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The Demo Day Dispatch: TechStars Boston start-ups presenting (and raising money) today

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 15, 2011 07:05 AM

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Today is "demo day" for the TechStars Boston program, which supplies start-ups with office space, mentorship, and a splash of cash (up to $18,000), in exchange for a six percent equity stake. A dozen start-up companies that have been cloistered away in Kendall Square office space for the past three months will present to prospective investors.

It sounds like there's strong investor interest in this year's crop of companies, which may be due to the program's selectiveness...or the seed-stage investor frenzy that's building in tech...or a bit of both. One TechStars entrepreneur predicted yesterday, "I don't think any of us will be boot-strapping after the program is over. It seems like everyone has interest from investors." Already, two local VC firms have plunked a bet down on one TechStars company (GrabCAD), and local angels are backing several others.

Update: According to my tally, as of today, the dozen TechStars Boston companies have funding commitments totaling at least $4 million.

I met with the companies back in March, but here's a quick cheat sheet in advance of demo day; presentations begin at 9:30, and I'll update this post as necessary.

- Daily Data (from

Background: MIT Media Lab spin-out that aims to use mobile phones to collect passive and active data about your health and activity level. Are you exercising, experiencing new symptoms, or taking the meds your doctor prescribed? wants to gather this information — with user permission, of course — and sell it to healthcare and pharma companies. What is the user's incentive for participating (aside from perhaps improving one's health)? That was unclear from the team's presentation. Advisors include Frank Moss, former Tivoli Systems CEO (and ex-Media Lab director) and Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technology. Working on partnerships with Merck, Pfizer, and Cincinnati Children's.

Funding status: Seeking to raise $800,000. Warner says he has invested, but hasn't disclosed how much.

- EverTrue

Background: Co-founders hail from Harvard Business School and Boston University. Helping prep schools and universities stay in touch with alums using mobile apps and social networks like LinkedIn. (And raise money, of course.) Has generated more than $150,000 in revenue so far.

Funding status: Hoping to raise $1 million; $750,000 committed so far. Vermont-based angel investor Ty Danco and Joe Caruso of Bantam Group already involved.

- GrabCAD

Background: Founded two years ago in Estonia, GrabCAD is a marketplace site that connects people who need products designed in CAD (computer-aided design) programs with 8500 mechanical engineers who can do the work. CEO Hardi Meybaum says 7000 of those engineers have joined within the last month, and predicts that the site could represent "the world's largest engineering team" within six months. Big companies like ABB are using engineers on GrabCAD to convert old 2-D product models into 3-D, Meybaum says. Much of the GrabCAD team in Estonia consists of former Skype employees; Meybaum says that as a result of participating in TechStars, the company will make Boston its new headquarters.

Funding status: Pulled in $1.1 million from Matrix Partners, Atlas Venture, NextView Ventures, and individual angels including SAP veteran Alex Ott, TellMe co-founder Angus Davis, and former SolidWorks CEO John McEleney. The company may add more angel investors to the round, Meybaum says.

- Help Scout

Background: A trio of founders from Nashville want to make it easier for customer service or sales teams to manage incoming e-mail messages. Assign responses to particular team members, and track messages so they don't fall through the cracks. Co-founder Nick Francis says they've had the service live for almost two months now, and have signed up more than 250 users so far, including social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library. Pricing ranges from free to $20 per month.

Funding status: Seeking $400,000. Francis says they're "about halfway where we want to be." Boston angel investors Joe Caruso of Bantam Group and HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah are involved. (Shah made his offer to invest — and got a "yes" — via Twitter, and Performable CEO David Cancel is also reportedly putting money in.)

- Kinvey

Background: A trio of University of Texas alums simplifying the development of new mobile apps by connecting them to various cloud-based services, like storage or video transcoding. They call it BaaS: "back-end as a service." More than 180 developers have already signed up for the Kinvey beta. See the TNW write-up on Kinvey here.

Funding status: Hoping to raise $1.5 million; at least $1 million committed so far from Atlas Venture, Bantam Group's Joe Caruso, and Bill Burnham, formerly at Softbank Capital.

- Memrise

Background: Co-founded by British memory champ Ed Cooke, Memrise aims to make it easy to learn new vocabulary in any language. Focusing now on Mandarin Chinese and SAT words in English (though there is also material on the site to teach Japanese, Spanish, Italian, German, and more.) Cooke jokes that the team initially planned a "smash and grab" operation — raising money in Boston and then absconding to the UK — but will now likely remain in the States for at least a year.

Funding status: Trying to raise $1.5 million. Already committed are Balderton Capital, angel investor Bill Warner, and Nabeel Hyatt, general manager of Zynga's Boston game development studio.

- Placester

Background: Helping real estate agents and landlords manage their online advertising and subsequent tenant leads. Agents pay for performance, measured by inbound e-mails and phone calls. Barba says 450 agents and brokers are already using the service. Co-founders are Frederick Townes, former CTO at Mashable, and BU School of Management grad Matt Barba.

Funding status: Hoping to raise $600,000; $325,000 already committed. (Via Twitter, angel investor John Landry offered to put money in.)

- Promoboxx

Background: Enables Web sites to run giveaways, promotions, and sweepstakes, easily and legally. Specifically focused on helping big consumer brands run promotions that drive traffic into retail stores. Charges $99 per month, per retailer that is involved in a promotion. Has run more than 400 promotions so far. TechStars Boston's lone team from New Hampshire. (They plan to remain in Cambridge after the program.)

Funding status: Raising $750,000; $250,000 already committed, according to CEO Ben Carcio. BzzAgent founder Dave Balter is among the investors. (HubSpot's Dharmesh Shah has also offered to invest in the company, via a tweet.)

- Sennexx

Background: A Web-based, private, internal Q&A application for companies, designed to help find the experts on given topics with an organization. (Remember knowledge management?) Israeli team educated at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. Working with Novartis and Xerox as beta customers.

Funding status: Raising $500,000; $100,000 committed thus far.

- Spill

Background: Encourages college students to talk about issues they're grappling with — from roommate quarrels to binge drinking — and receive confidential online counseling from trained "student supporters" who've dealt with similar issues in the past. "We're bringing empathy online," CEO Heidi Allstop said in her presentation. (Allstop says there has also been interest from the military and large companies.)

Funding status: Hoping to raise $400,000, with $120,000 already committed.

- Strohl Medical Devices

Background: System for quickly triaging patients who may have had strokes, intended for emergency room use. Founder Heather Keith calls it "the EKG for stroke," intended to get stroke victims the clot-bosting drug tPa within the three-hour "golden window" following a stroke. Device is portable enough to be carried on ambulances. Intellectual property licensed from Tufts.

Funding status: Looking to raise $750,000 to launch its product.

- The Tap Lab

Background: Mobile game from two Boston University alums, Dave Bisceglia and Ralph Shao. Think "Monopoly" meets Foursquare. Of course, you need friends and virtual goods to defend properties you "own," like Fenway Park or the House of Blues. Hopes to generate revenue not just from selling virtual goods to users, but developing sponsored content for big brands. Building other games tied to real-world properties.

Funding status: Targeting $500,000, with $150,000 committed already. Harmonix Music Systems co-founder Eran Egozy is among The Tap Lab's backers.

Some other coverage of TechStars' Boston demo day (the program also operates in Boulder, Seattle and New York): Xconomy ... BostInnovation ... Bill Warner's blog ... Boston Herald ... The Next Web.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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