But Tom Summit, a long-time tech recruiter based in Newburyport, says that despite fielding cold-calls and being spammed on LinkedIn, developers often don't consider all their options when they're ready to change jobs. "Engineers don't create a market for themselves," Summit says. "When they're ready to make a move, they ask a friend who works at an interesting company to help them get an interview. Logic says you should get multiple offers to maximize your compensation, but many of them don't."
Summit's new site, MakerHire, isn't for every software developer. He says it'll curate the good ones, and then similarly select a group of "financially viable" tech companies that are actively hiring. Hiring managers — not recruiters or HR execs — will be able to see the developers' LinkedIn profile or résumé, and request contact. "A candidate can release the information to them if they want, or not," Summit says. One key feature: hiring managers must specify how much the job pays up front, as opposed to asking developers to navigate the interview process before they find out.
Summit's site already lists startups like Backupify, Shareaholic, Yesware, and CustomMade as participants in MakerHire's first "showcase," an online event that lasts for a month; he says his goal is to enable developers to evaluate at least fifty different companies when they're ready to jump. MakerHire charges a placement fee when someone is hired through the site: 12 percent of the individual's first-year salary. (That's lower than a traditional recruiter's fee, which typically start at around 15 percent.)
"When engineers call their friends, they may get a good-enough job offer," Summit says. "We're trying to make it possible to explore the market for your skills, even if it turns out your friend's company is the best place for you."
The Greatest Pitch aims to create 'Shark Tank'-like web show, with an already-controversial assist from entrepreneur fees
Almost immediately, the sniping on Twitter started.
Why was Lupton, a self-described serial entrepreneur, charging entrepreneurs $30 for the mere chance to present their ideas to a panel of as-yet-unnamed investors?
To quote Phil Beauregard, a Boston entrepreneur who co-founded the restaurant software startup Objective Logistics, "Are you really charging people to pitch 'top angels and VCs?' What's up with that?" (Lupton hasn't yet answered.)
As it happens, I had lunch with Lupton last month, and one of the things we discussed was the Greatest Pitch, the latest in a string of a startups he has created. Lupton is a former wealth manager for Cambridge Appleton Trust who left in 2011. He told me he's hoping to create a web video show with "bigger ideas" of "higher quality" than you see on "Shark Tank." Entrepreneurs all over the world will apply, and Lupton's show will be filmed in locations where he finds the highest concentration of interesting ideas. "We will go to new cities every three to four weeks," he says. He plans to put together a 10 to 12-person investor panel of "professional investors that are going to add value." Lupton says that watching the show online will either require a paid subscription, or will be underwritten by sponsors.
But Lupton is charging $30 for any entrepreneurs who'd like to be considered for his show (something that "Shark Tank" doesn't do, I'd point out). He says it is both to "weed out some of the crazy ideas" and "to help pay for some of the production costs." He says his hope is that the application fees from entrepreneurs will cover half of the cost of producing the show, and Lupton would cover the rest. (He estimates it will cost $100,000 to shoot in each different city.) As for getting people to shell out money to watch a web series, Lupton says, "I'm hoping I can crack that model."
After the site's launch over the weekend, and some of the questions about his plan started surfacing on Twitter, I called Lupton to check in. He said that he hoped to start producing the show in May, but that he couldn't share the names of any investors who will be listening to pitches — and potentially investing — yet. Interested investors "can apply on the website," he said. Lupton added that he was also talking to investors about putting together a $5 million "angel fund" that would either invest in every company that presented, or would invest whenever a panelist decided to put money into a company. He also said he was "talking to a couple TV networks this week" about The Greatest Pitch.
Lupton also explained in e-mails that he hasn't previously raised angel money or venture capital for any of the startups he has founded; all have been boot-strapped. His own investing track record, he wrote, consists of investing in several friends' startups through an entity called Parabolic Ventures, which he says is not a traditional venture capital or seed-funding firm. As for his Twitter following that is more than 500,000 strong (I'm jealous), Lupton says he spends about 45 minutes a day following about 1,000 new people on Twitter, hoping that most of them will follow him back.
But charging entrepreneurs to get in front of investors is something that raises peoples' hackles. "If it's such a good deal, I should be paying [to look at it], not the entrepreneur," says prolific angel investor John Landry.
