Mountain View Voice

News - August 10, 2012

Apps dominate startup pitches at Founders Showcase

by Angela Hey

Social apps for smartphones and tablets dominated Founder Showcase's exhibits at Microsoft's Mountain View Conference Center. The event features the final round of a pitch competition, where startups present a business venture to potential investors. For round one there is no entry fee, startups just submit a video and the public votes.

Founder Showcase also featured startup exhibits and interviews with seasoned role models: Kevin Rose (venture partner at Google Ventures), Aaron Levie (co-founder & CEO of Box since the age of 20), and Hiten Shah (CEO of KISSmetrics who has 30 employees and 1,000 paying customers).

Eight finalists pitched their startups to a panel of five venture capitalists in two sessions. After questions, from both the panel and the audience, the VCs voted and provided feedback. At the end of each session, the audience voted by cellphone. The flamboyant, somewhat irreverent founder and emcee, Adeo Ressi, begged the audience to encourage each presenter by cheering.

Ressi runs The Funded and The Founder Institute (fi.co), sponsors of the event. The Funded's website, thefunded.com, lets you check out over 4,000 venture funds. CEOs comment and give scores, just as consumers rate venues on Yelp or employees rate employers on Glassdoor. The Founder Institute coaches entrepreneurs on business formation, with particular emphasis on investor presentations. Some presentations came across as over-rehearsed acts lacking authenticity.

Belmont company Selligy won by deviating from the standard pitch, showing only a demo. It provides a smartphone app for sales people. If you have to make sales calls, what do you do? First you review appointments in your calendar. You spend time researching prospects and companies. You plan your route. Traffic may delay you. If so, the app can text your estimated arrival time to your customer. Selligy warns you if the time or location is missing from a calendar appointment. It makes it easy to join conference calls. Selligy automates sales appointments, gathering account history from Salesforce and working out travel times from Google Maps.

Selligy's approach could benefit realtors, interview candidates, delivery truck drivers, repair technicians and others who travel to appointments. The trend is towards business apps that automate a sequence of repetitive tasks on a smartphone using super simple software.

Kindara, an iPhone app, came a close second. It started with a heartfelt introduction from co-founder Kati Bicknell, who showed her mother's wedding picture. Her mother waited a decade for a child. Kindara helps women get pregnant by charting fertility, connecting with health care providers and accessing reference materials. Kati claims women spend $4 billion a year on fertility treatments. She briefly displayed pictures of the app, followed by a photo of her happy mother with four children.

I was less enthusiastic than the judges (all male), in part because I don't think the app comes close to solving all the possible problems represented by the $4 billion spend. Besides, a doctor might want to examine male partners too.

I asked an entrepreneur what he had gained from the Founder Institute program. He said the biggest benefit was meeting Adeo's connections and mentors. "How else can a young entrepreneur chat to entrepreneur and blogger Jason Calacanis?"

Adeo claims, "Silicon Valley is not a place, it is a state of mind." With chapter leaders from Singapore to Santiago to Sydney, The Founders Institute is helping entrepreneurs start companies worldwide. The next local Founder Showcase is Nov. 7 at Mission Bay in San Francisco. Get ready to pitch.

Angela Hey advises technology companies on marketing and business development. She can be reached at amhey@techviser.com.

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