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TechStars Boston: A scorecard for the 13 startups presenting at the accelerator program's spring demo day

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 2, 2012 02:28 PM

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Thursday was the spring "demo day" presentation for this year's crop of startups participating in the TechStars Boston accelerator program. Thirteen fledgling companies presented in front of an audience of investors, press, and tech community members at the Wilbur Theater.

According to my math, this year's crop of startups announced today that they've already raised more than $5.5 million in aggregate. That's significantly more than was announced last year, when the companies had commitments of about $4 million by demo day.

Here's my scorecard of the companies, what they do, who's involved, and how much money they've raised or are seeking.

I've listed the companies in order of who had the most buzz heading into the event, according to the mentors and investors with whom I've spoken over the past few weeks (as well as media coverage.)

Psykosoft (team pictured above, in TechStars' Kendall Square HQ)

"You are an amazing artist! You just never had the right tools to express yourself yet." An easy way for the non-artistic to turn photos into paintings, or create and share animated GIFs. Company's mission is to make it easy to be creative, and its next project is a web-based music composition app called PsykoDio.

"Adobe PhotoShop is amazing: it only costs $522," Gosselin said during his demo. "Then you can buy a book like 'Photoshop Made Easy.' And the interface hasn't changed in twenty years. Photoshop is vintage, it's a lot of fun to learn, and it only costs you a kidney. What happens if you're lazy and you want to have fun in your life?" Psykosoft lets you instantly paint like Monet or Van Gogh or "Picasso 2.0," he said. The free site is already getting 60,000 visits per day.

- Participated in the European Seedcamp accelerator program in 2011.
- French team led by CEO Matthieu Gosselin
- Mentors: Former Harmonix COO and angel investor Mike Dornbrook, Fred Destin of Atlas Venture, Dave Balter of BzzAgent/
- Raising $500,000, with Destin already committed to invest.


Imagine if all your music — CDs or digital downloads — could live in one place. Murfie says it's building a "bank for your music," with the ability to legally buy, sell, and trade the tunes you own. One service the company offers is the ability to send in your CD collection, have it digitized, and stream it to mobile devices, computers, and Sonos music systems. (We'll see what the record labels think about your ability to sell a digital track that you may have already ripped to your hard drive from the CD.) CEO Matt Yunkle notes that even in the age of iTunes, the number of Americans buying CDs actually grew last year. He says current Murfie subscribers are already spending $200 on the site.

- The Madison, Wisconsin startup came into TechStars with $1.4 million in funding. It sounds like they eventually plan to raise more — but not imminently.
- They've been having partnership discussions with major record labels, but haven't announced any deals yet.
- Mentors: Rudina Seseri of Fairhaven Capital Partners, Shawn Broderick of Oomba/Play140, Eric Paley of Founder Collective.


Making it easy for landlords, universities, or corporate campuses to start bike-sharing programs. The team has been already consulted with urban bike-sharing programs (similar to Hubway) in places like Fort Lauderdale and Rio de Janeiro. But those programs only reach a certain number of people; Zagster says more can be served with bike-sharing stations at college campuses, hotels, and apartments. Zagster charges the property owner a monthly fee ($100 per bike per month, which includes maintenance). The property owner makes bike rental available as a free amenity to tenants (or students or hotel guests), who can either reserve a bike with their mobile phone, or on the web. Company signed nationwide contracts with Cisco Systems and Hyatt Hotels during the TechStars program.

- Team moved to Boston from Philadelphia earlier this year, before they knew they'd been accepted to TechStars. In a previous incarnation, CityRyde, the team has already created bike-sharing programs at places like the University of Colorado at Boulder and raised $345,000.
- Seeking to raise $650,000, with $350,000 already committed. Will Herman is among the investors.


Getting virtual points and badges don't motivate people as well as money, observed CEO Yifan Zhang. So Pact's first mobile app, Gym-Pact, collects fines when you don't achieve your weekly exercise goals, and pays out real money when you do. (The company collects a fee before distributing the cash.) Zhang says the app already has 40,000 users who have put $1 million on the line. Eight-six percent are successfully hitting their goals, she said. Zhang also said the company has partnerships with Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Puma North America to promote working out. "There's no reason we should stop at work-outs," Zhang said, adding that the platform could be used to encourage people to achieve other goals, like learning to code or saving for college.

- Team of Harvard alums have already garnered coverage in the New York Times, CNBC, and Lifehacker.
- Mentors: Viximo CTO Sean Lindsay, Brightcove CTO Bob Mason, Spark Capital partner Nabeel Hyatt, and angel investor Will Herman.
- Pact is hoping to raise $800,000, with $600,000 already committed by investors that include (Resolute founder Mike Hirshland said that Pact marks his first investment in a Boston company.)


Just as things can be destroyed remotely in "Mission: Impossible," DocTrackr lets you blow up documents from afar. The service ensures not only that documents don't fall into the wrong hands, but that they're always up-to-date. The company uses PDF files with built-in intelligence (like access control), as opposed to requiring a special software download. You can also see stats about how many people have opened your document, and how long they've looked at it.

- According to DocTrackr's MassChallenge profile, company is profitable, with $150,000 in annual revenues and several European Fortune 500 companies as customers.
- DocTrackr is the other French company in TechStars Boston. CEO is Clément Cazalot.
- Hoping to raise $1.1 million, half of which is already committed, according to Cazalot.

Mortar Data

Making it easy for companies to store, access, and manage large data sets in the cloud, using the Hadoop software framework. "We make Hadoop usable in one hour," said CEO K Young.

- Mentor: Chris Lynch, formerly CEO of Vertica.
- Raised a seed round last month, including Lynch, Atlas Ventures, Genacast Ventures, and Great Oaks Ventures, along with Brightcove CTO Bob Mason and Matt Turck, managing director of Bloomberg Ventures.


