Publisher & Editor, NJTechWeekly.com
On August 14, 2012, seven very early-stage companies pitched their new products at the Tigerlabs inaugural Demo Day in Princeton.
The companies were part of the Tigerlabs summer program, a 12-week tech accelerator aimed at undergraduate student entrepreneurs.
Introducing the group, Bert Navarrete, an experienced investor who, along with Jason Glickman, cofounded Tigerlabs (Princeton) initially as a coworking space, said seven companies made up of 25 students from around the country had participated in the program.
Mentors and advisers helped them with everything from developing and designing their products to assisting with business development and strategy. By Demo Day, 100 percent of all the companies had both live products and some users.
“We’ve had 11 pivots. We’ve had 14 speakers come throughout the summer and meet with the teams over pizza and ravioli, and 241 mentor and adviser meetings,” Navarrete said. “We’ve played 1,314 ping-pong games,” many of them in the middle of the night. Each team slept an average of 5.6 hours a night.
The first presentation came from Princeton University’s Shubhro Saha, cofounder and CEO of Panther Logic (Princeton), a company that aims to “make it dead simple for other companies to track their competitors online.” Saha said Panther’s product is aimed at medium-sized companies. He provided the example of investment portfolio holders who want to track the competitors of the companies they hold but can’t afford a million-dollar experience.
Tracking competition “becomes a problem, because companies are operating in many parts of the Web, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. … There are people getting hired, changing jobs, getting fired,” Saha said. With that information all over the Web, “the result is a lot of noise,” he noted. Panther provides both a “deep dive and an affordable analytics solution,” he added.
Saha said the product’s “elegant user interface” should help employees at midsized companies learn how to use it faster. Panther includes cofounder and CTO Andrew Cheong, a Princeton grad, and COO Madeleine Foote, a member of Oxford University’s class of 2014.
Next up was the team from TonightLife, a mobile platform that lets users find same-day events. Aimed particularly at the city crowd, the app answers the question, What is going on tonight? There may be a lot going on, but it’s not easy to discover the activities a user wants to attend. In most cases users are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of events, Cesar Devers, CEO, who graduated from Princeton in 2011, said.
Devers provided the example of Live Nation, which often has a large amount of inventory left over when it puts on an event. But people who want to fill those seats might not even know that event is happening. Smaller venues can also use the system to unlock their unsold seats.
“We take out all the noise and let you know what is going on today, this evening,” Devers said. The app has a simple interface: the platform provides suggested events and then drills down to all of them. The mobile device also includes a social aspect, so users can let their friends know about the events they are considering. The company, which will start by serving New York, wants to include special offers and other deals for people who purchase multiple tickets.
In addition to Devers, The TonightLife team included two other Princeton 2011 grads, Val Karpov and Justin Knutson and two Virginia Tech grads, William Kelly (2011) and Matt Green (2012).
Faaez Ul-Haq presented for Phonar, a platform that helps users find assets through location-based technology. The company makes hardware and software that GPS-enables products in the real world. Phonar is planning to work with sneaker manufacturers, for example, to GPS-enable children’s footwear so parents need only use a smartphone to locate a lost child. Parents would find their wandering child by following a clever avatar in an augmented reality (AR) scenario. Ul-Haq said Phonar envisions several other markets for the device and app, including pets, cars, small-businesses equipment and anything that can work with a GPS hardware tracker.
“We’ll make hardware that is appropriate to the market we are addressing,” Ul-Haq said. “We make hardware that is unobtrusive and software that is delightful, painless and easy to use.”
Three of the cofounders, Ul-Haq, Nitin Viswanathan and Hamza Aftab, graduated from Princeton in 2012, and Shreshth Singhal will graduate in 2013. The three are looking for help with H-1B visas so they can remain in and build their company in N.J.
Speaking to the Demo Day audience, Kenrick Rilee, cofounder and CTO of Mapsaurus, discussed his company’s innovative graphical service for discovery of Android apps, which has already been widely accepted in the Android App Store.