Jason Calacanis, perhaps the highest-profile crusader against charging for access to investors, calls the practice "predatory," and says via e-mail that "no real angel or investor would knowingly participate."
Lupton says that he was "obviously expecting some skepticism," but that most of his advisors had told him that the application fee would help screen out inventors with perpetual motion machines and patent medicines, and that entrepreneurs would not only be getting face time with investors, but also exposure to the show's online audience. One of his advisors, Elise Moussa, the founder of an online education startup called BE, told me that she'd paid a $100 application fee to be considered as a prospective presenter to the angel investing group Golden Seeds. She wrote via e-mail, "I do find when I pay, even if $50 or less, my application is read and I get a reply. Unlike applying to [the accelerator program] Tech Stars [which doesn't charge a fee, where] I didn't even get a reply."
I acknowledge that $30 is not a lot of money, and that Lupton is far from the only person asking entrepreneurs to pay to get in front of potential investors. But I do wonder about the strategy of asking entrepreneurs to foot part of the bill of launching a new site/show that will give some small percentage of them face-time in front of this still somewhat vague group of investors. People may pay $30 to enter a weekend road race, but they understand what the potential upside is: prize money, or perhaps a medal. With the Greatest Pitch, the upside is still pretty hazy.
What do you think?
I've been hearing good things about yet another MIT Media Lab spin-out, PerfectSight Opticals, which comes out of work done at the lab's "Camera Culture" group.
A group of four Media Lab researchers developed a plastic lens assembly (cost: $2) that can clip onto the front of a mobile phone. When a user looks through the lens at the mobile phone's screen, she sees a set of parallel lines. She presses keys on the phone to make the lines overlap, and in about two minutes, the phone displays the proper prescription data. (See the videos below.)
The project won a $5,000 award at last spring's MIT Ideas Competition, and a small team working to commercialize the technology also was chosen as a finalist for the MassChallenge start-up competition this summer. The team says that "uncorrected refractive errors" (near-sightedness and far-sightedness) affect about 600 million people, and are the second most common cause of blindness worldwide. As you might expect, the majority of those people live in less-developed countries, where there isn't a Lenscrafters on every corner, and where the lowest-tech equipment for diagnosing eye problems still costs around $100.
Ekeji writes via e-mail, "We are working on productizing the prototype...We are in discussions with several potential partners in that regard, and our current plan is to have a [Version 1] product available in six months or so."
The company isn't yet actively raising money, though Ekeji says they may talk with some individual angel investors soon.
PerfectSight doesn't yet have a Web site, and when I e-mailed with Ekeji earlier this month, he said they hadn't yet incorporated.
Two videos about the original MIT project, below:
[ Second video is from the Media Lab's LabCast series, by Paula Aguilera and Jonathan Williams. ]
Free exposure on national television is one of those things every small company dreams of.
But what if the exposure comes in the form of a punchline in a late-night monologue?
It happened to Boston-based HuddleHub earlier this year. The site will enable users who manage fantasy sports teams through different services, like ESPN.com, Yahoo, and CBS Sports, to access them in one place, either on the Web or via a mobile app, and get access to live statistics. HuddleHub's official launch is this coming Monday.
But back in March, on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," HuddleHub found itself the butt of a joke in the host's monologue. At the time, the site was starting a beta test for the baseball season.
"There's a new program called HuddleHub that manages all of your fantasy sports teams," Fallon said. "They call it the perfect solution for someone who's too lazy to keep track of being too lazy to play actual sports."
The company clearly took the joke as good-natured ribbing; they quote it on their Web site. But how'd it happen?
The company sprang for a booth at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas in March, and happened to get a prime piece of real estate: right between PayPal and Rackspace, the Web hosting provider. Co-founder Patrick Hereford said he was initially skeptical of the value of being at a trade show, but the location attracted lots of media visits, and subsequent HuddleHub mentions on blogs run by CNN and PC World, Hereford writes.
How much traffic did the NBC mention generate? Fewer than 1000 visits to the site, Hereford says. (CNN and PC World together drove about that much traffic, he adds.)
What has actually done better for generating awareness has been participating in various online discussion forums about fantasy sports. "Interacting with people on a somewhat one-to-one basis in a public forum has been really good for us," he writes.
Interesting data point from the world of start-up PR...
Most of us have had a chance to use self-checkout systems at stores like Home Depot, Shaw's, and CVS by now. At some places, they're popular enough that there's no difference between the length of the cashier's queue and the self-checkout queue.
