcheq Eventcheq is a second-screen platform for live events like sports, concerts, theatre, and other performing arts. Their mobile and web apps are a fun and powerful way for fans to share and relive their experiences at live events. At the same time, the company provides event organizers with tools to promote their events and keep fans engaged. The team behind Eventcheq has more than 12 years of experience working with major sports organizations across three continents.
InfiKno InfiKno’s first product, Rumor2Release.com, is a platform to keep fans up to date. Starting with Digital Entertainment, users enter their favorite content, actors and genres and Rumor2Release delivers the exciting new content around those subjects. When any new product is released, the company takes a commission from every purchase that every fan is ready to make.
LocusPlay In addition to what you already know (see above), lotteries in emerging markets can use LocusPlay to go mobile, run on lower capital investment, and scale faster. Currently most of the lotteries in Africa, Latin America, and SE Asia are paper based. The LocusPlay platform provides secure transations, as well as real time data analytics. The company has generated revenue from six lotteries to date.
RaftOut RaftOut is a new way for groups of friends to buy things together, like concert tickets. The company’s platform takes the busy work out of deciding, “Who’s going?” and take the purchasing burden off the people doing the organizing. With this approach, RaftOut helps online merchants such as ticketing companies and venues sell more, faster.
Recroup With hundreds of people competing for one job, resumes are not enough to help candidates stand out. At Recroup, job seekers can create a profile by integrating their social media and results from skill-testing sites to tell their story in a way a resume cannot. With the company’s hiring platform, recruiters can screen multiple candidates based on skills without digging into tons of resumes. With Recroup, companies find the best talent and applicants get the job they deserve.
ShutterCal ShutterCal is a calendar-based daily photo journal. The company helps people organize, document, and share their most meaningful moment of each day—from any device or photo app. The company’s monthly print service creates a new family tradition: a modern take on the family photo album that any new parent can have. Editor’s Note: ShutterCal noted during their presentation that 70% of their longtime users are parents with young children, and that 86% percent of users who stick with the service membership for 12 months renew in month 13.
SkillHound SkillHound provides technical recruiters with automatic skill assessment for millions of software developers. With an impressive roster of customers and advisors, SkillHound’s patent-pending algorithm is able to find developers’ code and analyze the quality of the work and expertise. SkillHound also provides intelligence to create an effective, targeted communication to desired applicants, improving a company’s conversion rates and the overall quality of their hiring funnel.
Splashscore Splashscore is a social influence marketplace that identifies and rewards social influencers on Facebook to promote brands. Unlike other tools that only perform influencer identification, Splashscore allows brands to generate more clicks, likes, leads, market research and sales with a singe social marketing campaign. The marketplace currently has 12,000 active influencers with a total reach of 6 million consumers across the US and is on track to double in size over the next ten weeks. Current brand partners include BJ’s Wholesale Club, MARS, and The Miami Dolphins.
Spogo Spogo is a mobile app that enables sports fans to win real rewards (including free food and beer) for making correct predictions while they watch live games. Spogo offers bars, chains, stadiums, and brands a new second-screen marketing platform that drives customer awareness, traffic, and revenue.
STEM20 STEM20 enables K-12 educators to build, use, and share high-fidelity, interactive simulations for science and math. Publishers and content developers use STEM20’s online authoring tools to create standards-mapped, age-appropriate simulations and offer them to their customers through the company’s content marketplace.
SurpriseRide SurpriseRide is a subscription service that delivers a monthly box of hands-on activities for 7-12 year-old kids and their parents. Through careful curation, the service helps parents source fun and engaging activities and allows kids to learn by doing. The company is in beta with paying customers, has received strong feedback, and is ready to scale. Editor’s note: Ask co-founders Donna and Rosy Khalife to let you try one of their activity boxes. They spent their term at Betaspring fully engaged in developing their web presence while impressively managing the production of their offline products.
ZoomTilt Last year, brands spent $3 billion in online video trying to recreate successes like the Old Spice Guy (1.8 billion views, 55% sales increase). Unfortunately, most branded videos are complete failures, averaging less than 1000 views and note meeting basic marketing goals. Why? They produce only one video and have no idea if audiences will like it. ZoomTilt takes the risk out of creating successful videos. We give brands multiple options of creative videos (sourced through submissions online), then we A/B test them all so the brands knows which one will resonate with their audience. Editor’s note: This team wins major points for their classic theatrical presentation style. Sci-Fi fans are in for a treat!
Ben Mirin is a
professional videographer, journalist and contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow Ben on Twitter (@benmirin) by clicking here.