TechLaunch, accelerator for the Garden State, holds its first demo day
If we were to do a quick word association exercise, the follow-up to "Jersey" would probably be something like "Shore," "Snooki," or "Boys." "Startup" probably wouldn't even make the list. Despite – or, perhaps, because of – its proximity to New York, the Garden State doesn't get a whole lot of love from the tech scene.
TechLaunch is trying to change that. The accelerator, which graduated its first batch of portfolio companies today (after a slight, Hurricane Sandy-induced delay), eschewed the usual "live in Jersey, work in New York" philosophy and elected to work with 10 Jersey-based companies and prove that there is a Northeastern tech scene somewhere besides Manhattan and Boston.
The companies, in the order that they presented:
Zenmenu: Do you hate having to look at and handle a paper-based menu at a restaurant? Zenmenu is willing to bet that you do, and the company has been built around the idea that people would rather browse a restaurant's menu and order their food from a tablet. The idea is reminiscent of E La Carte, which we've covered before, with the main difference being that Zenmenu wants to give everyone at the table a tablet, instead of offering just one per group.
The company will lease these tablets to restaurants for $10-$15 per month, and it says that it will break even within five to six months. Zenmenu's revenues will come from this subscription model and advertisements that it plans to incorporate into the app, and the company says that it has partnered with four Manhattan-based restaurants as a pilot program. It is trying to raise $300,000 in seed funding.
Echo: Echo is, essentially, a Twitter-like service that displays messages based on the user's location. (Which explains the name and the dolphin logo.) If users wanted to find a decent pizza place in Montclair, New Jersey, for example, they could ask all of the users in the area for their opinions.
The company plans on making money through local advertisements, and has already partnered with two Jersey-based companies in a test run. I see Echo going one of two ways: Either it works as intended and is awesome, or it ends up turning into a place for lonely men to try and meet women in their area. The company is looking to raise $600,000 to prove that it will become the former.
QuickCliqs: You do things. Like, with your friends, sometimes. Shopping and eating and sport-ing and whatnot. QuickCliqs, like GroupMe and other services before it, wants to make it easier for you to do those things with your friends, with dedicated messaging channels and a few other features dedicated to going out and having a good time.
The company plans on making money by aggregating daily deals (think Groupon, LivingSocial, etc.) and getting a cut of the revenue from each deal that its users purchase. Whether or not this will be a good revenue strategy remains to be seen, especially as Groupon and LivingSocial continue to prove that there isn't a whole hell of a lot of money in daily deals. QuickCliqs is raising $300,000 to build its sales force and develop an Android version of its app.
NickelBus: NickelBus, a service that aggregates bus services and works its magic to find the best deals, string multiple bus routes together, and offer a detailed look at the amenities (like, say, WiFi) that each line offers. It's Kayak for buses. The company is raising a $250,000 seed round.
Pervasive Group: Pervasive Group, which showcased its MMGuardian product gives parents control over what their children do with their smartphones, whether it's placing time restrictions on when the devices can be used or preventing phones from sending or receiving text messages while its owner is driving. The company's product has been downloaded over 45,000 times from the Google Play store, and it says that it has patents pending on some of its technologies.
The company is raising a $1 million round – the highest amount of all the presenting companies – to further develop its product and continue to form partnerships with carriers and manufacturers.
CodeSquare: CodeSquare is a "world-to-mobile" solution that makes it easier for smartphone owners to redeem deals via QR codes (blech), URLs (eh), or NFC (who's-a-what's-it?). The company has partnered with Dunkin' Donuts as a pilot run, and is raising $350,000 to prove that people actually will scan QR codes or use NFC tech in the real world.
Photoflow: Photoflow is a group photo-sharing service. The company, which was founded by a wedding photographer, aims to make it easier for people to gather all of the photos taken by the dozens (or hundreds) of smartphones guaranteed to be present at any social gathering.
Unlike other companies trying to do the "Share your pictures with your friends!" bit (of which there are many), Photoflow plans to partner with venues and professionals to create a sharing-slash-marketing platform that, surprisingly enough, might actually work. The company is raising $500,000 in seed funding.
Seam BLiSS: Seam BliSS (which I will only be capitalizing that way once) is a marketplace that connects shoppers with fashion designers who will make custom clothing at lower costs than larger stores. It operates on the Etsy principle that there are people who want to work with their hands just waiting to build something for people that appreciate handmade goods (and a deal).
The company, which has signed 90 designers in four weeks, makes money by taking an 8 percent cut of each sale and charging designers either $12 or $20 per month to list their wares. It is raising $275,000 in seed funding.
LivinSport: LivinSport is self-described as a "LinkedIn for sports." The service, which was founded by a former athlete, is aiming to create a place for athletes to create a "sports resume" that documents their athletic accomplishments from toddlerhood to college and beyond.
The company has partnered with organizations like NFL Alumni, the NFL PLayers Association, US Youth Soccer, and the YMCA to gain more users, and makes its money by charging trainers $9.95 per month, with premium or pro accounts for athletes costing between $9.95 and $19.95 per month. It is looking to raise $350,000 in seed funding.
Nuskool: Nuskool is based on the idea that students would rather learn physics by playing Angry Birds than by doing their physics homework. It plans on working with brands and organizations, including Visa, FEMA, Colgate, and the FDA, to create sponsored lesson plans for teachers, who will pay $9.95 per month for unlimited access to these plans.
The company was co-founded by Abran Maldonado, a Gates Millennium Scholar. It is raising $530,000 to partner with schools and continue to develop more lesson plans.