But what if you could scan items in the store as you put them into your shopping cart, using your iPhone, and pay with a credit card — without waiting in line? That's the idea behind the new app from Boston-based AisleBuyer, which showed up on the iTunes Store over the weekend. The free AisleBuyer app also lets you read product descriptions and reviews on your iPhone. The company calls it the "world's first mobile checkout system," and I had a chance to try it out yesterday morning at Magic Beans, a Brookline store that is the company's first retail partner. (Magic Beans sells toys and baby accoutrements like crib bumpers and $600 strollers; they operate four stores around the Boston area.)
I downloaded the app in a few seconds as I was walking to the store. Interestingly, it's branded as a "Magic Beans" app, not an AisleBuyer app (the company says that once it has a half-dozen or so retailers using the app, it'll create a "meta" AisleBuyer app that lets you select the store you happen to be in.)
The app can help you locate a store using your iPhone's GPS, or give you information about current deals. But the main function once you are in the store is the ability to use the phone's camera to scan the bar codes on items. I tried seven items, and most scanned within a few seconds. One item (some bubble bath) didn't seem to scan, and a few others had price tags stuck over the bar codes.
Ideally, after scanning, the AisleBuyer app will be able to pull up product descriptions, a star rating, and some buyer reviews for items. At Magic Beans right now, only some items (mostly those also offered on the store's Web site) present the star rating from previous buyers. With those items, you can also click to see a product description — though the interface doesn't make it obvious that you can do that. And while the app will tell you how many buyer reviews exist for a given item, you can't actually read them. Aislebuyer's CEO, Andrew Paradise, explained that the company was rushing to get the app out, and will remedy those problems in future releases. (He also says you'll soon be able to store items that you don't want to purchase now, but may want to pick up on a later visit.)
Once you've decided to purchase an item, you can add it to the virtual shopping cart on your phone. It keeps a running tally of how much you're about to spend, including tax. The first time you click the "Checkout" button, you have to enter your credit card info and billing address to set up an account. It took me about two minutes to peck in my data. (I bought a $4.99 spray bottle of scented hand sanitizer.) Once the purchase was complete, it turned into a digital "receipt" on the phone, with a verification code that you are supposed to show to a store clerk before you leave. Even if there's a long line at the register, Magic Beans founder Sheri Gurock explains that a clerk will happily hand you a bag and send you on your way.
Magic Beans isn't yet offering any discounts or coupons through AisleBuyer, but Gurock said she will likely experiment with that soon; AisleBuyer will allow her to create special offers that will pop up on the iPhone screens of people who've downloaded the app, encouraging them to come into the store.
My verdict on version 1.0 of the app: it doesn't (yet) consistently provide you with detailed information or useful reviews of a product when you might be on the fence about buying it, but it could very well help you avoid a long line at the cash register. (Gurock says Magic Beans' busiest time is Saturday mornings, when parents stop in to purchase last-minute gifts before heading off to birthday parties.)
AisleBuyer is aligning itself with brick-and-mortar retailers in an interesting little app-skirmish. One one side are apps like ShopSavvy, RedLaser, and Pic2Shop. They make it possible to compare in-store prices to those at online merchants (which, you may have noticed, are sometimes lower, even when shipping costs are taken into account.) And their pitch seems to be, "Go check out the product at BestBuy, but purchase it wherever it's cheapest."
But AisleBuyer is positioning itself as an ally of the real-world merchant — a way for them to encourage shoppers to use apps to provide a layer of additional info (as long as you don't want to hunt for lower prices), and a convenient self-checkout option.
That could be a tough sell, given that the most tech-savvy consumers (those most likely to have an iPhone and regularly add apps to it) are information omnivores, wanting to know everything about a product they're evaluating (including critical reviews that haven't been "blessed" by the merchant) and all of the purchase options.
Magic Beans plans to begin promoting the AisleBuyer app in its stores this Thursday (though you can download it and use it now.)
With 13 employees, AisleBuyer is moving into new office space in Kendall Square later this month. The start-up has raised some angel funding (individual investors include Gerald Kraft and Phil Cooper, both formerly of Charles River Associates), and plans to announce a Series A funding round in September. The company is currently a finalist in the MassChallenge competition as well as the PepsiCo10 start-up contest. Paradise didn't want to be specific about other retailers who may deploy AisleBuyer, but he did say that office supply superstores are a high priority for the company. An Android version of the app is in development.
