Upstart Labs is partnering with OEN for a pitch contest on Wednesday, May 8, at which the first-place winner will receive a package of go-to-market services from the team at Upstart Labs. Upstart Labs and OEN will select 6 companies from those who apply online by Thursday to participate in the event.
Specifically, we're looking for:
- Companies in one of our target segments, which include mobile apps, analytics tools, enterprise software apps, and business-to-business software as a service
- An experienced team looking to innovate and/or disrupt an industry they know well
- An opportunity for Upstart Labs' team of strategists, designers, developers and marketers to accelerate the winning startup business
Companies will get about five minutes to pitch, followed by five minutes of Q&A. Winners will be selected from a panel of partners from Upstart Labs.
The winner will be invited to Upstart's offices for a 1/2-day Go-To-Market Working Session - part of Upstart's services for market-ready startups. There, they'll partner with Upstart to create:
- A Business Model Canvas - clearly outlining their strategies and key assumptions
- An Elevator Positioning Worksheet - articulating their competitive differentiation
- A Key Messages Map - with value propositions for each buyer persona
...giving them a jumpstart on the next phase of their startup's growth.
Sign up to pitch here!
The Stumptown 40 is upon us, and for those of you looking for a reason to devote your nights and weekends to building a pinewood derby car (other than the glory of victory), this year's event benefits Schoolhouse Supplies, an organization on whose board I currently serve.
The Stumptown 40 is an annual pinewood derby race sponsored by several Portland agencies and start-ups. The event, held this year at Spirit of '77, costs $25 to enter – which includes the kit you'll use to make your car. Prizes are awarded for the fastest car and the most creative car (our car at StepChange Group used Arduino to Tweet, "Look at me go!", etc., as it careened down the ramp).
Schoolhouse Supplies is an awesome Portland organization that operates a free school supplies store for teachers. This store gets much needed basics - pencils, pens, paper - into the hands of the students in Portland who need them most. Your entry fee will directly benefit the purchase of these supplies.
Sign up now – you know you're not doing anything between now and May 22, right?
ProgrammableWeb's Adam DuVander has resurrected Demolicious Portland, and Upstart Labs is one of the sponsors of the event. Demolicious gives a handful of companies the chance at a 5-minute pitch, followed by feedback from a panel that includes Mozilla's Selena Deckelmann, AthletePath's David Embree, and Mike Rogoway of The Oregonian.
The companies pitching tomorrow night are still under wraps, but DuVander promises us the line up includes:
- A tool to discover six degrees of everything
- An app for public transportation
- A mobile database
- A soccer video platform
- A virtual furniture viewer
The event is free, and you should register ASAP to be safe. We will see you there!
You think it's tough doing a startup in Portland? Try a place where the electricity is only on for 8 hours a day. Last week, Upstart Labs was lucky enough to connect with the fantastic Reem Omran, a founder of Gaza Sky Geeks, a tech startup incubator in Gaza City.
Gaza Sky Geeks is a project of Portland-based Mercy Corps and Google's Arab Developers Network Initiative. There are more than 15,000 developers in Palestine, which includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In Gaza alone, there are 2,000 new graduates each year from Gaza's five (!) universities with engineering and computer science programs. Mercy Corps is helping Palestine to harness this talent and create a new outsourced development hub for the Arab world.
The incubator, which will accept its first formal class of startups this fall, has played host to two Startup Weekends in the last 12 months. More recently, Rogue Ventures' Tom Sperry spoke to a standing room-only crowd at Gaza Sky Geeks in early March, alongside John Ross from Mercy Corps. Events like these help connect Palestinian entrepreneurs with mentors and best practices from the thriving startup scene in the U.S.
There are four companies already operating out of the Gaza Sky Geeks space:
- Analancer, a developer-focused eLancer or ODesk for the Arab-speaking world
- Another Half, a mobile game developer
- DaTrios, a live social network for real-time chat during major sporting events
- HTML 5 AppStore, a marketplace for HTML 5 apps
And Gaza Sky Geeks hopes to run classes of 8 startups every six to 12 months over the next three years.
