Tag: TechStars Austin

Amos Schwartzfarb is the New Managing Director of Techstars Austin

imgres-1Techstars has hired Amos Schwartzfarb as its new managing director of Techstars Austin.

Schwartzfarb takes over from Jason Seats, who is still with Techstars and will remain in Austin. Seats is one of the managing partners of Techstars $150 million venture capital fund. He is dedicating all of his time to that role.

Schwartzfarb is no stranger to Techstars Austin. He has served as mentor to all three of the Techstar Austin classes. He has also founded several companies and has expertise in sales and business strategy in the software, digital, advertising and entertainment industries.

Previously Schwartzfarb served as head of customer development at Joust. Before that, he was vice president of customer development at BlackLocus, which was acquired by The Home Depot in 2012. He was co-founder and served as Chief Operating Officer of mySpoonful, which was acquired in 2011. Before that, he was an executive with Business.com, which was acquired by RH Donnelly in 2007. He also spent five years at HotJobs.com.

Schwartzfarb said it energizes him to work with startups and entrepreneurs.

“Founders have a deep belief that they can turn a really good idea into something that is a business,” Schwartzfarb said. They go through a thousand micro iterations before they get there, he said, but the key is getting people to believe, early on, that the vision is achievable.

And timing is really important, Schwartzfarb said. An idea can be really good but the market needs to be ready for it.

“When I first moved here – it’s only been eight years – but it seems like it’s been a long time – it’s an open community, people are nice and I wanted to be as much of a part of that as possible,” Schwartzfarb said. “That translates into this role. I get to actually help bring great companies to Austin to grow and become great businesses.”

That’s all possible under the Techstars brand, he said.

“My hope is that I’m able to take what Jason has done and add to it to continue to grow this community and continue to be on the forefront of the current startup community,” he said.

In the next few weeks, Techstars Austin will begin accepting applications for its next class, which will kick off in February. Schwartzfarb’s network stretches from coast to coast and he’s hoping to find some of the most exciting new companies to join the next class, he said.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of high quality companies come through,” he said. “We’re looking to continue to do great things in town.”

Schwartzfarb also answered a few questions via email to get to know him better in his new role as managing director of Techstars Austin.

Q1. Why did you move to Austin?

A. In 2007 I was living in LA and had been traveling to Austin for business since 2000. My wife and I were looking to leave LA before starting a family. We visited several cities all over the country and then came to Austin for a long weekend. It took us under 24 hours to realize this would be our new home. There were several draws to Austin at that time. The biggest two were the, then up-and-coming, start-up scene and how incredibly family friendly Austin seemed (coming from LA). My wife and I also love the outdoors and live music and, of course, Austin has an abundance of both.

Q2. What is your favorite thing about the city?

A. There are so many things I love about Austin. My “ favorite thing” has changed from time to time since I first moved here and currently it’s the people. There seems to be this persistent high-energy theme of “ let’s continue to push limits and kick-butt” that everyone has. Whether you are in the start-up world, or a musician, a foodie or a cyclist, everyone here has a ton of passion, focus and dedication for the things they love. It seems like everyone I meet wants to take an active role in Austin’s future through their passions. There is a real vibrancy in Austin and it’s infectious! That is why we keep seeing Austin show up on all the “best of” lists and why I think we will continue to see Austin flourish for many, many years to come.

Q3. Why did you take the job as director of Techstars in Austin?

A. I love working with early stage companies and helping them reach their full potential. For this reason, when Techstars launched in Austin I became a pretty active mentor. Over the past two years I have become increasingly impressed with the Techstars organization overall. When I was approached about the role it was a very easy decision in that I would have the opportunity to work with such a great company, doing what I loved while also contributing to the future growth of Austin!

Q4. Why is Techstars important to Austin?

A. Austin has an amazing start-up scene that continues to grow. Techstars plays an important role in that as a local accelerator we are also part of the global Techstars ecosystem. We have a very strong network that enables us to provide deep support and unique opportunities to our companies which ultimately contribute to Austin’s future growth.

Q5. What are you looking for in the next Techstars Austin class?

A. Obviously I’m looking for ideas with big potential but beyond that I’m looking for solid teams that are genuine, passionate and honest with themselves. I don’t have a bias towards a specific sector but the concept has to resonate with me. I want to feel like, “yeah, that needs to exist” and then believe this is the team that can make it happen.

Q6. Do you have any advice or tips on how to get into Techstars Austin?

A. Get your application in early. Make yourself stand-out. And tell a really good story. If you know someone associated with Techstars in any city have them endorse you. At the end of the day you need a good idea and solid team.