(In the photo above, from left to right, are Andrew Paradise of AisleBuyer, Sheri Gurock of Magic Beans, and Chuck Ball of AisleBuyer.)
Boston's newest battery developer, 24M Technologies, is launching with a leg up on your typical start-up: two founders from MIT, a seasoned entrepreneur as CEO, $10 million in funding from North Bridge and Charles River Ventures, and a slice of a $6 million grant from the Department of Energy. Oh, and they've got access to some nascent technology originally developed at A123 Systems.
A123 felt the technology, a hybrid of lithium ion batteries and what are known as "flow" batteries, was too far out to be a priority within the Waltham company; in an analyst call last week, A123 chief executive David Vieau said it could take the better part of the decade to turn it into a product. The new venture, 24M, will be based in Cambridge, and will initially focus on large battery systems for utilities. (A123 is already beginning to sell its lithium ion batteries to utilities who want to store power produced by wind turbines, for example, and then release it in periods of high electrical demand.)
A123 has an equity stake in the new company and a board seat for the intellectual property they've contributed, but the company isn't investing cash in 24M. What's still mysterious is whether A123 will have the exclusive right to purchase the technology that 24M develops — or any preferential options to buy the company itself. "We have a business agreement with them that they chose not to talk about on their earnings call [ last week] and that we'd rather keep that way for now," 24M Technologies CEO Throop Wilder wrote in an e-mail.
Starting early in 2009, Wilder had been an entrepreneur-in-residence at Charles River Ventures, looking at energy storage technologies, which he believes are "the next true great market. I talked to a fair number of scientists doing work in this area, and North Bridge introduced me to Yet." (Yet-Ming Chiang, pictured above, is a co-founder of A123 and a materials science professor at MIT.) Throop had been a co-founder of the security start-up Crossbeam Systems, and before that the software company American Internet Corp., acquired by Cisco for about $56 million. The third founder of 24M is W. Craig Carter, another MIT materials science prof.
For his part, Chiang says that "within A123 are all kinds of technological innovations that bubble up, and in every instance, A123 sits down and says, 'What is the best way to bring this to commercialization, if we think it could be significant.' A lot of those projects get developed internally, but in this particular case, after a lot of thought, it was concluded that if we spun it out it'd have the very significant benefit of leveraging private capital." When I asked Chiang if A123 would have the ability to prevent a rival from buying 24M, perhaps by topping any purchase offer, he said that conceptually it would, but wouldn't be more specific.
MIT professors are permitted to spend 20 percent of their time working with commercial ventures, and Chiang, who sees each work week as consisting of at least 168 hours, plans to continue taking advantage of that allowance. But he didn't want to detail how much time he would be spending at A123 versus 24M.
Wilder says the team will be primarily made up of scientists at this stage, and "will be expanding to 10 to 20 people within the next six months, all with a strong technical orientation."
24M came out of an exercise, Chiang says, "where we took a clean sheet of paper and asked, 'If you were to invent the ideal energy storage device for utility applications, what would it be? We took concepts from flow batteries, which are similar to fuel cells, but don't give off exhaust. And we looked at all of the overhead in materials and components in batteries that don't directly serve the function of storing energy. So, essentially, we were trying to take the high energy density of rechargeable batteries without the overhead, and decrease the complexity and improve the energy density of flow batteries."
The electrical grid has "so many points where you can improve efficiency and lower costs by adding some storage capacity," Chiang adds. Wilder says, "when you're looking at applications in the grid like mitigating peak power [needs] or transmission congestion, or enabling renewable energy sources, you need batteries that can last longer [than what is available today.] We're working on the five-year out, next-generation, long-duration storage technology... Simple systems that could go into a sub-station in New York, for example, and have very good long-duration storage."
Now that they've talked a bit about the company's formation and funding, Chiang says "we'll go back into stealth until we have a product."
Here's the official press release, and here's CNET's coverage of the company, which explains that the name 24M comes from 24 molars, "a level of concentration of active material in the storage media."
Anyone who has ever worked in or around the sales department has seen "Glengarry Glen Ross," the 1992 Alec Baldwin/Kevin Spacey drama in which a boiler room of salesmen all covet a collection of supremely valuable sales leads: the Glengarry leads.
