Earlier this week, the graduates of StartEngine’s Summer 2012 class debuted to the world. And the new class is without question the most impressive of the three to come out of the Los Angeles incubator so far.
StartEngine is known for its ambitious goal of producing 500 companies in five years, and as a result often takes on extremely early ideas. I have been critical of this model and its early results in the past, saying that it prioritizes volume and breadth over selectivity. However, the new companies graduating demonstrate that there’s no one formula to identify and mold winners.
The Summer 2012 class has a decidedly Los Angeles flavor to it, with companies tackling music, film, fashion, advertising, and health. Most of the businesses, but not all, are consumer facing as well.
What really seemed to ratchet up the credibility, as compared to past StartEngine classes, was the experience levels of the founders. Unlike past classes comprised largely of novice founders and recent university graduates, a roll call of Summer 2012 class includes former Google, Oracle, and Goldman Sachs employees, as well as entertainment industry veterans and several PhDs and MDs.
With many of the graduating companies just 12 weeks removed from formation, the jury is still out on whether the execution will live up to the lofty expectations. But all companies that presented had products in the market, and several announced impressive partnerships and early adoption.
Here’s a rundown of those companies that presented:
Contur is joining the dozen or so startups looking to offer a solution to email overload. The StartEngine alum, which calls itself an email virtual assistant, thinks it has a novel approach in going beyond simple email sorting. Contur conducts semantic analysis on every message, using information in the subject, body, and sender to organize mail into relevant tasks and to-dos, which can be tied to calendar items and reminders. Taking this a step further, multiple emails can be grouped intelligently under single projects. The company has released a Windows-only desktop client into beta and plans Mac and HTML5 mobile-optimized Web versions in the near future.
Hoonto is a customizeable drag-and-drop Web dashboard tool capable of displaying real-time data from any portion of any website, such as analytics, stock prices, or weather. The startup does this without the need for APIs, rather rendering each data-feed dynamically. Hoonto is targeting enterprise users and promoting the ability to increase data awareness. But it’s equally applicable in the consumer space, particularly now in the absence of iGoogle customized homepages.
The Style Club is a social ecommerce fashion startup focused on delivering celebrity-inspired styles to teens and young women at affordable prices. The site curates trends from celebrities, fashion gurus, fashion bloggers, and online “haulers” and offers 30-day limited edition sales of each “capsule collection”, all without ever holding inventory. The company will launch its first runway show on October 15.
While others battle it out to be the streaming music destination for consumers, few have tackled the commercial space which requires entirely different licenses. Overhead.fm offers music for play in stores, restaurants, offices, and other “public places.” The company provides curated playlists based on each unique business or event. Current solutions require pricey hardware, while Overhead offers device agnostic digital rights to “every song ever recorded in the US.” This new solution is priced 50 percent less than the competition at $25 per location per month. With this model, Overhead says it’s able to operate with 67 percent margins. Reportedly, only one in ten of these business that plays music currently does so legally, meaning the company has a large addressable market to take on.
Enplug is taking on the public advertising industry with real-time, social-enabled, interactive advertising screens (TVs). Users can interact with these screens through smartphone apps, social networks, while advertisers can instantaneously deploy and manage ad content on the screen of their choosing. Unlike traditional outdoor and physical advertising solutions, Enplug is able to offer partners rich analytics. Whether their planned pricing of $0.01 per 15 seconds of screen time will be well received is yet to be seen.
MyRight is to legal matters what WebMD is to medicine. The startup aims to simplify the law and help people learn their rights within an interactive experience. The company has built a logic-based Q&A system that claims to deliver only relevant information in plain english to everyday legal questions. MyRight will monetize the service by delivering leads to lawyers at up to $100 per lead. Early metrics show that 88 percent of users complete the guides they start, and 33 percent convert to paid leads. If these numbers prove sustainable, the service doesn’t need very many users to create a large sustainable business.
Afterschool.me describes itself as OpenTable for afterschoool activities. In an industry that’s rapidly privatizing, parents are having increasingly difficult times finding interesting activities for their kids which are local, affordable, and attended by friends. Afterschool offers a comprehensive list of available activities with reviews and Facebook connect-enabled data on wher friends are already signing up. The company has rolled out its marketplace in Los Angeles only to date, but is working to expand to other markets nationally.
Flinja is a job-posting and professional networking site for college students and their alumni. Users can create profiles, post requested services, and write and read reviews on each other. The service is currently only available to students-users with .edu email addresses. Flinja is free to students, and plans to monetize by charging hiring companies for each job placement.
Motion Dispatch is a SaaS-based digital content hosting and distribution platform. The company’s founders claim to offer 95 percent cost reduction compared to traditional offline competitors. Motion Dispatch has already signed on 27,000 hours of content for distribution in the coming year. Users can control content meta data and where it’s deployed, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes.
FitKit is a subscription nutritional supplement company co-founded in part by two medical doctors. The site offers a smart nutritional and lifestyle quiz that aims to identify and address nutritional deficiencies. The company is developing its own proprietary “physician grade” products and handling fulfillment itself as well. FitKit launched to the public in August and has already begun delivering product.