This past Thursday was the Pitch ’11 Event, a chance for nearly 90 startups to pitch their wares to interested investors, potential collaborators and startup enthusiasts, held at the home of the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Field. Pitch ’11 was organized by Launchabl.es, and while some questioned why the event was held in the concourse inside a baseball stadium, it actually makes an ideal location for such gathering of folks, even if its a slightly unprecedented move. Simply put, sports facilities are built to accomodate massive crowds. Beyond the pun “pitch,” the reasoning was sound, and folks who wanted to take a guided tour of the grounds were likely glad of the unusual venue. And If you think of tech entrepreneurship as a competition, perhaps the stadium was even more than a coincidence.
And as you can see from the attendees list on event tracker Plancast, the crowd was thick. Pitch ’11 brought together some very young and untested companies, as well a surprising mix of veterans. Rising star Hipmunk, the travel search engine, rubbed shoulders with the likes of VSee, a web collaboration tool that combines high definition 720p web video, with screen and desktop sharing for making remote teams more productive.
Another conference. “Great.”
This one’s different, trust us. Our new event for New York is focused on quality, not quantity.
Perhaps part of the reason why there was such a mix of major players (at least in the startup sense), and newcomers, was because the incumbents are looking for new collaborators and new partners, or to “feel like they’re still in the startup game,” as someone commented to me later.
On the whole, the event exceeded my expectations, both in its overall atmosphere, and in the number of quality companies that were in attendance. Of the many, many great companies on hand, I’ve picked out five favorites from the day that run the gamut of the technologies on display, and those with great potential for disruption in the future.
Y Combinator startup Webmynd, is hoping to build the holy grail of mobile app SDKs, with a single solution that ports iPhone apps to the Android platform with HTML5. Should they hit their goal, Webmynd will cut time to market in half for developers who want their apps to run on the two most popular mobile operating systems.
By simplifying a process that requires not only additional hours, but often additional programmers who specialize in either Android or iPhone OS development, the WebMynd SDK has transformative power in the redhot mobile development space. And further, the WebMynd kit promises to be able to turn apps into browser add-ons, or native Web apps, enabling developers to replicate their apps experience wherever people are experiencing the Web.
Customers for such a product are developers themselves, and the end users will likely never know the process behind their favorite apps. But the ultimate goal is that the product should work.
Momo Local is a groundbreaking iPhone-based commerce network that uses location and the social graph to connect buyers and sellers.
Looking for an after school Spanish tutor for your daughter? With Momo Local, you ask a question and their service will find the most reliable person in your extended network who is offering the service, strengthening ties to your community, and creating economic opportunity.
Momo Local takes the wide variety of products and services one can find on a classified site like Craigslist, and makes sure that whomever you buy from is part of your trusted network. The platform also allows realtime communication between the buyer and seller, and game mechanics, which incentivize repeat participation.
Sourcen, which is based in San Jose, CA was at Pitch ’11 to talk about its incubator program, where its portfolio companies work with large enterprises to tackle enterprise-scale business challenges. The SAP Carbon Impact initiative was born out of one such collaboration, and enables businesses to track the amount of carbon dioxide they are creating, in order to be in compliance with government regulations to reduce greenhouse gas output.
And matching Sourcen startups with enterprise means that the new companies can scale more quickly, and are able to deliver innovation without being bogged down by the bureaucracy of a larger company. Another benefit of this tandem approach is that partnering with a startup company allows a large player like SAP to offer other of their existing services once they’ve acquired a new customer.
The finished products may not be as sexy as a well-designed social networking app for the mobile phone, that other startups produce, but the end results and impacts can be felt far and wide.
Hiring solutions are one of the hottest emerging segments of the tech industry, as organizations compete fiercely with one another to attract the best candidates. We wrote recently about Venturocket, which creates an auction system to connect job seekers and hiring organizations, and many other tactics are being attempted.
However, much of the costs associated with the HR process can be avoided when employees feel appreciated and engaged with their work. With BetterWorks, a better way to manage employee perks, employers can maintain the morale of their workers through the smart application of perks such as gym memberships or discounted meals, which can be enjoyed with other co-workers, further improving a team atmosphere.
The magic of BetterWorks is the marriage of tech and on-the-ground sales. The online dashboard makes it easy for employees to select and order a wide range of discounted services negotiated by the BetterWorks team from a customized interface. The growth challenge for BetterWorks is one that is familiar to daily deals sites, even if the company itself is not one. BetterWorks is currently working with a number national brands in order to deliver employee discounts at scale. However, adding services from small merchants that can be ordered directly from the Web interface, such as dry cleaning, will take considerably more time, and is not a technology challenge.
You can also watch Hermione Way play foosball against BetterWorks co-founder and CEO Paige Craig in her recent video LA’s Tech Scene Uncovered.
Russian startup Zingaya had one of the most compelling products of the evening, an embeddable widget that connects website visitors directly to a company’s customer service team. With one click on a customizable widget, a call is routed to the business owner’s cell phone, an existing customer support center, or a live chat is initiated helping to turn website visitors into satisfied customers and significantly ease the process of having questions answered. Similar to FastCustomer, which will ring you back when the next customer service representative is ready, Zingaya has list of features that make it much like a CRM tool such as Salesforce.
On the whole there were a remarkable number of well thought-out and compelling startups on display at Pitch ’11, much to my surprise. I say this because the level of quality was very high, in spite of the overall volume of participants–much like a middle school science fair, which could produce a few winners, and a high variety of so-so ideas.
I did however mention that there were a few companies whose concepts still seemed half-baked, and weren’t in the best position to be demoing their products before an interested audience. Some apps didn’t work on command, which is clearly a problem. Others–and there were just a few–were uninspiring clones of popular ideas.
I don’t, however, think it’s productive to call anyone out by name. I think it takes courage to get up in front of any audience and sell your vision, so I applaud anyone who makes the effort. In spite of some remarkable tech, which I fully intend to cover here, what was most surprising was that in a crowd of 90 startups, most really seemed to have it together.
Perhaps this is due to the extreme technical savvy of any Silicon Valley audience. After all, it wouldn’t pay dividends to attend Pitch San Francisco ’11, set up a booth at AT&T Park, and try to pull a fast one. But what events like Pitch prove, at least to me, is that there are passionate, foolhardy and determined innovators out there who cannot be stopped from building the future for us all. Even when they stumble, it requires tremendous fortitude to get out there and make the effort to be a success. It’s a lesson for us all.