"These are the new leads," Baldwin says. "These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They're for closers."
A new Concord start-up, Mercavo, wants to create an online marketplace where technology sales leads can be bought and sold. It's like the movie's stack of Glengarry leads crossed with Apple's iTunes Store model. Mercavo has been conducting a private beta for about a year, CEO Doug Atkinson says, but will offer its first public demo Thursday night at the Tech Cocktail event in Cambridge.
The company traces its roots to LeadSpark, a company Atkinson started in 2004 (and still runs) after he left a VP of sales gig at the Internet marketing company eDialog. LeadSpark employs about twenty people who dial for dollars all day, calling technology executives to try to find one who might be shopping for some better security software, for instance. That lead then gets passed along to one of LeadSpark's clients, who are predominantly big enterprise tech companies.
How did the idea for Mercavo emerge? "Our client would want us to find a specific sales opportunity — call it a diamond," Atkinson says. "And we'd be calling around and we'd come across another sales opportunity that might be valuable for a different company. A ruby. But we had nothing we could do with those rubies."
He and David Im, formerly at KMT Software and PingPoint, built Mercavo to see whether "you could sell ephemeral knowledge about a sales opportunity in an e-commerce transaction."
So now when LeadSpark's employees come across an opportunity that isn't relevant to a LeadSpark client, it goes into the Mercavo database. Atkinson says he has another local sales development company that is also pouring leads into the database. A lead that tells you, for instance, that a VP of e-commerce at a "very well-established e-tailer" is looking to "improve e-mail metrics and get better pricing" will cost you $379. (The lead comes not just with contact info and a time frame in which the executive plans to make a purchase decision, but a paragraph describing the opportunity, and the executive's complaints about his current situation.) Atkinson says that Mercavo will sell the lead to only three buyers, since he wants the VP to have a few different vendor options, but not to be overwhelmed by sales calls. And he wants to give each of the companies that purchases the lead a fair shake.
When a sales development company adds a new sales lead to the site, and it is purchased, it keeps between 70 and 80 percent of the $379 purchase price, and Mercavo pockets the rest. That's similar to the model Apple uses with app developers on its iTunes Store.
"There is a lot of inefficiency and negative connections in the sales process," Atkinson says. "The idea of Mercavo is to create transparency. Eventually, we'd like to see [executives looking to solve a problem] post an opportunity themselves, and say, 'here's what I need,' as opposed to issuing an RFP and hoping it gets to the right people."
In its private beta phase, Mercavo has been working with about sixty tech companies who've been examining and purchasing sales leads from the site.
The company has been funded with about $50,000 in friends and family money, and Atkinson has just begun to have conversations with venture capital firms about a Series A round.
Right now, the company is primarily focused on adding more sellers of leads to its marketplace, he says: "We just need some jet fuel to acquire sellers.
One of the more intriguing start-ups I've been hearing about this year is Neuroscouting, currently operating out of the DogPatch Labs space in East Cambridge. The company is developing game-like software for evaluating athletes' brain performance — like the way their visual and motor systems respond to an oncoming curve ball — and also improving it. The company will focus first on baseball, but Neuroscouting's tagline ("The science of elite performance") implies that the company will eventually expand to other sports.
Several sources familiar with the company told me that the Red Sox are evaluating the technology for future use, but a team spokesperson didn't respond to multiple calls and e-mails requesting comment. Neuroscouting co-founder Wesley Clapp wrote in an e-mail that "breaching our confidentiality agreements would jeopardize everything that we are working so hard for." Clapp earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and the company's technology is based on recent insights into neuroplasticity — the way the brain can change and improve based on certain kinds of training and experiences. Clapp's co-founder, Brian Miller, earned his PhD in neuroscience at UC/Berkeley.
Neuroscouting's Web site pitches the software it is developing as useful to teams for both scouting and coaching. "Our software tools...analyze and enhance the brain functions required to respond successfully to the intense visuomotor demands seen on the professional field," the site claims. "As a result, they provide a powerful scientific complement to current scouting and player development strategies."
A tweet from venture capitalist Mike Hirshland describes Neuroscouting as developing "videogames for pro athletes." Hirshland is a partner at Waltham-based Polaris Venture Partners, which operates the DogPatch Labs facility; DogPatch provides several months of free office space to promising start-ups. Hirshland said this morning that Polaris hasn't (yet) invested in Neuroscouting.
