SnowShoe Tries to Succeed With One Foot in Madison, Other in SF

To stay in the nurturing environment of the place where you were raised, or to strike out into the unknown to find your fortune?

It’s a quandary even for startups—especially when they become the local favorites and standard bearers.

An example is SnowShoe, a startup from Madison, WI. The four-person tech firm was born in the supportive environment of a tight-knit startup community, but according to SnowShoe co-founder and CEO Claus Moberg, it’s time for the company to look beyond its geographical roots for new talent, investment, and ideas.

But instead of relocating completely, SnowShoe—a graduate of the Techstars Boulder 2013 accelerator—is trying to make it big in San Francisco while remaining close to its Midwestern roots. It’s a challenge Moberg believes will be worth it in the end, making it possible for SnowShoe to gain vital exposure and access to investors that having one foot in California will bring while allowing it to give back to its hometown.

Made in Madison

SnowShoe is making a product it calls the SnowShoe Stamp, a device that the screens of smartphones and tablets can identify when they run apps with SnowShoe software. A user only needs to load the appropriate app and touch the stamp to the screen. The smartphone or tablet uses the same capacitive sensor it uses to track fingers to find the touchpoints on the stamp, and that pattern can serve as a password or ID. SnowShoe says there are more than 2 million possible stamps that can be created for each app that uses its software.

Moberg said SnowShoe still is looking for the killer use case. So far, the stamps and an accompanying app can be used by coffee shops to run loyalty programs or grant access to in-house wi-fi networks. Video game companies can use them to link physical products or memorabilia to digital avatars, and the stamp can be used to verify that a person is in the same place as the stamp or to provide two-factor authentication for transactions.

Earlier this year, SnowShoe was invited to the prestigious Techstars accelerator program in Boulder, which required it to temporarily relocate to Colorado.

Madison has been a surprisingly fertile breeding ground for Techstars startups. Five companies have made the cut to participate in the three-month bootcamp (held in various cities), which offers connections to mentors and potential investors, $18,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent of a startup, and the option to take a $100,000 convertible note. Thousands of companies have applied to the accelerator, which turns away a greater percentage of applicants than an Ivy League school.

SnowShoe went through the program this summer, and after demonstration day Moberg and another employee decided they needed to relocate to San Francisco to be near investors and potential users. But the company is working to retain a presence in Wisconsin.

“As much as possible, we’re trying to get new technical employees in Wisconsin,” Moberg said.

From a business perspective, that offers a few advantages. First, the market for programmers and developers is much less … Next Page »

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