Explained Rilee, “The problem is that app stores are broken.… I can go on the app store. If I know what I’m looking for, I can search for it. However, if I want to find something new I have to wade through the ranked list of applications in each category. … Our application lets users explore applications in the direction they want.” Evaluations are also seamless, he said. “Users can compare apps side by side.” He added, “We are innovators in the space. Nobody does this the way we do it. And our algorithms are really fast.”
Along with Rilee, the Mapsaurus team includes Alice Zheng, CEO, who designed the product; Danny Guo, COO; and Evan Leichter, chief science officer in charge of back-end development and system administration. All the team members are seniors at Princeton this fall except Zheng and Rilee, who are taking time off to take advantage of the market timing for their opportunity, Zheng told NJTechWeekly.com in an email.
The next company up, FlavorTech (which appears to have changed its name to HelloLabs), is “dedicated to making communication and sharing experiences” more enjoyable through electronic gadgets. Tianlong Wang, who obtained a master’s in computer science from Princeton in 2012, showed JoinMe, a small, $80 agile robot that includes telepresence videoconferencing via a smartphone.
The smartphone becomes the “brain of the telepresence robot,” Wang explained. The advantage: a significantly reduced consumer-friendly price for this kind of item. The device could follow a parent and child as they played and chatted with extended family, or be employed for child monitoring, Wang said. It could also be used by the work-at-home set.
Xinyi Chen, a Princeton sophomore, is the other member of the Flavortech team. NJTechWeekly.com recently learned the company will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for JoinMe. It also plans to give away some of its demo models to test out the power of viral marketing.
Speaking for Tigervine, a team from Penn State, Arianna Simpson said the company allows business-to-consumer (B2C) web-based companies to create, implement and customize their own loyalty programs. “Acquiring and engaging customers are two of the biggest challenges that companies face,” she noted. “Referrals and rewards are crucial to growth. Referred customers are most valuable. … They have a lower churn rate and a higher lifetime value.”
When a company sets up a loyalty program and a customer uses it, that customer links to its social media profile. Tigervine can relay this information back to the businesses using the system so they can target their customers more effectively.
“We can provide them [the companies] with information about who their top 20 engaged customers are, or what the best networks on which to reach them are. We are helping companies change their behaviors to achieve results,” said Simpson.
Tigervine says its advantage in the marketplace is it focuses on smaller and medium-sized businesses and follows the customer acquisition cycle all the way through.
The last group presenting was founded by students who recently graduated from The Lawrenceville School (Lawrenceville), the N.J. boarding school. Eko is trying to find a better way to maintain communication among members of high school and college extracurricular groups.
“Our goal is to make sure group members never again get lost in conversation,” Korawad Chearavanont, presenting from Eko, said. The company does this by organizing group conversations in threads. Groups are thus able to go to a thread and participate, or check for important announcements. Like Chearavanont, cofounder Raman Rajakannan is taking a gap year. As for the other cofounders, Lyra Schweizer is now at Princeton and Shipley Foltz is at Lehigh.
“The messages that really matter don’t disappear and are not lost. We are also integrating calendars between all the groups that you have,” said Chearavanont, so conflicts can be eliminated, resulting in higher participation by group members. For marketing, the company is using the Facebook model — Mark Zuckerberg started out with a small group of colleges — to get teams and clubs at various universities and high schools to adopt Eko in the U.S., but it also has an international strategy.
After the accelerator student companies presented, Bert Navarrete, a Tigerlabs founder, gave several tech firms that make Tigerlabs their coworking space time to discuss their companies.Pitching were Health Options Worldwide, which helps self-ensured companies reduce overall health spending; Tussle, a company still in beta that is trying to provide a platform for competitive play; and Wattvision, whose device allows users to reduce spending on energy by providing them usage feedback via mobile phone or the Web.
Wattvision recently mounted a Kickstarter campaign and secured more than its $50,000 desired goal. At this writing the firm had raised $60,285.
Also see NJTechWeekly.com interview with James Smits, Tigerlabs’ program director.
Esther Surden is Publisher and Editor of NJTechWeekly, and a contributor to Philly Tech News. This article originally appeared in two parts in NJTechWeekly.