The company has met with at least one local angel investor, but Clapp wouldn't confirm whether they're seriously seeking funding at this point. The company was founded in 2007.
Who better than a recent business school grad to launch a new start-up that is creating mobile apps to help universities stay connected to their alumni?
Grinna says EverTrue is focused on building "young alumni engagement tools" that will deliver news, sports scores, video, and an event calendar to alums via their iPhones (and eventually, Android phones and BlackBerries, too.)
"When you move to a new city, you can update your contact information so friends can find you, and you can use the app to find other alumni in the area," he says. Grinna adds that schools often don't dedicate much energy to communicating with young alumni, who aren't likely to become big donors for a decade or two. That's exactly the demographic that Grinna expects will be attracted to EverTrue's apps. ("Mobile giving" will also be rendered easy, presumably in small amounts, for those note yet ready to have their name chiseled on a building.)
Grinna has been bootstrapping the company thus far, following the advice of Jeffrey Bussgang, an entrepreneur-in-residence at HBS and a partner at Flybridge Capital in Boston. "Our plan is to sign up some more schools, and then raise some funding," he says. In addition to Brown (Grinna's undergrad alma mater, where he was captain of the football team), he says the company is in discussions with other New England colleges and boarding schools. EverTrue has developed a prototype app for HBS, but the school hasn't yet signed a deal with EverTrue.
Burlington-based CloudSwitch, one of the better-funded cloud computing start-ups in town, officially launches Wednesday at the Structure 2010 conference in San Francisco. While many small businesses have gravitated to cloud-based storage and server horsepower because of the cost savings and flexibility they offer, CloudSwitch aims to make cloud computing "safe" for larger companies. Run by former SolidWorks CEO John McEleney, CloudSwitch has raised $15.5 million from a trio of local venture firms: Matrix Partners, Atlas Venture, and Commonwealth Capital Ventures.
CloudSwitch sells software that's installed in a corporate data center to enable a customer to easily use cloud services from providers like Amazon and Terramark to run their own applications. "You make no changes at all to your underlying app," McEleney says. "And you get complete encryption of all the data. The customer keeps the keys, and no one else has them."
CloudSwitch co-founder Ellen Rubin explains that big companies may want to "spin up" a few hundred extra servers when they're testing a new application to see how it will work in the real world, or for already-live applications during times of high demand, like a travel Web site during the height of summer vacation season.
"We see people saving from 30 to 50 percent, compared to maintaining servers and storage in their own data center," Rubin says. "The real savings is being able to shut it off when you don't need it, rather than running it 24/7."
The company charges a minimum of $25,000 a year for access to up to twenty servers, with pricing scaling up based on the customer's needs. McEleney says they're selling mainly to directors or VPs of IT infrastructure, and executives responsible for application development, as opposed to CIOs. "We don't want to get caught in the spin cycle of someone asking, how does this fit into our 10-year cloud strategy," says McEleney.
CloudSwitch has 24 full-time employees, and McEleney says they're hiring a bit on the business side, and "even more on the engineering side."
I asked McEleney for his list of the top five reasons big companies are still anxious about cloud-based services. Here's his run-down:
1. The cloud is not as secure as your data center (primary concern around multi-tenancy)
2. Moving to the cloud is hard
3. If I move to the cloud, am I going to be “locked in”?
4. The cloud is more expensive than buying hardware
5. No one is really using the cloud
As for that last concern, McEleney concedes that there isn't yet a list of Wal-Mart-sized companies using cloud-based services (or at least talking publicly about it.) But he says CloudSwitch is already working with some big financial services and pharmaceutical companies that just aren't willing to be named, and has been having meetings with a number of other potential customers in the Fortune 500.
At the Structure 2010 conference this week, there are a few other local folks speaking, including Akamai CEO Paul Sagan and Michael Skok of North Bridge Venture Partners. Also, Somerville-based Cloudant will be launching its "cloud ready" database service at the conference, along with CloudSwitch.
The new money management site that I've been hearing about this month is Cambridge-based Blueleaf, founded by John Prendergast and Chris Thorpe. It aims to help you centralize all your investment accounts in one secure place online, and make it easy to discuss with a spouse, friend, or financial adviser whether you're on the right track to saving for retirement or building a college fund. You can grant access to your info to people you trust; have online discussions about whether it's time to sell a certain stock or mutual fund; and even hold on to historical info if you decide to move an account to a different bank or brokerage.