Mobile app to help athletes and coaches use video to improve their performance. First apps in the iTunes Store were Swingreader Baseball and Swingreader Golf. Excelade, for analyzing any activity from gymnastics to tennis to snowboarding, just appeared in the app store late last month. UberSense's apps let you compare yourself side by side with video of professional athletes, said CEO Krishna Ramchandran (pictured at left), or you can overlay video of your own tennis serve with how you looked a year ago. You can also pay $10 to have a video analyzed by a professional coach, who can record a voice-over with constructive comments or add "chalk talk"-style annotations. Ramchandran says that seven Olympic teams are already using the software, as are several Major League Baseball franchises.

- CEO Krishna Ramchandran was previously a research scientist at Citrix. Co-founder Amit Jardosh is an alum of Yahoo.
- Over 500,000 videos are being recorded with the company's apps each month.
- Mentors: Nicole Stata of Boston Seed Capital, Ty Danco, Justin Siegel, and Warren Katz.
- Raising $750,000. Investors include Boston Seed Capital, Atlas Venture, and Vermont-based angel investor Ty Danco.


Web-based platform for publishing digital books. Libboo says its goal is to increase the number of authors who can have a successful career, and "fundamentally change the publishing industry forever," according to CEO Chris Howard (pictured above). Best-selling business author Guy Kawasaki published a book recently about Google+, the social network, using Libboo.

- Participated in the MassChallenge startup competition in 2011, and subsequently received funding from the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp.
- Mentors: angel investor Joe Caruso, Mike Grandinetti of Southboro Capital, angel investor Bill Warner, David Aronoff of Flybridge Capital Partners.
- Hoping to raise $1 million; $450,000 committed already.


Short online tests custom-built for individual students, to predict how they'll perform on the SAT. "Study less, but study better," said CEO Miro Kazakoff. The site lets students set goals on how many questions they'll answer in each session, and its adaptive algorithm offers tougher questions when they're doing well, and easier questions when they're struggling.

- Co-founder Miro Kazakoff comes out of sales roles at HubSpot and
- First partnership, with Teen Life, will give company access to 40,000 students in the midst of "testing season."
- Hoping to raise $500,000. Angels Bill Warner, Dharmesh Shah, Don McLagan, and Jean Hammond already committed.

Bison Alternatives

Bison aims to help pensions, endowments, and foundations find the best investments, and achieve better returns when they invest in venture capital and private equity funds. Employs a SaaS model, charging $4,000 a month. There are 6,000 firms in the company's target market, according to CEO Michael Nugent.

- The name Bison stands for Boston Illiquid Securities Offering Network.
- CEO is Michael Nugent, formerly of SVG Capital, a British investment management firm.
- Raising $1.5 million, with $500,000 already committed. Jeff Parker, former CEO of Thomson Financial, has offered to invest in the company and join its board, according to Nugent. Has received some funding from angel investor Ty Danco.


Assemble head-to-toe outfits based on your unique sense of style. "Shopsy's mission is to help every woman find her perfect outfit match, so she can feel confident and beautiful every day," said CEO Lisa Morales-Hellebo. "Women's shopping needs are not being met" — especially online, where they are confronted with "an infinite sea of isolated choices," as opposed to the painstakingly-assembled looks you might see in Vogue.

- CEO is Lisa Morales-Hellebo, a graphic designer and creative director from the Washington, DC area.
- Raising $1.5 million, with $1 million already committed.

Simply Good Technologies

Trying to make mobile couponing simple, and encourage "social sharing" of coupons. Imagine that the next time you go into a favorite restaurant, the staff greets you by name, and the bartender starts to make your favorite drink. Before you leave, you get an exclusive offer for your next visit that you can share with four of your friends. CEO Winston Mok says that will turn customers not just into VIPs, but ambassadors for the business. Managers can see which customers are coming in most regularly and sharing offers most frequently. Simply Good is working with several Canadian chains already.

- CEO Winston Mok and two other team members previously worked at RIM.
- First Toronto-based company admitted to TechStars.
- Mentors: David Chang of Where/PayPal, Jennifer Lum of Apricot Capital and Adelphic Mobile, Eric Hjerpe of Kepha Partners.
- Hoping to raise $1.2 million; is currently about halfway to that goal.

Laveem (admitted to TechStars as Lessonsmith)

Laveem is working on the "Food Genome Project," building what CEO Varun Chirravuri calls "the largest food and nutrition knowledge base in the world. Our goal is to be able to support an entire ecosystem of applications that can change the way the world eats and help people make better dietary decisions in their lives." (Think of Laveem as The Echo Nest for food.) The company's first project is SweeterSpoon, a site that helps cooks tweak recipes to make them tastier or healthier. Laveem wants to support an entire ecosystem of food-related apps (and presumably charge developers a fee), like a mobile app that might support choosing restaurants that offer good options for people with diabetes or gluten sensitivity.

- CEO Chirravuri, an MIT alum, was previously an associate product manager at Google, as was co-founder Shaun Seo.
- Hoping to raise $500,000.

gopaley.jpgCompanies accepted into the TechStars program receive $18,000 in seed funding in return for six percent of their stock. They are also offered an additional $100,000 in convertible debt. Participants get free office space for the duration of the three-month program, and the opportunity to present to a group of investors at its conclusion.

Since TechStars recently announced that they plan to run two annual programs in Boston, you'll probably see the next demo day take place in December or January.

(Here's my coverage of last year's TechStars Boston demo day. Pictured at right are two of the VCs who were present today, Rob Go of NextView Ventures and Eric Paley of Founder Collective.)

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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

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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