Techstars Austin Launches Tech Startups in First Texas Demo Day

Opinion

Let’s be upfront about disclosure. I have been attending Techstars Demo Days since 2008, and have always been impressed with the accelerator’s ability to take talented teams and convert them into investment-worthy businesses. In 2011, the Mercury Fund, where I am a partner, joined with a few others to create a fund to provide $100,000 in convertible notes for every Techstars company. We’ve also directly invested into Techstars Austin. So, yes, I am biased, but it is still impressive what Techstars Austin has done in the six months since  it announced it would start an Austin program.

I’m not the only one. More than 650 people, including 200 investors, from all over the world—one startup, Testlio, is from Estonia—packed the Austin Music Hall recently to hear pitches from the inaugural 10 startups for the Austin Demo Day.

The power of Techstars comes from their emphasis on working with local mentors and angels to leverage the local startup ecosystem. Throughout the year Techstars Austin Managing Director, Jason Seats, hosted dinners for local angels, CEOs, and VCs to get together and form relationships with each other while also learning about the inaugural class. I served as a mentor to the startups and, by the time demo day came around, we were all old friends.

The formal demo day event began with a brief introduction by Techstars co-founder and CEO David Cohen about the accelerator’s entry into the Austin ecosystem. David had just been in London for the accelerator’s demo day there and he stressed how pumped he was to be a part of what is happening in Austin. “People from around the world know what is going on here and are excited about it,” he said. He put Austin into context of Techstars’ global outlook, calling it a “powerful node” in the nine-city network.

Jason added that they knew that success of the Austin program would only be as good as its local entrepreneurial ecosystem. And Austin’s community, he added, couldn’t have been more responsive, dedicating both time and money to the Techstars startups.

He also discussed how the recently implemented JOBS act, which was intended to make fundraising easier for startups, has inadvertently made it difficult for founders to speak of their funding needs in such events as demo days. So, financing conversations were held behind closed doors after the official event ended and the general public was excused. I, as well as angels and those from institutions, had very productive discussions with many of these founders, and I would be surprised if any of the companies left demo day without six to 12 months of runway in funding.

I was struck by the way Jason seems to have smoothly transitioned from Techstars Cloud, the cloud SaaS and infrastructure applications accelerator he ran in San Antonio, to the Austin project, which is broader to reflect the entirety of the Austin entrepreneurial ecosystem of consumer, B-to-B, and hardware startups.

With the introductory remarks done, we plunged right into the 10 demos. The format, which Techstars and Y Combinator in Silicon Valley pioneered, features a brief introduction by a mentor describing the startup followed by one of the company founders. In most cases, the mentors had become investors and customers of the startups in the course of working with them, which, for me, is a strong testimonial about the power of the product being introduced.

The founders did their best to inject a little showmanship to keep their pitches interesting. Filament Labs, a physician–patient engagement platform, came out wearing scrubs. One of Atlas’ founders had a personal trainer do pushups on stage as she demonstrated the startup’s workout monitoring tools. And Testlio, a mobile application testing platform, had its founder, a former model, drop an f-bomb during her pitch to stress just how hard testing for mobile applications can be. (She certainly got our attention.)

After 90 minutes of pitches, barbecue was brought in for investors and founders to share while hashing over the details of their financial needs. And then, with the money talk out of the way, the group departed for the Cedar Street bar for a party to close out the night.

Here are the startups, and their pitches, in Techstars’ first Austin class:

Filament Labs: A patient Engagement Platform that helps doctors track and manage patients when they aren’t in the clinic

• Introduced by Evan Loomis, director of business development at Corinthian Health Services, who announced that his company was rolling out Filament Labs across 20 clinics by the end of the year. It is also investing in the startup.

Testlio: A mobile app testing service with a dedicated community of testers and a SaaS platform for testing.

• Introduced by Robin Thurston, CEO and co-founder of MapMyFitness, an online community of 20 million that relies on mobile apps that are tested on Testlio. Testlio was founded in Estonia, but is relocating to Austin.

Embrace: Helps retailers manage online customer relationships.

• Formerly known as AuManil, Embrace was introduced by Jackie Huba, a marketing consultant and author. Embrace allows e-commerce vendors to build relationships with their highest value customers by studying onsite behavior and helping pick the best ways to reach them.

Proto Exchange: A professional 3D printing network

• Introduced by serial entrepreneur Matteo Franceschetti, Proto Exchange aims to build collaborative manufacturing by pulling together a network of 3D printers that can quickly and cheaply manufacture goods.

Atlas Wristband: A wristband that tracks a range of physical activities

• Introduced by Brian Wang, CEO and co-founder of Fitocracy, a large social network around fitness. Atlas had a fitness model demonstrate how its wristband doesn’t just track steps, but can distinguish among activities such as regular pushups, triangle pushups, and even squats.

Gone: An app that helps you dispose of your extra stuff, no matter what it is.

• Introduced by Mason Arnold from Greenling, an online grocery store focused on organic and local food markets. Customers drop an item in a shipping box, and the startup sells, recycles, or “upcycles” it on multiple marketplaces to maximize the sale price.

MarketVibe: A content recommendation service for B-to-B companies.

• Introduced by Mat Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Cloudability, which has accounting technology that tracks and analyzes a company’s spending in the cloud and analyzes that activity, and a former Techstars Cloud startup. MarketVibe founder Erica Douglass is a longtime blogger who has made a science out of converting blog posts into “engaged content.

Accountable: An online system to help companies comply with HIPAA.

• Provides a turnkey solution for HIPAA compliance. Although HIPAA has been around since 1996, since January 2013 the law has also covered companies that partner with HC orgs. Accountable sets up and manages the compliance program to prevent penalties and maintain compliance.

Fosbury: Offers mobile coupons, reward cards, and gift cards.

• Introduced by YouEarnedIt CEO Steve Semelsberger, Fosbury is a Dutch startup focused on being the buddy media for mobile wallets. It allows a company to work with Apple Passbook, Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet, and Windows Wallet.

Ube: A service that offers connected lighting control for the home.

• Introduced by Andrew Busey, CEO of Team Chaos, which makes mobile games. Ube aims to replace the approximately one-billion light switches in the U.S. with its wireless-connected light pad. Ube has $500,000 in pre-sales through Kickstarter and Amazon.

Aziz Gilani is a partner at Mercury Fund in Houston. Follow @texasvc

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