The entrepreneurs in the TechStars NYC program are going to spend today meeting with investors, reporters and other folks from the tech industry — but luckily, I had a chance to do rapid-fire interviews with most of them on Tuesday.
Though Techstars may be increasingly known for the industry-focused startup accelerators it creates with companies like Comcast and Target, it still runs broader “city programs” — including Techstars NYC, which this winter included startups working on everything from display technology to disappearing tattoos.
Ten-minute interviews aren’t exactly enough time to make me an expert in any of these subject areas, but they do provide a little more opportunity for in-depth discussion than a quick on-stage presentation (uh, not that we have anything against those). Here’s an alphabetical rundown of the companies I talked to and what I learned about them.
- Conductor provides transit directions, starting in New York City. Of course, you can already find transit directions in mapping products from Apple and Google, but co-founder Bharat Ayyar noted that they’re usually based on inaccurate or incomplete data from the public transit agencies — any New Yorker can recall times they’ve spent 10 or 15 minutes at the station while the announcer kept telling them their train was just two minutes away. In contrast, Conductor collects real-time location data to provide more accurate travel estimates.
- Dossier is trying to reinvent document collaboration, borrowing Slack-style features like notifications, slash commands and a channel-based file system. It also allows teams to embed outside media like Trello Cards into documents. Co-founder Daniel Schwartz said the parallels with Slack are no accident — just as the messaging company has become an “operating system for communication,” he’s hoping to turn Dossier into “that same thing, but for collaboration — we want to build an operating system where anyone can hook in and push data in or pull data out.”
- Eevo is building streamable virtual reality experiences for online publishers. The idea is to allow those publishers to experiment with VR without having to invest enormous resources. They just need 360-degree video and a few other media assets, then they can use tools like Eevo’s “interactivity composer” to build experiences without needing technical expertise. The VR can then be streamed into Eevo-powered apps, or eventually to the publishers’ existing apps. And outside the publishing world, customers also include New York City’s New Museum.
- Ephemeral is creating disappearing tattoo ink. Don’t think of those temporary tattoos that rub off after a few showers. Think instead of a real-looking tattoo, except it disappears after months or years. The company said it will be starting with three-to-four month tattoos, which can be applied using the same tools as regular tattoos. In fact, the startup is already taking signups for sessions with its first two tattoo artists in Summer 2018.
- Lean Systems is building route optimization algorithms. The initial customers are door-to-door paratransit services for passengers with disabilities, but co-founder Graham Mann said the company eventually plans to work with any large transportation fleet. The technology includes a “core solver” for general routing and scheduling optimization, then overlays geographic and industry-specific rules. And unlike other route optimization startups, Lean isn’t trying to build its own user interface — instead, it’s focused entirely on the optimization, delivering the results to a customer’s existing software, or just straight into Google Sheets.
- Halion Displays is developing low power displays that remain visible outdoors. (Like Amazon’s Kindle, but with video and color.) The startup is still in the research and development phase, with plans to license the technology to larger device manufacturers if the R&D pans out. And if it does, Halion could significantly improved battery life — co-founder and CEO Ryan Marchekwa estimated that an iPhone with a low-powered display could double battery life for the average user.
- Narmi works with credit unions and other financial institutions to create web and mobile banking experiences. Co-founders Chris Griffin and Nikhil Lakhanpal previously led the student-run Georgetown Credit Union (now a Narmi customer), and they argued that while smaller organizations don’t have the resources of large banks, they still need to offer a compelling online experience if they want to attract customers. And Narmi isn’t just building websites and apps — it also includes security features like support for multi-factor authentication and user risk scoring.
- Stan Group is working to commercialize the open source statistical modeling language called Stan. Founder and CEO Eric Novik explained that while Stan has a devoted following, the company is focused less on “evangelizing the language directly” and more on building products that use the technology to help make difficult decisions based on data. For example, some of the initial customers include a large pharmaceutical company developing cancer treatments, and baseball teams looking to predict the performance of players.
- ThinkLoot offers a videoconferencing product that helps salespeople figure out which calls did and didn’t go well through tools like transcripts and facial recognition software. You’d think a good salesperson would already know how their presentation went, but founder Romanos Fessas pointed out that they can’t pay attention to everything when they’re actually pitching — and if a potential customer isn’t speaking, is it because they’re entranced or because they’re bored? The goal, Fessas said, is to provide that extra piece of analysis that “helps good salespeople become great.”
- Thread Genius says that by focusing on fashion and interior design, it goes beyond existing visual search technologies in its ability to match products, and to find complementary products with a similar aesthetic feel. It can combine that analysis with data about the visual content that people have already interacted with on social media, allowing marketers to target the right audience when they’re promoting a given product. Co-founder Ahmad Qamar previously worked as an engineer at Spotify, where he developed the technology behind the Discover Weekly recommendations. He said that at Thread Genius, he’s still building technology to understand taste: “The spirit of the algorithm is the same.”
- Vidrovr is a video search startup focused on helping news organizations find video content — like if you’re a reporter writing an article and want to see if there are any relevant videos to include. Co-founder and CEO Joseph Ellis said his team’s advantage is its focus on news, rather than “trying to solve a really hard problem — one-size-fits-all video understanding.” He told me the technology combines different approaches like transcripts, face detection and scene detection, and that he’s been spending more time recently to make it easy for publishers to search for a video in their library, and then embed it using their own video player.
In addition to those 11 startups, there are three more that I didn’t get a chance to meet. In the interest of completeness (and not making anyone feel too left out), here are brief descriptions provided by the companies themselves.
- De-Ice is developing an electric de-icing technology for airplanes that is 30 minutes faster and 50% cheaper than the incumbent solution.
- Litimetrics is an analytics platform that gives attorneys an unfair advantage in litigation with competitive data-driven intelligence on attorneys, judges and opposing parties.
- Vitae Industries is building 3D printing technology that helps pharmacies make personalized medications on-demand.
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