Q7. What is your favorite coffee house in Austin?

A. Mellow Johnny’s/Juan Pelota. Great coffee and I get to stare at bikes between thoughts.

Q8. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

A. When I’m not working I keep it pretty simple. I spend a lot of time with my family biking, hiking and climbing. My wife and daughters are all high energy and I just do what I can to keep up! I also spend some time biking with friends and I try to catch some live music whenever I can. I know this seems pretty par for the course in Austin and it definitely runs true in our house.

Pivot Freight Lands $2 Million in Financing and New CEO

The Pivot Freight team participating in the Techstars Austin program

The Pivot Freight team participating in the Techstars Austin program

Pivot Freight, which relocated from Arizona to Austin last year, announced Monday that is has received $2 million in seed round financing.

Rob Taylor also joined Pivot Freight as its CEO. He previously served on the founding leadership teams of both TrueCar and BlackLocus. He met the Pivot Freight team when he served as a mentor to the team in the last Techstars Austin program.

The company makes and markets a software as a service platform for mid-market industrial and retail companies to reduce freight costs.

Austin-based Silverton Partners led the investment round with participation from Techstars Bullet Time Ventures, Capital Factory, Hurt Family Investments and several Angel investors.

Pivot Freight plans to use the money on marketing and new staff in sales and engineering.

‘This capital infusion and the addition of Rob to the founding team enables us to accelerate our growth, and we are thrilled to now make Austin our home. The support ecosystem here for emerging technology companies has been incredible,” Dan Bebout, Pivot Freight’s founder and president, said in a news release.

“As an involved member of the early stage ecosystem in Austin, I’ve been energized by the quality of entrepreneurs and ideas from programs like Capital Factory and Techstars and was immediately attracted to the Pivot Freight team with their knowledge and relationships in the freight industry,” Taylor said in a news release.

Bebout founded Pivot Freight in August of 2013 along with Jenny Bebout and Carson Krieg.

Experiment Engine Gets $1 Million in Seed Funding

Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine, photo by Laura Lorek

Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine, photo by Laura Lorek

Austin-based Experiment Engine announced Tuesday that is has closed on a $1 million seed funding round.

The company received funding from Founder Collective, based in New York and Boston, Mercury Fund in Houston and Austin Angel Investors Dan Graham, CEO of BuildASign and Rony Kahan, Co-founder of Indeed.com.

Experiment Engine, which recently graduated from the Austin Techstars program, offers a software as a service web and mobile platform that allows companies to test different versions of their products. The testing is known as A/B test as it compares two different versions of a website, mobile application or other product to Experiment Engines marketplace of conversion experts. Those experts provide “ready-to-test page versions that are shown to live traffic for Experiment Engine’s customers.” The customers determine which is the best version.

“By providing on-demand access to skilled conversion rate optimizers, Experiment Engine has helped early customers triple tests run per month and drive conversion gains averaging 20 percent,” according to a news release.

The company plans to use the funds to expand its platform and on sales and marketing.

“Having run hundreds of A/B tests over our careers, my co-founder and I have a first-hand appreciation of the true impact continuous optimization delivers,” Claire Vo, Experiment Engine’s CEO and co-founder, said in a news release. “By closing this seed round, we have the resources to accelerate our business and deliver our optimization solution to marketers who want to truly ‘Always Be Testing.’”

11 Startups Pitch at Techstars Demo Day in Austin

Founder of Silicon Hills News

The team behind Burpy.com, photo by Laura Lorek

The team behind Burpy.com, photo by Laura Lorek

The latest Techstars Austin class showed off their hustle, determination and maturity at Demo Day Wednesday.

All of the startups already have customers, revenue and market traction.

Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT, introduced Burpy, a grocery delivery service formed by five friends at UT. He recounted a story about how they went to his office to show him their minimum viable product.

Metcalfe listened to their pitch then spun around in his chair, called up their site, Burpy.com, on his computer and ordered a case of Diet Coke.

A few minutes later, a mobile phone rang and one of the guys answered it and then jumped up and ran out. A half an hour later, he returned with Metcalfe’s Diet Coke order.

Burpy became a member of the Longhorn Startup class at UT. During the course, they earned As, recruited employees, got customers and revenue and they started expanding to San Antonio and Houston, Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe introduced Aseem Ali, CEO of Burpy. Burpy was one of 11 Techstars companies that pitched their ventures to investors, press and others at Techstars Austin Demo Day at the Austin Music Hall.

Like all of the Techstars companies, Ali’s pitch came off without a hitch.

