My my, how quickly they grow up…

It seems like just yesterday the Los Angeles accelerator StartEngine was introducing itself and its first class of ten startups to the world. Now they’re announcing their second class and getting ready for a family vacation to Silicon Valley in early May, where the recent grads will pitch alongside the most recent YouWeb incubator class in a Palo Alto joint demo.

I attended the Spring 2012 Class kickoff event last night at the StartEngine office and got a chance to speak to its founder, former Activision CEO Howard Marks, about its early days.

“The first class went extremely well,” says Marks. “Better than half of the ten companies are getting great traction with seed investors. We’re getting great response to our upcoming ‘Double Demo Day,’ and we have another fantastic class right behind them that already started at the beginning of April.”

Among LA accelerators, its initiative to host a northern demo day is unique. Some may call it proof that LA hasn’t arrived yet, but I disagree. As evidence, I offer the several hundred angel investor and VC attendees at its home demo day and that of each of the others in town. Rather, it seems that Marks and his team are simply taking advantage of every opportunity available to support their portfolio companies, as any good investor should.

StartEngine offers its companies a typical package of $20,000 as well as 90 days of office space and mentorship in exchange for eight to ten percent equity. It eschewed the beachfront location favored by so many of its local competitors to instead set up shop in Westwood, directly across the street from UCLA. A number of its early crop of companies are founded by UCLA alumni and current graduate students; it also taps the university for advisers and interns.

The new Spring class is slightly larger than the first with twelve companies this time around. Add this to the fact that a few of the first batch are still renting office space at StartEngine, and you can imagine the energy and community that’s brewing.

Marks hinted that he was looking to expand to a larger space in the future where he could keep more of the good mojo under one roof. This is a refreshing and slightly different philosophy than others, such as Y-Combinator, who don’t offer office space and have even resisted requests to incorporate founder housing into their models.

There are a few interesting anecdotes hidden in this incoming class. Several experienced founders can be found in this class, with nary a college dropout in sight. Likewise, there are an inordinate amount of PhDs and MBAs in the batch.

The local merchant flash sale site KoKoChé, is founded by a Fulbright scholar and Department of Homeland Security Scholar, as well as an Intel Fellowship recipient. Tailored Republic’s founders met and conceived of their custom tailored clothing site product, during a chance meeting between the two expats in Thailand. One was exploring aimlessly, having escaped a failed relationship stateside, when the other came to his rescue amid an attempted con artist hustle by a local tuk-tuk driver. Now that’s being in the trenches together.

The personalities and the back-stories among the crowd add some layers of interest. But really, it all comes down to the execution. A bit less than 90 days from now, we’ll be looking to see if Marks and his advisors can deliver on their promise to guide these startups to “make entrepreneurs successful, while fostering the LA technology startup ecosystem.”

The new companies being announced today include:

  • 1RP Media: An online sports network for high schools
  • BetterYou: Empowering fitness, beauty and wellness providers to run their businesses and connect with paying consumers
  • Fromography: A gamified photo sharing social network that incorporates unparalleled design tools to help users express themselves in unique ways
  • Kite: A free cloud-based application to help teachers and parents track the progress of their students
  • KoKoChé: The Hotwire for local merchants via a real-time ad network that enables any business to broadcast happy hour flash deals at any time to the surrounding community
  • FAD.io: A platform to share and access consumer product information in your social circles (formerly Mistash)
  • MergeLocal: A mobile application that pays users real cash for checking in at their favorite places
  • NightAway: A monthly subscription date night service that helps couples spend more quality time together
  • PlanADrink: The platform allows people to emulate the age-old courting activity of two groups meeting at a bar, and provides them exclusive discounts for doing so
  • Rivono: A mobile game company specializing in turn-based (asynchronous) multiplayer games
  • Tailored Republic: An online store for premium tailored suits at affordable prices with Zappos-esque service
  • Vloggo: 60 seconds or less video status updates