For an in-depth look at tech entrepreneurship in Palestine, check out this Techcrunch article from Sunday. You can also follow Gaza Sky Geeks and Google's Arab Developers Network Initiative on Facebook. These entrepreneurs welcome mentorship, training, networking, and especially investment, from startups in the U.S.
The Nike+ Accelerator and Portland Seed Fund announced their classes this week. Congrats to all the newly-incubated – we're looking forward to your demo days, and to learning more about your businesses this spring.
The inaugural Nike+ Accelerator class is being supported by TechStars. Each startup has received $20,000 in funding, and office space in the accelerator's new headquarters in Old Town. The teams are working towards demo days in Portland and Silicon Valley, currently scheduled for June.
- FitDeck: Digital decks of exercise playing cards that deliver ever-changing workouts for fitness and sports
- GoRecess: Helps users find, book and review fitness activities
- Chroma.io: An indie game studio that creates virtual worlds tied to real-world activity
- CoachBase: Provides a digital sports coaching platform
- GoFitCause: Leverages fitness data as a means of raising money for charities
- HighFive: Ad network for health and fitness apps that helps people achieve their goals by rewarding them along their journey
- Sprout At Work: Provider of corporate wellness solutions leveraging social and gamification tools to inspire employees and empower employers
- GeoPalz: An interactive gaming and rewards platform for kids and families
- Incomparable Things: Creates activity-driven fantasy sports leagues
- RecBob: Offers a platform that makes recreational sports easy by organizing play
Portland Seed Fund
PSF has attracted a diverse group of startups to its fourth class, including Upstart Labs portfolio companies Measureful and Celly. PSF companies have raised $20MM in follow-on capital to date – the most recent example is Celly, which recently closed a $1.4MM Series A. The companies are working towards a demo day in late May, and a road show to Silicon Valley.
- Alum.ni: Brings enhanced social value and connectivity to alumni networks
- AppThwack: Helps developers to instantly test their web and mobile apps on real mobile devices
- Celly: Allows users to create instant mobile social networks called "cells"
- Indie Vinos: A mobile app that enables impulse wine buying at tastings and events
- Measureful: Helps users aggregate and share pertinent marketing data in a meaningful way
- Minetta Brook: Synthesizes a million news items a day to gain real time “big picture” awareness of developing trends and connections
- Opal Labs: An ideation and innovation platform for teams to surface new ideas and solve problems
- PrestoBox: Helps companies create brands and logos in a few minutes online using a series of revealing questions
- Rally Cause: Enables fundraising for causes by shopping at local merchants
- Simple Emotion: An emotion recognition platform targeting apps for people with developmental disabilities
- Smart Mocha: Enables technologies for the emerging hardware/software 'Internet of Things'
The Portland Development Commission (PDC) and Produce Row business association are sponsoring a new coworking space for startups of all types. The two organizations are going to stock this space with up to six winners of the Startup PDX Challenge – a competition for all early-stage startups with up to eight employees. The prize package includes:
- A $10,000 working capital grant from PDC (grant! not equity!)
- Free rent for a year alongside other winners in a new space in Produce Row
- Free legal, accounting and HR services
- Membership and access to several Portland-based organizations supporting entrepreneurs
The organizers are specifically looking for startups that are "pre-incubator" – that is, still working on a concept or prototype offering that will later be used to apply to one of Portland's incubators or accelerators. Applicants from out of state, and out of the country, are encouraged.
Read more about the competition on the Produce Row business association web site, or apply today.
A few of us from Upstart made it down to the LAUNCH event this week in San Francisco. This was the 3rd year for Jason Calcanis' high-profile startup-a-looza, which obviously competes a bit with SXSW (which starts the same week). Here's some of what I took away:
It's definitely getting a bit "frothy" - but that's not necessarily bad
A recurring question (onstage and off) was "So, does it feel like 1999 again?"… to which most of us old enough to have actually been a part of the boom-and-bust of 1997-2001 said "no way".
And that's a good thing. Back then, the "promise" of the emerging web was so massive and pervasive that it seemed inevitable that it would disrupt/affect every aspect of life and business. Which, of course, it has… but it has taken more than a decade (so far) for those shifts to take place. Back then, the lack of clarity about how - and how much - the web would affect a given industry made it very difficult for people to accurately predict the resulting value creation and value capture… which is what good investing hinges upon.