I asked Prendergast about the initial inspiration. He wrote in an e-mail:
What we're trying to do with Blueleaf is connect people, their families and their financial advisors (if they have them) to ALL their investment and savings accounts and to one another. Its about simplifying the investing process and enabling those "kitchen table" conversations we all have huddled around stacks of paper. Families need to manage retirement, college savings and other investments and most of us collaborate to do it; wife to husband, son to mother (I manage my mom's money), advisor to client, etc. But until now there has been no way for everyone in that conversation to see the same information in one place and work together online.
Prendergast is a former techie at Jeffries & Company, the investment bank, who now serves on the board of Oneforty, the Twitter app store; Thorpe, Blueleaf's chief technology officer, worked at Tellme Networks and earlier in his career at Viaweb (an early e-commerce service acquired by Yahoo.) Working alongside them is Chris Paul, formerly the VP of engineering at Visible Measures, the video analytics firm in Boston.
The first line of code for Blueleaf was written last December, Prendergast tells me, and the Web site went live in January. The company is now running an invitation-only beta that will last for a few months, he says. Prendergast expects that some of the site's features will always be free, but there may also be a subscription-based premium version.
Blueleaf is definitely a start-up in the same vein as Mint.com, the personal finance site acquired by Intuit last fall for $170 million.
I started a new blog this week that'll hopefully make my life a bit easier, and might also provide you some useful supplemental info about what's going on in New England's Innovation Economy.
It's called "Read Scott's E-mail: Inside the Innovation Economy Inbox."
Basically, I get way too much interesting e-mail about company launches, product debuts, fundings, executive comings-and-goings, and conferences to ever blog about here, or write about in my column. For much of this stuff, there isn't much that I'd really want to add: if there's a cool event happening, you may just want to know where it is and how much it costs, without any commentary from me. If a company gets $10 million in VC funding, often that's just worthy of noting, without my interviewing the CEO about how great it is that investors have coughed up $10 mil to support his idea.
So "Read Scott's E-Mail" is a chance for me to share some of the stuff that might be worth knowing about, occasionally with a quick remark at the top.
My intention isn't to embarrass anybody with these e-mails, but rather to help spread the word about stuff that people intend to make public. But if you're sending me a message and you absolutely don't want it to appear on "Read Scott's E-Mail," just let me know and I'll honor that.
The reason I'm doing it using the blog service Posterous, instead of here on Boston.com, is that Posterous makes it extremely easy for me to just forward selected e-mails and have them show up as posts -- including any photos, videos, or PDFs that were included in the original message. (Posterous, incidentally, is partly backed by Bill Warner, a Cambridge-based angel investor and entrepreneur.)
As always, I welcome your comments here or there.
You know you may be onto something interesting when you make a few inquiries about a company and suddenly their Web site disappears. That was the case Friday after I made a few inquiries about Bluefin Lab, a stealthy start-up based in Somerville.
The company's roots trace back to Michael Ben Fleischman's PhD work at the MIT Media Lab. Fleischman created software that could analyze vast amounts of sports video (and the accompanying audio and embedded text) to learn, for example, what a home run, foul ball, and fly-out looks like in baseball, and make each of those scenes easily findable. Imagine being able to view all of the strike-outs in a baseball game by the starting pitcher, or the field goal attempts in a football game, without needing human beings to tag and index the video manually.
The company has already banked roughly $500,000 in SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants from the National Science Foundation, most recently in August, and Waltham-based Kepha Partners has added a sprinkling of seed funding. Helping to launch Bluefin are Fleischman, Media Lab director Frank Moss, serial entrepreneur Andy Palmer, and Media Lab researcher Deb Roy. A permanent CEO hasn't yet been hired and the company, I'm told, isn't likely to launch before 2010.
Here's a bit more about Bluefin:FULL ENTRY
Cortera aims to be a kind of "wisdom of the crowds"-driven business credit agency. CEO Jim Swift likes to describe it as "Yelp for business credit." And in the same way that the user-powered review site Yelp has taken on established players like Zagat, Cortera has Dun & Bradstreet in its sights.
Cortera has quite the interesting back-story. It was founded in 1993 as eCredit.com, long headquartered in Dedham, and sold a minority stake to Internet Capital Group in 2000 for $450 million in stock, just a couple weeks before the Nasdaq crash (you can imagine how well that worked out.)FULL ENTRY
When Hangout moved its development team from Boston to Glendale, California earlier this year, Faulkner, who had been VP of product development, didn't make the move. Since June he has been working on a start-up of his own, GraphEdge (formerly called VoxBot.)
Faulkner calls GraphEdge a "social analytics platform" that can let you know how many of your Twitter followers are real people (as opposed to spammers' accounts or automated "bots"); who are the most popular other Twitterers among your followers; and how quickly you're adding new followers, among other things. The service is designed primarily for companies that use social media to reach their customers, though Faulkner acknowledges it'll appeal to all of us vain individual Twitter users as well.
Here's more on this very young company:FULL ENTRY
The TechStars Boston Investor Evening tonight filled up the atrium of Microsoft's NERD Center in Kendall Square; Microsoft exec Reed Sturtevant told me that at about 280 people, it was the biggest crowd the place has seen thus far.
Nine companies presented short overviews of what they've built this summer, and most wrapped up with a request for funding.
Here's my totally subjective list of awards, along with some notes on who was there.FULL ENTRY
The Media Lab at MIT has quite the track record for producing pioneering new companies. Some have been wildly successful (like vidgame-maker Harmonix), some not (like nTag, a developer of electronic badges for conference-goers), and some have fallen somewhere in the middle (Internet personalization pioneer Firefly Network.)
The two latest businesses to come from the lab are Affectiva, a Waltham-based company that will make wearable sensors for people with autism; and a still-unnamed start-up from robotics researcher Cynthia Breazeal in the toys/games space. Neither has been officially announced yet, and neither has raised funding -- though Affectiva plans to begin testing its product in the market later this year.
And there's also a new entrepreneurship program at the Media Lab, run by Joost Bonsen and Sandy Pentland, that aims to educate students about the process of transforming their prototypes into marketable products. That could produce even more new businesses in the years ahead -- though part of the entrepreneurship program's mission is to also get students working more effectively with the lab's corporate sponsors to integrate their research with the sponsors' own businesses.
Here's more on the two new start-ups:FULL ENTRY
The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright used to quip about his productivity, explaining, "I just shake buildings out of my sleeves."
Mike Stonebraker and Andy Palmer might say the same about new start-ups.
The pair were involved in getting Andover-based Vertica off the ground (and raising $23 million for the database company). Then there was Byledge, a still-stealthy Boston company working on a new approach to travel search (and funded by Flybridge Capital Partners and Kepha Partners.) Separately, Stonebraker (pictured at right) and Palmer are involved with a handful of other fledgling companies, including StreamBase Systems, CloudSwitch, and BlueFin Lab.
Their latest collaboration is VoltDB, a sort of sister company to Vertica that is operating out of Vertica's Andover offices.
What's VoltDB up to?FULL ENTRY
I spent the afternoon today watching seventeen great student-run start-ups present short pitches about the businesses they're trying to build. This was the first-ever Summer Venture Program Demo Day, organized by Babson College and the Olin College of Engineering.
I'd encountered a few of the student entrepreneurs before, at various networking events. But here are three of the ideas that were brand new to me, and struck me as worth knowing about:FULL ENTRY
Launching this week is VentureFizz, a site that aims to gather news and info about the Boston-area tech scene. Oddly, it is run by a Malvern, Pennsylvania recruiter named Keith Cline. (Cline also runs a very thorough blog on Northeast Venture Capital Funding and M&A Activity.)
What's Cline up to with VentureFizz?FULL ENTRY
Occasionally, I'll let you know about a new company in town that's worth having on your radar screen. These aren't in-depth stories, just "quick hits" that'll let you know what I'm hearing about, and invite you to check out their sites for yourself.
Launching this month is a new site, Smashion, that aims to outdo eBay when it comes to buying and selling apparel and accessories. No offices or funding yet -- it's a virtual company still, using Amazon's cloud computing services.FULL ENTRY
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com 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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More from Scott
March 3: Web Innovators Group
Demos, drinks, and schmoozing at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.
March 7-8: MassDigi Game Challenge
Competition for aspiring game developers... plus panels and keynotes related to the business of play.
April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
Issues facing the region's life sciences community.