Got Your Back End: Exis, 4 Other Startups in Gener8tor’s New Class

Last month, Facebook announced it was shuttering Parse, a platform for software developers that the social network acquired in 2013 for a reported $85 million.

The news came as both a rush and a blow to Dale Willis, co-founder and CEO of Exis, a Madison, WI-based startup. Like Parse, Exis makes tools and services to help developers manage an application’s “back end,” which can include things like authenticating users and storing and syncing data in the cloud. Companies like Exis are viewing Facebook’s (NASDAQ: FB) decision as an opportunity, Willis says.

Parse “has probably been our largest and most direct competitor,” he says. But there’s also a chance the platform’s fate will result in a rockier investment landscape for Exis and its early-stage peers.

Willis says the announcement and subsequent backlash from the developer community have highlighted the importance of planning for worst-case scenarios, which in this case means making software that can survive even if the company that wrote it does not.

“People who have come to rely on [Parse] got the carpet pulled out from under them,” Willis says. “Part of what we’re pitching is that we’re providing our software in such a way where it doesn’t matter what happens to us as an entity. You’ll still have your services and be able to use our platform.”

Willis and his team will work to fine-tune its pitch, as well as Exis’s technology and feature set, during the next 12 weeks as they go through Wisconsin startup accelerator Gener8tor. Other companies in the new class, which Gener8tor co-founder Troy Vosseller says was culled from 544 applications, are working on technologies including medical diagnostic imaging, digital art, and sensors for machines and wearable accessories.

Exis and one other company in the program, which is Gener8tor’s eighth since launching in 2012, are graduates of gBETA. That’s a six-week, no-strings-attached accelerator that Gener8tor created last year for startups associated with Wisconsin colleges and universities. The fact that two alumni are now in Gener8tor’s core program shows that gBETA “is already starting to bear fruit,” Vosseller says.

The program, run out of the accelerator’s Madison office, kicked off Friday and will culminate with “Premiere Night” in May, when the companies pitch themselves to investors and other members of Wisconsin’s innovation community.

Participating startups receive $20,000 in cash at the outset of the program, in exchange for Gener8tor taking an equity stake of 6 to 7 percent, Vosseller says. Companies are guaranteed a follow-on investment of $70,000 in the form of an uncapped convertible note. Graduating startups with permanent employees in Wisconsin also receive $50,000 from the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation.

Gener8tor has raised a third fund totaling $1.5 million, which Vosseller says will … Next Page »

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Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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