Today's environment is different in two important ways. First, we have the benefit of 13+ years of watching the effect of internet (and social, and mobile)-driven innovation on various industries and sectors. Collectively, we have a much better sense for how things tend to play out. Second, the capital required to bring an idea to market to "test for fit" is often much, much lower today (staggeringly lower, really… $25K - $250K today vs. several million back then)… which makes for far fewer "big, bad bets".
So, yes - there's a lot of activity. There were more than 5,000 people at the (sold out) show, 40 new companies launched on-stage and over 100 more were competing for attention in the "demo pit". (I know it's not "enterprise SaaS", but I do want one of these skateboards: http://www.boostedboards.com/ ). But fundamental changes in 1) the way investors evaluate opportunities, and 2) the way companies bring their ideas to market for validation (see: Upstart Labs) are making for a higher-quality, lower-ridiculousness environment.
Facebook & Twitter are the most common "role models" - but not the best ones
When asked about what startups should be focusing on most in terms of growth and market capture, several long-time investors talked about the fallacy of Facebook and Twitter as good role models for business plans.
Many entrepreneurs invoke the early viral growth of Facebook and Twitter - in the absence of any obvious business plan or revenue model - as supporting evidence that if they just build a great product and make it available to the world, the rest will take care of itself. Several speakers cautioned against such a "build it and they will come - by the hundreds of millions!" approach:
- Facebook and Twitter (and maybe Pinterest) are about the only examples of such massively organic growth in the current wave, and we're unlikely to see another one in the near future. In any case, it's not wise to base your business plan on the hope that you'll be "the one".
- Investors, in order to feel confident about the value creation/capture opportunity mentioned above, need to see a predictable approach and model. While this is most true of B2B companies, it applies to consumer plays as well - gone are the days when "and then we'll just monetize the eyeballs somehow" is a strong enough plan.
- On the consumer side, just acquiring users isn't enough anymore. To paraphrase one of the panel discussions: "When it comes to users 10 million is really the new million… until you've got 10 million people actively using your service, you can't be sure you that you've got something."
All this underscores the need for 1) a deliberate strategy for creating & capturing value, 2) a strong understanding of your target market, and 3) a Go-To-Market approach that allows you to test & tune your solution to achieve product/market fit - quickly
Bring on the Big Ideas
There was also some prevailing sentiment that investors (and consumers) are tired of ideas that seem largely derivative versions of the current solutions ("Facebook for schools", "Pinterest for sports", etc.). The market is eager for new, bigger ideas about the next wave of social/mobile/content/business platforms.
Monday's agenda included a "fireside chat" with Chamath Palihapitiya (Facebook, Social+Capital Partnership, NBA Owner)… whose comments about his $275MM fund I found pretty inspiring. As an investor, he wants to back ideas that address fundamental challenges of our time (healthcare & education came up a lot) - and put money to work in a way that could truly "change the world". It was a rousing perspective (several outbursts of spontaneous applause in the session) that reminded me that yes - the "return of the portfolio" must be measured in dollars… but as part of the rapidly evolving industry that is technology investing, we should all make sure our returns can be measured in "good for the worldness" as well.
South by Southwest kicks off March 8, and the Twitter sphere is already abuzz with all things #SXSW. As expected, a number of Portland startups are preparing to head down into the chaos, including Janrain, Cloudability, Esri (panelist), Jama Software, and Little Bird (panelist), as well as friends of Upstart Labs like Urban Airship (panelist), PIE, and Silicon Florist. We're sure there are a ton of other Portland-area attendees, too.
In the midst of a week of non-stop events, Carolynn Duncan of Portland Ten is running a Shark Tank event at Startup America's "A Celebration of American Startups" event on Saturday. The party will celebrate America's startups for their entrepreneurial spirit and is expected to have about 3,000 startups in attendance.
We don't think there's a better celebration Portland-area startups – and frankly, startups everywhere – could have. It's a thrilling time to be an entrepreneur, and the spirit is definitely alive. We won't be in Austin, but will be doing a virtual cheers to each of you on Saturday. From one startup to another – go team!
If you're headed to SXSW, here's a list of startup-related panels to put on your radar:
Friday, March 8
2-3 pm, Getting Started with Angel Investing
5-6 pm, Show Me The Money: Where to Find Funding
Saturday, March 9
7:30-11 pm, A Celebration of America's Startups
Sunday, March 10
11 am-12 pm, Starting Up: From Founding to Funding
Tuesday, March 12
11 am-12 pm, Not All Startup Accelerators Are Created Equal
Joe Stump is what you'd call a growth hacker. Our newest Upstart Labs partner is a serial entrepreneur with experience in marketing and development – and almost more importantly, fusing the two together. Joe recently led a seminar on growth hacking at Upstart Labs. Over thirty folks from various companies and startups in the Portland-area joined us to learn more about Joe's success tips. So what did we learn? From tracking people to tracking data, here's a glimpse into his go-to growth hacking toolkit:
- SurveyMonkey – Create and send free web surveys.
- Wufoo – Form builder that creates contact forms, web surveys and invitations so you can collect information, registrations and payments.
- Gooogle Forms – Send surveys or collect other information in an easy, streamlined way.
- Intercom.io - Customer relationship management and messaging tool for web businesses.
- Mixpanel – Advanced analytics platform for mobile and web.
- Sailthru – Analyze Big Data to generate informed, personalized communication with consumers across all digital channels.
- KISSMetrics – Online software for business analytics.
- Sprintly – A project management tool; like Salesforce for software developers.
- Optimizely – Website optimization through A/B testing.
- HubSpot – An all-in-one tool for in-bound marketing.
- Rapleaf – Provides marketing data including demographics and lifestyle data on consumer email addresses.
- FullContact – API that turns partial contact information into full contact information. FullContact provides data enrichment, de-duplication, normalization, and more.
- Mailchimp – Online email marketing solution to manage contacts, send emails and track results.
- Rapportive – Provides rich contact profiles inside your email inbox.
Joe's talk at Upstart Labs was just a taste of the tactics he dives into in his "Growth Hacking for Everyone" class for The Next Web. The next class is held online on March 19, so you don't have to be in Portland or the Valley to join in. This two-hour presentation will cover the essential techniques to enable rapid growth. Go ahead, sign up. You won't be disappointed.
It has been an exciting start to the year here at Upstart Labs. Here's the news:
Expanded Funding, Team & Investments
Earlier this month, we announced a partnership with Rogue Venture Partners and two initial co-investments – Measureful and Juked. We also welcomed Kevin Tate to the team as General Partner, and added Joe Stump as Venture Partner.
You can read more about our announcement at Gigaom, VentureBeat, TNW and GeekWire – as well as the Oregonian and Portland Business Journal. It was great to see such enthusiasm for our hands-on approach to working with early-stage companies and their investors. We've heard from all sides are that we are addressing a legitimate need in the startup funding landscape.
Funding & Launches for our Upstarts
We’ve also seen some excellent momentum already this year from our existing portfolio of Upstarts, which reached 10 total company investments this month:
- Celly received $1.4M in funding for their mobile social networking platform, and launched a new iPhone app, which garnered some nice coverage in TechCrunch & VentureBeat.
- Measureful launched the public beta of their analytics dashboard this week, helping digital marketers quickly analyze multi-channel activity data.
- Chirpify was named one of the “7 Social Networks to Watch in 2013” by CNN Money, received great press around a campaign they powered for Keith Richards, and just this week, confirmed Facebook integration by kicking off a new campaign with Tim McGraw.
- Menuish launched their iPhone App. They were picked as a Gizmodo Daily Deal and quickly became a Top 50 Food & Drink App in the App Store.
- MoPix launched their online distribution platform for independent filmmakers.
Portland’s on a Roll
It has been a blockbuster start to the year for the local tech community, and we’re proud to be a part of the rising tide. The current combination of resources and talent in Portland presents incredible growth opportunities – not just for the tech sector, but the entire region. It’s going to be a great year.