TechStars Cloud Demo Day is like a debutante ball in which each company is formally introduced into society in a formal “debut” presentation.
On Thursday, the founders of 11 tech startups donned their finest hoodies, t-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes and took to the stage of Charline McCombs Empire Theatre in downtown San Antonio.
More than 300 people turned out for the event including Mayor Julián Castro and City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
“There’s a tech renaissance happening in San Antonio driven by Geekdom, Rackspace and the TechStars Cloud program,” said Mayor Castro in a brief interview before his public remarks.
When he took the stage he joked with the audience that he had just checked in on Foursquare and found he was the mayor. The audience erupted in laughter. He went on to emphasize that San Antonio has a growing technology industry focused on cloud computing.
Many in the audience were investors from Chicago, Austin and other cities. Others like G.P. Singh, founder of Karta Technologies, David Spencer, founder of OnBoard Software, Paul Ford, founder of MyToons and Michael Girdley, investor and entrepreneur, served as mentors to the TechStars Cloud companies. Many of them also invest in tech startups.
The presentations were not flawless. Some of the presenters read from scripts, others had to have line prompts or help with audio problems and one team, DataRobot, didn’t present at all. Yet those flaws made them appear more human and vulnerable and less of a polished packaged product.
Although the companies’ ideas ranged widely from web development tools to an app for making animated stories, they all had some things in common. They plan to change the world, shake up the status quo and solve persistent nagging problems.
“Ziptask is changing the way people outsource work,” said Shawn Livermore, its cofounder.
“Conspire is the first global network that has a deep understanding of your email network,” said Alex Devkar, cofounder.
“TrueAbility Helps companies hire the best technical talent,” said Luke Owen, cofounder and CEO.
“ZeroVM is the world’s first cloud hypervisor (computer software that creates and runs virtual machines),” said Camuel Gilyadov, cofounder.
This TechStar Class is the second one to graduate from the 13-week accelerator program, which started in January on the 10th floor of Geekdom at the Weston Centre. TechStars also runs programs in Boston, Boulder, New York, Seattle and London. The programs are highly selective. While hundreds apply, only 10 to 12 teams are selected for each city. Each company receives $18,000 in seed funding and a $100,000 convertible debt note. Many of them also go on to get hundred of thousands of dollars in additional financing.
Last year, 11 companies went through the program. Those companies focused much more on highly technical applications focused on the wonky workings of the Internet. This year’s class focused on more consumer, small business and workplace problems.
Two companies, TrueAbility of San Antonio and Good.co of San Francisco, tackled problems companies face finding the right job candidate. While TrueAbility assesses a job candidate’s technical talent, Good.co administers personality tests to make sure that the person will be happy and that it’s the right workplace culture for them.
It was also the first time the TechStar Cloud had international teams, said Jason Seats, its managing director.
The team from Cloud Options, which is creating a commodities exchange for cloud computing services, came from London. And ZeroVM, which is creating software to run with Openstack, the operating system for cloud computing, is from Israel.
And it’s the first time TechStars Cloud had three local companies, Seats said. TrueAbility and ParLevel Systems, which is making a vending machine monitoring system, are from San Antonio and Postmaster, an online system for shipping packages, is from Austin.
“Clearly it’s cool to see the international flavor of the program but it’s also cool to see the gravity and traction of the local companies,” said Spencer, a mentor. “We went from zero last year to three.”
It’s also the first TechStars Cloud class with women. Sarah Cochrane, cofounder of Cloud Options, pitched her brokerage service for buying cloud computing services. And several of the teams including Skit!, an app for animating stories, to Threat Stack, a security platform for businesses, had women cofounders and members.
“I think we’re seeing the quality of the teams is excellent,” said Ford, a mentor. “They are much farther along with their companies. They didn’t come in with just ideas.”
Pat Condon, cofounder of Rackspace and mentor in the TechStars Cloud program, said this year’s program was better because a lot of the mentors had been through it once before and knew what to expect. The teams also had great ideas, he said.
“I think this class was awesome,” he said. “The teams came in a little more advance.”
The team behind ZeroVM already had a product and improved upon it during the 13 weeks. The team worked closely with engineers at Rackspace. They are already changing cloud computing. The team spent the past week in Portland, Oregon at the Openstack Summit, talking with customers.
“The maturity of the technology is just amazing,” Spencer said.
“It signals that Jason has taken the program up to the next level,” Ford said.
Bill Boebel, with Capital Factory, a coworking site and tech accelerator program in Austin, and cofounder of Webmail.us, which Rackspace acquired, commented on the strength of the companies this year.
“Last year was strong but this year is even stronger,” Boebel said. “A lot of them have very well developed ideas.”
Nick Longo, managing director of Geekdom, was pleased with how well the local teams did in the TechStars Cloud program. He’s already looking forward to next year.
“The last day of TechStars is the first day of the next awesome set of startups to come out of San Antonio,” he said.
Rajiv Bala and Charlie Plauche of S3 Ventures, a venture capital firm in Austin, attended last year’s TechStars Demo Day and this year’s event.
“We thought it was fantastic,” Bala said.
The venture firm didn’t invest in any of last year’s TechStars Cloud companies because it’s Texas focused and it does later stage venture capital investing, Bala said. But it is keeping its eye on a few from this year’s class, he said.
“We track them,” he said.
Programs like TechStars Cloud are really helping San Antonio grow its technology base and visibility as a tech center nationally, Plauche said.
“I think it’s a case study for the nation,” said Chelsea McCullough, executive director of Texas for Economic Progress. She drove from Austin to attend the event. She was impressed with the companies presenting and the program overall.
“We’re a city on the rise,” said Graham Weston, chairman and cofounder of Rackspace and Geekdom. He worked to bring the TechStars Cloud program to San Antonio.
San Antonio’s a place for people who want to change the world, he said. It’s not for everyone, he said. Some people want to go somewhere that’s already established, he said. San Antonio has such great potential to evolve into a major technology center, he said. The seeds are being planted right now and they are beginning to sprout and in the next decade, San Antonio will have a robust technology industry, he said.
That movement also depends on young people who grew up in San Antonio coming back to the city to found technology startups, he said.
And San Antonio and Austin have grown together as a region, Weston said. Both cities draw from each other’s strengths and as a result are creating a powerful technology region focused on cloud computing, software, hardware, biotechnology, clean energy and more, Weston said.
“We are not rivals,” Weston said. “We are stronger together.”