“We’ve grown this business from our dorm room just over a year ago to more than $75,000 in gross monthly reoccurring revenue,” Ali said.

Grocery shopping is a $600 billion industry and by 2018 home delivery will become an $18 billion business, Ali said.

Burpy faces competition from Instacart, Amazon, Wal-Mart to Go, Google Shopping Express and others. But it’s focused on expanding throughout the Texas market and already has a strong foothold, Ali said.

“We are bringing the store to your door,” he said during his pitch.

These Techstars Austin startups are the best class yet, said Jason Seats, managing director of the program. He has managed four Techstars programs including two in San Antonio for the Techstars Cloud program.

The latest Techstars program also featured many female entrepreneurs including Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine.

Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine, photo by Laura Lorek

Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine, photo by Laura Lorek

“We help businesses make more money by enabling them to run A/B tests designed by conversion experts,” Vo said.

A/B testing is testing two versions of a website to see which one appeals more to customers, Vo said.

“By not testing enough, companies are leaving tons of money on the table,” she said.

Experiment Engine gives its customers access to a marketplace of conversion experts, Vo said.

“We believe this is the future of work pairing technology with human expertise,” Vo said.

Julia Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of NMKRT, photo by Laura Lorek

Julia Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of NMKRT, photo by Laura Lorek

Julia Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of NMKRT, pitched her New York-based startup, which creates revenue streams for influential independent publishers by turning their content sites into stores.

“Publishers are the retailers of the future,” Jacobson said. “We make this a reality today.”

And Daina Linton pitched Fashion Metric, which she co-founded with her husband Morgan. The company employs a proprietary algorithm to help online shoppers find clothes that fit.

This year, more than half of the companies also plan to make Austin their permanent home. Burpy and Experiment Engine are already based here. Pivot Freight plans to move from Arizona. Cloud 66 is relocating from London. Fashion Metric has extended its lease and is considering a permanent move.

Every Techstars company that stays in Austin gets a $20,000 investment from Joshua Baer , co-founder of Capital Factory and Rony Kahan, co-founder of Indeed.com.

“My big focus is on growing the Austin community and getting great entrepreneurs to come here and stay here,” Baer said. “I wish I could invest in all of them, but my focus is really on Austin-based companies.”

Baer also commented this is the best Techstars class so far.

“I think it’s really a diverse class,” he said. “Each of the companies has traction. They’ve got customers and revenue. They’re really in market. It’s a very, very strong class.”

Josh Kerr, CEO and co-founder of Written, served as a mentor to NMKRT. He was extremely impressed with the startup and the entire class of Techstars Austin.

“They are all extremely talented,” Kerr said.

“This class had a lot of rough edges in the beginning but they all shaped up into great companies,” Kerr said.

Kerr plans to invest in several of the companies, but he declined to say which ones.

IMG_3762During a break in the Demo Day presentations, BrewBot provided refreshments to the audience with its IPA Demo Day beer. The company, founded by five friends from Belfast, Northern Ireland, makes a personal home brewing robot.

BrewBot has a mobile phone app and specialized hardware machine that lets people chose a recipe and ingredients to brew beer in its home brewing robot. It works for everyone from master brewers to novices, said Chris McClelland, its CEO.

“BrewBot creates the ultimate brewing environment that is limited only by your imagination,” McClelland said. “This magical machine turns beer lovers into beer makers.”

The Techstars 2014 Austin class:

Brewbot – A beer brewing robot controlled and monitored by your smartphone.

Burpy – Delivering same-day groceries and home essentials from a variety of local stores.

Cloud66 – Deploy and manage Ruby apps on any cloud.

Common Form – Do your taxes in 5 minutes from your pc or mobile device.

Experiment Engine – A/B testing with a marketplace of conversion experts.

Fashion Metric – Using big data to enhance fit and sizing for apparel retailers and brands.

Free Textbooks – Equips student influencers with software to replace their bookstore.

LawnStarter – The easiest way to order and manage lawn care.

NMRKT – Powering eCommerce for blogs, online magazines, and content creators.

Pivot Freight – Rate comparison engine and discount broker for freight shipping.

Smart Host – Intelligently price your short-term and vacation rental.

Techstars Startup Cloud 66 Plans to Move to Austin Permanently

Khash Sajadi, CEO of Cloud 66, a Techstars company in Austin, photo by Laura Lorek

Khash Sajadi, CEO of Cloud 66, a Techstars company in Austin, photo by Laura Lorek

Cloud 66 moved to Austin from London two months ago to participate in Techstars and the startup plans to stay here.

For its business, the U.S. is the best place to be, said Khash Sajadi, CEO and co-founder of Cloud 66.

Cloud 66 is one of 11 companies in the latest Techstars program in Austin. All of the companies will pitch their companies Wednesday afternoon during Techstars Demo Day at the Austin Music Hall. This year, several of the startups plan to stay in Austin after the program ends Wednesday.

They’ve got financial incentives to stay too.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what the Techstars Austin class has accomplished this summer and Rony Kahan and I have committed a total of $20,000 investment for each of them that decides to stay in Austin,” Joshua Baer, founder of Capital Factory, wrote in his weekly Austin Startup Digest.

“When it comes to cloud computing, Austin is particularly important,” he said. “There are a lot of enterprises and cloud infrastructure players around here like Rackspace in San Antonio and Dell in Austin.”

Cloud 66 has seven employees and four moved to Austin.

The company, founded in 2013, helps software developers build and manage the software that powers their business. It provides IT services as a service.

“This is the engine that powers the business,” said Sajadi.

The company provides technology infrastructure for small to medium-sized software as a service companies. Cloud 66 serves 5,000 software developers in 700 companies globally. Its customers include the BBC, CareerBuilder.com, Adobe, Bugheard and Web Summit. Its competitors include Heroku, a cloud application platform.

The company has raised $730,000 including a $120,000 investment from the Techstars program.

One of the biggest benefits of participating in Techstars Austin program is being able to work with Jason Seats, the program’s managing director, because Seats comes from a cloud background, Sajadi said. Seats, co-founded Slicehost, which he later sold to Rackspace and then headed up its cloud computing operations. Seats is an investor in Cloud 66.

Techstars Austin Unveils its Second Class

logo@2xA Longhorn Startup company, Burpy, is among the latest crop of Techstars Austin companies selected to participate in its three month long accelerator.

Burpy, founded by a group of UT undergraduates and led by Aseem Ali, is an online grocery delivery business available in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.

The other team from Austin is Experiment Engine, which runs split tests for companies by a panel of experts. The rest of the teams come from New York City, Brooklyn, Birmingham, Blacksburg, Phoenix, Marina del Rey, San Diego, Belfast and London. The 11 Techstars Austin teams are an electric group ranging from Brewbot, a beer brewing robot to Pivot Freight, a rate comparison engine for freight shipping. Techstars selected them from more than 1,500 applicants.

Smart Host, the team from New York, won the 2014 Startup Bus competition at Rackspace just before SXSW. The company created an app that aggregates and analyzes the short-term rental market from sites like HomeAway and AirBnB so a person renting out their place can price it correctly.

The program kicked off Monday and will run through Sept. 3rd when it will host its demo day, according to Jason Seats, the program’s managing director.

“Heading into the second program in Austin, we’re fortunate to have many of our 2013 Austin alumni on the ground as well as almost 100 incredible mentors,” Seats wrote in a blog post announcing the latest class on the Techstars website.

Each of the companies selected gets $18,000 in seed funding and are offered a $100,000 convertible note. They also get perks such as free website hosting and office space. When the program ends, many of the companies go on to raise money from angel investors and venture capitalists.

The Techstars Summer 2014 Austin class:

Brewbot – A beer brewing robot controlled and monitored by your smartphone.

Burpy – Delivering same-day groceries and home essentials from a variety of local stores.

Cloud66 – Deploy and manage Ruby apps on any cloud.

Common Form – Do your taxes in 5 minutes from your pc or mobile device.

Experiment Engine – A/B testing with a marketplace of conversion experts.

Fashion Metric – Using big data to enhance fit and sizing for apparel retailers and brands.

Free Textbooks – Equips student influencers with software to replace their bookstore.

LawnStarter – The easiest way to order and manage lawn care.

NMRKT – Powering eCommerce for blogs, online magazines, and content creators.

Pivot Freight – Rate comparison engine and discount broker for freight shipping.

Smart Host – Intelligently price your short-term and vacation rental.

Four Austin Startups Shine at the 2014 ATC Startup Showdown

Founder of Silicon Hills News

imgres-8The Austin Technology Council’s Startup Showdown builds a bridge between the startup community and those who have more seasoned experiences and companies, said Josh Alexander, founder of Toopher.

Toopher, a security platform that helps businesses authentic and verify their customers online, won the ATC Startup Showdown in 2012.

“As a result we were able to connect and get really, really good advice from those who have been there and done that,” Alexander said.

“We’ve been very fortunate in our trajectory so far and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot, clearly, if not most of it, because of the wonderful community we have here in Austin,” he said. Toopher has raised $2 million.

