Innovation Economy

TechStars’ new galaxy of start-ups

(Istock Photo)
By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / March 28, 2011

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Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

A dozen start-ups have moved into the new TechStars Boston digs, which feel a bit starchy and corporate for a program that aims to churn out radical new businesses. They will spend the next three months developing products and services and present them to prospective investors June 15.

The teams that participate receive an $18,000 stipend, free office space, and mentoring from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists; TechStars takes a 6 percent stake in each company.

This is the first year that Katie Rae, a former executive at Microsoft Cambridge and Lycos, has run the Kendall Square, Cambridge, program.

A dozen companies made it into this year’s class. (Last year there were 10.) About half are from New England, and two are from outside the United States.

I had a chance to meet with the founders; here is a rundown of what they are up to. (Note that their strategies can change radically over 90 days, as can company names.) One company, a real estate-related venture, wanted to stay in stealth mode for now, so it’s not on this list.

EverTrue It is developing mobile and tablet-based applications to help colleges and preparatory schools stay in touch with alumni, and help alumni find each other. One feature is a location-based directory: What if someone living on the next block in Manhattan was also a graduate of your alma mater and worked for a company where you had just booked a job interview? Founder Brent Grinna finished up at Harvard Business School in June. A spin-out from the MIT Media Lab, it wants to gather data from your cellphone, such as how often you place phone calls or whether you stay at home all day to assess your health. (Going nowhere and talking to no one, for instance, might mean you are knocked flat by the flu.) The company might also be able to collect data about how your behavior, health, and activity level change after you start taking a prescription drug, information that may be hard for pharmaceutical companies to gather using traditional survey methods.

GrabCad Founder Hardi Meybaum says his start-up has raised about $400,000 and has begun booking revenue. Founded in Estonia, it connects mechanical engineers with small and medium-size companies that need help designing products. The engineers can do everything from come up with a quick 3D product rendering for use in a brochure to designing the detailed models necessary to get a product into high-volume production.

HelpScout It will help teams access a single e-mail inbox to deal with customer complaints, for instance, or business inquiries. The founders, from Nashville, plan to launch the service during the TechStars program. About 40 beta customers are using it already.

Kinvey Kinvey’s three founders met at the University of Texas Austin. They want to make the creation of mobile and tablet applications easier by helping developers connect to cloud-based services such as transaction processing.

Memrise Using insights into how memory works to make language learning fast and fun, it was cofounded by Ed Cooke, the British memory coach who helped Joshua Foer win the US Memory Championships in 2007. Foer’s book “Moonwalking with Einstein’’ was recently published.

Promoboxx It helps websites build and run online contests, giveaways, and other promotions, for a $100 fee. The team is based in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Senexx The Israeli team ran a question-and-answer site but is now cooking up a business to help companies figure out who is an expert on what topics within their walls, using e-mail.

Strohl Medical Devices/Scout EP Heather Strohl has licensed intellectual property from Tufts Medical School to develop a device that emergency rooms would use to evaluate patients who may have had a stroke. The firm hopes to submit a 510k application to the FDA, required for the device to be sold, before the end of the TechStars program.

Spill It is creating an anonymous, peer-to-peer support system for college students. Ten schools are using it. The founders suggest that students will more readily talk about difficult issues like drug use or loneliness if they do not have to go to a counseling center. Team is from Madison, Wis., and plans to sell the service to universities.

The Tap Lab Boston University alumni are developing and promoting a mobile game called TapCity. The goal? To capture and defend your favorite hangouts, whether it is a floor of your dormitory or your favorite pub. It is focused on cultivating a cluster of users in Boston first, then expanding to other cities.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit