DreamIt Ventures Brings Its Startup Accelerator Program to New York

Making their debut within throwing distance of Radio City Music Hall, the first 14 startups to graduate from the New York version of the DreamIt Ventures accelerator program presented to investors on Wednesday. Demo day brought to a close three months of mentoring that helped these fledgling companies strengthen their plans. Now that they have pitched their companies to an audience of angel investors and venture capitalists, the real work begins as these startups strive to make good on their ambitions.

DreamIt Ventures is a pre-seed-stage venture firm in Bryn Mawr, PA that runs an identical incubator program in Philadelphia. Mark Wachen, a managing partner with DreamIt, says the program offers funding and guidance from mentors who work one-on-one with their assigned startups. “We match each company with a seasoned entrepreneur, someone who’s made the commitment to spend three to five hours with the company each week,” Wachen says.

During the program, the startups occupy a shared office and attend weekly workshops and lectures. Wachen says the speakers include notable financiers such as Fred Wilson, principal of Union Square Ventures, as well as new entrepreneurs with fresh experience. “It’s important for people to have input from not just the marquee names but also people who got their company started in the past three years,” Wachen says.

DreamIt Ventures is but one of several business accelerator and pre-incubator programs taking a shine to New York this year. In April, TechStars debuted its first New York class of startups at its demo day. California’s Founder Labs brought its program to Manhattan and held its demo day in June.

Some 500 startups applied for the inaugural New York rendition of DreamIt, says Wachen. Those accepted into the class ranged from local companies to out-of-towners from Boston, Los Angeles, Austin, and New Haven, and even a startup from Honduras.

David Whittemore, president of a DreamIt-backed startup called Clothes Horse, said the program helped his startup negotiate a major pivot. The New York-based team started out two years prior in custom clothing manufacturing. Whittemore says six months ago the company switched plans to become what he calls “Facebook Connect for fashion.”

Clothes Horse recommends apparel to customers based on favorite clothes they own and other details such as height, weight, and size. Whittemore says helping shoppers figure out which clothes will fit may help them feel more confident about their online purchases. “We started talking to a couple of retailers,” says Whittemore. “DreamIt gave us the opportunity to expand that pipeline. They are hooked in with a lot of our customers. They helped us get in the door and make sure the problems we thought we were solving were valid.”

Wachen says DreamIt got started in 2007 and initially focused on helping build up the entrepreneurial community in Philadelphia. “We have law firms that donate their services to help incorporate the companies and deal with their startup issues, [and] accounting firms doing the same thing,” says Kerry Rupp, also a managing partner with DreamIt. The accelerator program will run for the fourth time in Philadelphia in September, she says, and will conclude with another demo day in December.

David Whittemore says DreamIt Ventures helped his startup connect with more potential clients.

Companies accepted into DreamIt receive $5,000 in funding plus $5,000 per founding member of the startup, up to $25,000 total. In exchange for the funding, Dreamit takes a 6 percent equity stake in each startup as common shares. “We do that so when the companies decide to raise the next round, we can sit on the same side of the table with them to help them negotiate,” says Rupp.

Wachen said plans are underway to run the accelerator program again in New York in 2012, though no other details are available at this time. But Rupp said Dreamit is not on a mission to expand into every city with a growing startup community. “We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” she says. “We’ll never get huge; it’s not intended to be scalable.”

Here’s a rundown of the startups that presented at the New York demo day:

1DocWay: A platform that lets patients schedule appointments with their doctors and speak with their physicians via video chat.

AfterSteps: An end-of-life planning platform that lets users log their final wishes and get advice from estate, financial, and funeral planners.

AppAddictive: A platform that integrates ad campaigns, content, and analytics to help businesses optimize their advertising in social media.

AppBrick: Helps content producers develop apps for publishing rich media such as digital books to their audiences.

Clothes Horse: Recommends fashion to users based on the favorite apparel they own.

Cognection: Online retail optimization.

Hoot.me: A “knowledge network” that lets students connect with friends who are working on similar homework and projects.

KeepIdeas: Lets consumers organize and collaborate on decisions in the cloud. Its primary product is KeepRecipes.

LearnBop: A learning platform that offers individual tutoring online.

LetsGiftIt: A social gift-giving platform that lets friends and family contribute towards the purchase of a gift for someone.

Re-Vinyl: An app that promotes musicians and connects them with fans.

Pandaly: A maker of games that recommend relevant daily deals to the players.

Pictour.us: A mobile app for creating photo tours.

Take The Interview: A cloud-based video interviewing platform for employers to screen candidates.

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