Alexander spoke at the Austin Technology Council’s CEO Summit on Thursday during a noontime presentation of the four most promising local startups in the 2014 ATC Startup Showdown.

Alexander introduced Joseph Kopser, the CEO and Founder of RideScout, “the Kayak of ground transportation” and the winner of the Startup Showdown from last year. RideScout started in the Austin Technology Incubator. The company created a mobile phone app that lets consumers search and compare aggregated ground transportation options to find the best one. The company has raised seed stage funding last year, built out its team and launched in Washington, D.C., Austin, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

“We wouldn’t have gotten to where we are today without ATC and its supporters,” Kopser said.

ATC chose one startup from each of four tech incubators based in Austin including the Austin Technology Incubator, Capital Factory, DreamIt Ventures and Techstars Austin.

Among Austin’s incubators and accelerators there’s a lot of collaboration and cooperation, said Isaac Barchas, director of the Austin Technology Incubator.

“The infrastructure is being built out in a way that makes the whole more valuable than its parts,” Barchas said.

Rick Hawkins, president and CEO of Lumos Pharma, an ATI company.

Rick Hawkins, president and CEO of Lumos Pharma, an ATI company.

The winning company from ATI was Lumos Pharma. The company is developing a drug treatment for autism, said Rick Hawkins, its president and CEO. Earlier this year, Lumos Pharma raised $14 million in a Series A funding round led by Sante Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. The company is using that money to finance pre-clinical and clinical development of its drug to treat Creatine Transporter Deficiency, a cause of autism and other mental disorders.

The winning company from Capital Factory was Cratejoy.

Josh Baer, co-founder of Capital Factory, said the incubator has made 30 investments since October. He said it’s the most active seed-stage investor in Austin right now. Capital Factory launched a syndicate investment on Angellist with $100,000 investment in Cratejoy and the company attracted another $350,000 in investment from around the country, Baer said.

Amir Elaguizy, founder of Cratejoy, a Capital Factory company.

Amir Elaguizy, founder of Cratejoy, a Capital Factory company.

“Cratejoy is an ecommerce platform for subscription-based businesses,” said Amir Elaguizy, its founder.

The company pivoted from Toutpost, a Y-Combinator startup, into Cratejoy after Elaguizy identified an unmet need for a platfrom catering to subscription based businesses. The company launched a Beta program recently and has signed up several paying businesses including Beard Brand, which sells grooming supplies for breads, Sumo Snacks, a subscription based jerky delivery to companies and a tie of the month club. Cratejoy, which has 10 employees, recently moved out of the Capital Factory and into a house in Austin because it’s expanding so quickly and needed more room, Elaguizy said.

Utz Baldwin, founder of Plum

Utz Baldwin, founder of Plum

The winning company from Techstar Austin was Plum, an “Internet of Things” company that makes an app that lets people control lighting in their home from their smartphone. The company, formerly known as Ube, went through the inaugural Techstars class. It has raised $1.5 million, including $307,600 through a successful Kickstarter campaign last year from 1,300 backers. The company has 11 employees and has its prototypes in hand, said Utz Baldwin, the company’s founder.

“I think Austin is the number two city in the country, outside of the Bay Area, for starting up a company,” he said. “We are intent on building a big consumer brand right here in the great state of Texas.”

The winning company representing DreamIt Ventures was Swan, a platform that allows consumers to order beauty services like hairstyles, makeup and manicures to the home or office.

Kerry Rupp, CEO of DreamIt Ventures in Austin, introduced Julia Andalman Swan’s founder. Andalman first pitched her company to Steve Welch of DreamIt Ventures in Dallas but she didn’t think he liked it. Then he called her a week later. He went home and talked to his wife about it and she thought it was a great idea, Andalman said.

Techstars Austin’s Jason Seats on Startup Grind San Antonio

Jason Seats, managing director of TechStars Austin

Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars Austin

Jason Seats loved playing with Lego blocks as a kid and even did college projects with Legos as a young adult.
His heroes were Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman growing up and the fictional Indiana Jones. At the age of eight, he thought he wanted to be an archaeologist.
But even as a little kid he dreamed of running his own business, which he would call Seats Enterprises.
He grew up in St. Louis. His older sister is a nurse and his younger brother is getting his Phd in physics at Stanford.
He graduated in 2001 from St. Louis University with two degrees.
In 2006, he co-founded Slicehost, an early cloud hosting company, with Matt Tanase, a college friend. Two years later, they sold it to Rackspace for millions.
Seats served as managing director of Techstars Cloud at Geekdom in San Antonio for two years. He moved to Austin earlier this year to head up the inaugural Techstars Austin class.

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