By L.A. LOREK, Founder of Silicon Hills News
At InnoTech San Antonio’s beta summit earlier this year, CallGrader won the competition.
The group of four close-knit friends created a software as a service customer application program for companies in the heating and cooling industry. They worked out of Geekdom on their venture.
A few months later, CallGrader applied and got selected to participate in the incubator program DreamIt Ventures, based in Philadelphia.
In September, Jon Dobbertin, Dan Garcia, Ben Niemietz and Chip Mobley all packed up and flew to Philadelphia. They rented two one-bedroom apartments close by the accelerator. Their wives, all four are expecting babies within four months of each other with the first due date set for Dec. 1, stayed in San Antonio.
“It’s been a little crazy,” Dobbertin said. He was in town last weekend and stopped by Geekdom for the 3 Day Startup San Antonio pitches on Sunday night. “We’ve been flying back and forth. But it’s been a phenomenal experience.”
The program has allowed Call Grader to expend its network, Dobbertin said. Every week, they meet with business people and listen to seminars from entrepreneurs who have been there and done that.
Dobbertin especially liked talks with Duck, Duck Go Founder Gabriel Weinberg and David Rose, founder of Gust.
CallGrader had a beta product in the marketplace when it entered the program, but now the company has launched and its revenues are projected to exceed what the team originally forecast by the end of the year, Dobbertin said. He declined to provide specifics.
“We’ve had a really successful launch out of Beta,” he said.
CallGrader has also pivoted into a cloud-based platform for providing businesses a way to efficiently communicate with customers. It has also built a rich database that allows companies to get all kinds of information on their customers including social media profiles to better tailor their service, Dobbertin said. And next year, it’s rolling out a chat platform, he said.
The DreamIt program has been hectic but it has pushed the team members to do more work in a short period of time than they would have gotten done on their own, Dobbertin said.
“We’re working around the clock, seven days a week and putting in 14 hour days,” he said. “In that three months we were able to do 12 months worth of work.”
CallGrader receied $25,000 in cash and $75,000 worth of credits for free hosting from Rackspace, Amazon and Azure. It has also received another $20,000 worth of legal and accounting services, Dobbertin said. But the most valuable part of the experience has been the mentorship and network the team received, he said.
To get to the next level, CallGrader plans to raise a seed round of investment, Dobbertin said. The company would like to raise its money in San Antonio so they can stay here. But they have already applied to the Benjamin Franklin Technology Fund, which would require Call Grader to be based in Philadelphia, Dobbertin said.
“We hope to find our funding here so we don’t have to move everyone to the East Coast,” he said.
Call Grader shows what’s possible for startup companies in San Antonio, said Alan Weinkrantz, a public relations expert who knows the team.
“It’s nice to see a company start and incubate here and go on to get accepted to a top tier incubator and relocate to Philadelphia.”
DreamIt Ventures recently expanded its program to Austin. It is based at Capital Factory. DreamIt Ventures just selected its first class of companies. They will have their demo day at SXSW 2013.