ERA Demo Day #5 Demonstrates Why Accelerators Still Matter


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There has been a proliferation of accelerators in the last couple of years, and despite the fact that they’re less than three years old and just introduced their fifth class of startups, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator demonstrated why they’re already considered one of the top accelerators in the world, and precisely what benefit they bring to the table: in just a few short months, their startups can go from complete obscurity to partnering with the likes of Netflix and Gannett.

Full disclosure: I happen to be an ERA mentor, and that said, without further ado, the ten companies from the program’s latest class of startups

admitted.ly is revolutionizing college advisory for high school students, their parents, and guidance and college admissions counselors. Admitted.ly matches students to schools based on their personality profiles and test scores, and tells them which colleges are reaches, targets and/or safeties, and gives them advice on how to improve their chances of getting into the schools of their choice. Parents currently spend between $2k-$50k on providing private college counseling for their progeny, making this is a $4 billion market ripe for disruption. The site goes live 9/26 and considering that high school students spend most of their time on their smartphones, of course there’s an admitted.ly app for that – available in the app store next week. The company announced that they’ve just landed a massive contract and will be onboarding 75,000 students in mid-November.

Piiku. Given the increase in the number of pay walls, publishers have abandonment issues: they’re losing 94% of their readers. Piiku is a premium video ad network that helps publishers to retain and monetize that audience by serving up video ads in return for access. The company boasts a seasoned team. “That’s code for ‘old,’” said co-founder Erik Mumford. “We know how to build companies, because we’ve done it before.” It shows: Mumford announced that they’ve just landed their first client: Gannett, who just happens to be the #1 newspaper publisher in the US, and whose properties include USA Today. (They’ve also been doing test trials with the likes of Mazda and CBS.)

Machinio. With all of the goings-on in town this past week at the UN, navigating the streets of New York has been a nightmare, and don’t you just wish that you had a giant farm tractor you could have driven down 5th Avenue? Not even the cabbies would have stood in your path.  You could easily have secured one through Machinio, a search engine for buying and selling used industrial equipment. The Indeed.com of their vertical, Machinio aggregates listings and offers the most comprehensive resource for finding heavy machinery, stepping in to consolidate a previously highly fragmented market. The company went from zero to 250,000 unique monthly visitors since joining ERA, and is now one of the largest players in their space. They’ve already handled $200k in transactions, with millions more in deals already in the pipeline. The company takes five percent on each transaction, and when you’re talking about large, expensive equipment, that translates to being quite a big deal.

Tapactive is a membership-based service that provides clients with unlimited workouts for a monthly fee of $495, which may sound like a lot, but consider: working with your own personal trainer just four times a month would run you about $800, co-founder Robert Victor pointed out. Members can also choose which training/workouts they want, such as yoga, Pilates or boxing, schedule sessions online and meet trainers at their home, office, park or at one of the company’s partner gyms. They’ve already signed over 300 trainers in New York and are about to expand to LA.

Agolo is the next phase of search in a socially-connected world. It’s a natural language processing engine that uses Twitter to answer your questions and send you timely, relevant information right in your social feed, including critical information that might otherwise get lost in the signal to noise ration that is social media. So, say you want to buy tickets to a concert or event that’s likely to sell out quickly. With Agolo, you get the information, as soon as it’s available.

ClosetDash is a sort of online consignment shop that lets women swap those items in their closet that are too good to donate in exchange for new fashions  – or fashions that are new to them, anyway.  Swappers exchange clothes for credit toward merchandise from closetdash’s large inventory, while customers with nothing to swap can just shop for great deals.  As for a business model: the company has a negative cost for inventory acquisition (they charge $1 for each item posted) and clothing sales produce a 60% gross margin. They’ve swapped more than 10,000 pieces of clothing to date, and have seen an over 300% increase since last month alone. They’re clearly turning shoppers into swappers.

RockerBox. John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted. The problem is, I don’t know which half.” RockerBox brings efficiency and effectiveness to digital advertising by analyzing the sites a user visits to determine their real-time browsing intent. RockerBox is not looking at results gathered weeks or even months ago, but rather, what a consumer looked at, say ten minutes ago, enabling momentum-based advertising that drives better performance with smaller budgets. (And aren’t you sick of getting emails/ads about a product that you needed, found and purchased online the month before?) The team is composed of early AppNexus employees, and counts naturebox and LearnVest as clients. The big news: they’re about to launch a pilot campaign with NetFlix. Not bad for a company that’s officially launched just two months ago.

Nutmeg Education is an assessment platform that helps teachers to make tests and quizzes to better prepare their students for the Common Core, the educational standard now mandated by 45 states. The company uses 30,000+ questions to provide teachers with data-driven insights into student progress, to help them deliver personalized instruction based on the student’s individual needs, by pinpointing where each particular student’s weaknesses are.  They offer both a freemium and a premium model, and target teachers rather than schools, which let’s face it, are a lot more cumbersome to navigate and slower on the uptake. Then again, founder and CEO Jon Modica is himself a former teacher who obviously knows the lay of the land. The company launched beta four weeks ago, and has already signed up 3400 teachers, which equated to 75,000 students. Nothing like disrupting from within.

Metropolist.  People love listicles and Metropolist publishes collaborative “best of” lists for any local topic imaginable. Want to know “The 10 Best Places to Find Tapas in NYC”? “Boston’s 10 Dentists Who Won’t Make Your Toddler Cry”? Or “The 10 Top Overlooked Travel Destinations”?  Metropolist allows anyone, anywhere to start a list, and combines curated topic selection and allows users to vote specific selections up or down to produce relevant, comprehensive, up-to-date rankings. 50% of Metropolist’s lists make it to Google top searches, and the company is seeing a 110% month-over-month growth. Yes, people heart listicles – especially those people who work on Madison Avenue.

Gigzolo.So, you’re planning an event or a wedding; you need to book a musician and of course you turn to…CraigsList. Meh. Gigzolo is a platform for finding and booking musicians, photographers, and other artists for events, that allows customers to compare artists’ pricing, videos (gigzolo vets each and every one: no lip-syncing or overdubbing allowed, said co-founder Nathan Meeks) and reviews. Customers can then interact directly with artists through text or video chat before booking online: gigzolo has a collaborative feature that allows both parties to edit the terms of the agreement in real time before anyone signs on the proverbial dotted line. And anyone who has ever had to plan a wedding or event knows how exhausting and time-consuming those negotiations can be. Gigzolo brings transparency to an inaccessible, highly fragmented industry.

ERA Managing Director Jonathan Axelrod wrapped up the presentations by announcing that “none (of the companies) are raising money. All are profitable. And this is not a general solicitation.” This was New York’s first demo day since the JOBS Act officially took effect on Monday, which is why, in a room rife with investors, not a company presenting publicly mentioned how much they were looking to raise.

“Demo Day at an accelerator program is like a Miss America pageant,” said Steve Blank at StartupGrind in NYC earlier in the week. The Miss America contest is not as much a beauty pageant as it is a scholarship competition. So what’s a post-JOBS Act company to do on Demo Day besides tell us how far they’ve come, baby, which the ERA companies certainly established, not mention the ‘ask.’

And keep smiling.

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About the author: Bonnie Halper

Bonnie Halper curates the StartupOneStop.com newsletter, which focuses on startups and entrepreneurs, and is currently being read in 50+ countries around the world.

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