Alphalab Companies Cycle 13

Welcome to AlphaLab: The Cycle 13 Companies Are Here

We are excited to introduce the latest AlphaLab companies for our Summer 2014 cycle. (Cycle 13!)

Announced on Wednesday at Open Coffee, the new cycle of companies ranges from an app for moms to data visualization technology for touchscreens to collaboration software for musicians. Although the companies are different, there is a common thread between them — the founders are incredibly talented and driven. As Deborah Todd noted in the Post Gazette, the founders come from all backgrounds — from musicians to Rhodes Scholars. Vanessa Jameson of Covey recently left Google to build her company. The founder of SitWith, Will Lutz is a Navy Veteran and current MBA candidate at CMU’s Tepper School. The Nebulus team consists of musicians and software developers from Carnegie Mellon University.

 While several of the teams are from Pittsburgh, we also welcome Easely and ResearchWe to the growing Pittsburgh ecosystem. Ashwin Muthiah and Harris Gani of Easely are both from Atlanta; and the ResearchWe team moved here from the farthest, including the United Kingdom and California.

 OK … you’re probably thinking, “These founders sound great–tell me more about the companies!” So, we’ve provided a list of company descriptions below:

  • Covey is a location-based mobile app for moms to connect with other moms nearby without any planning. Covey will enable an engaged community of local parents and caregivers who can easily discover each other in the physical world for social outlet and support.

  • SitWith is a social discovery app that connects four people over a casual meal. SitWith creates great conversation and connects communities while removing the pressure of meeting new people.

  • Easely is a company that makes art more accessible to consumers by personally curating and delivering art to your door based on your preferences and taste. Easely’s renowned curating team has handpicked a collection of artwork from artists around the world available on Easely as originals, prints, or even everyday items like posters.

  • ResearchWe helps researchers expand their access to human subjects for research studies, such as paid clinical trials, psychological research, and focus groups. By  creating a centralized place allowing researchers the ability to advertise and manage their studies (and for consumers to find those studies), ResearchWe catalyzes discovery by crowdsourcing participants for research.

  • DataSquid is leveraging cutting edge data visualization technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University to help users gain new insights on their data by enabling them to slice, sift, stack, and pivot through data naturally with their fingers on a tablet.

  • Nebulus is creating Google Docs for music with its social music production platform which allows users to record music and collaborate over the cloud.

We are excited about these companies and believe in the tremendous potential for each of them to change the ways we connect, create and analyze. We will be posting more about the companies, including ways you can get involved to help them. Until then, be sure to stay tuned in on Facebook and Twitter for more fun ways for you to interact with this talented group.

Pittsburgh Startups Rise to the Occasion for Steve Case 100K Challenge

With popular TV shows like HBO’s Silicon Valley and documentaries like Startupland filling the airwaves, startup is the buzz word on everyone’s lips. And with an increasing number of startup scenes thriving in cities across the nation, the buzz is more than just hype. That’s what Steve Case, former CEO and co-founder of AOL, is now on a mission to highlight with his new campaign, Rise of the Rest.

Rise of the Rest is a road trip with an entrepreneurial cause. Centered around the idea of promoting startups beyond Silicon Valley, Rise of the Rest aims to help cities located between the two coasts raise capital and attract investors.

From June 24th-27th , Case will make four stops in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Nashville, to chat with local entrepreneurs and host pitch competitions. The winner in each city will receive $100,000 from Steve Case as an angel investment in their company.

As a long time supporter of startups, Case is no stranger to providing venture capital. Through his role as chairman and CEO of Revolution, a Washington D.C. based investment firm, Case has been bolstering new business ventures since 2005, backing more than 30 companies to date. In his most recent efforts, he has partnered with Startup Weekend, the 3 day long pitching and networking event, to form Up Global, an umbrella company unifying Startup Weekend with other startup tools and programs. Revolution and UP Global, along with Google for Entrepreneurs, will be presenting the Rise of the Rest event.

So what can you expect from Case’s Pittsburgh visit on June 25th? First, stop by our very own AlphaLab Gear where we will be hosting a “fireside chat” with Steve Case and a guest. The talk will focus on the unique Pittsburgh entrepreneurial ecosystem. Following the chat, stay for the most rewarding event of the day, the Pitch Competition. Once the winning pitch has been chosen, head to Thrill Mill to celebrate with a networking happy hour.

Visit Rise of the Rest to get in on the action and RSVP. Be sure to follow AlphaLab, AlphaLab Gear and Innovation Works on Twitter and Facebook for updates about the event and to share your opinion.

The Importance of the Founding Team

In a previous post, I talked about how AlphaLab is centered around rapid iteration and lean startup concepts. Another core principle I wanted to share is our belief in the power of the founding team to build great companies.

At AlphaLab, we believe in the talent and potential of the founding teams to build awesome products that customers love, engage vigorously with the market to both acquire customers and learn from them, and to develop the startup leadership skills they need to add to the team, raise investment and build the company. We recognize that the founders don’t have all of these skills or experiences and try to provide them with the experience, mentorship, and advice to help them grow as founders.

During our selection process, we are focused on evaluating whether the team, as currently defined, has the ability to get the company to the next level. We are not banking on things such as bringing in a “professional CEO” or a “Sales VP”. We are focused on the quality and capability of the team and believe that smart, talented cofounders can learn what they need about the things they don’t know. In our experience, the right team’s natural talent, vision and understanding of their market, passion for the company is irreplaceable and can’t be underestimated.

Shoefitr is a great example of this point. They are 3 technical co-founders, all engineers from Carnegie Mellon, who have grown their company, including the sales and customer front, through a combination of determination, constant learning and focus on delivering value to their customers. I have had the pleasure of watching the company and the founders develop, reaffirming our belief in founding teams.

Second, we believe that a technical co-founder can (and should) get in front of customers and sell, and that a business co-founder can (and should) work closely with the development team to make sure the product reflects her vision shaped by the market feedback. Ben Horowitz, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, emphasizes the criticality of real technical knowhow in his post, Why We Prefer Founding CEOs. Technology companies are, at their core, fueled by innovation, and he argues, while CEOs are effective at maximizing product cycles, they lack an ability to find new product cycles, and in his experience “teaching a founding CEO how to maximize the product cycle is easier.” We would agree.

Finally, we are not looking to replace any of the founders (not that we have the power to anyway) and we don’t tell founders what to do. We will certainly provide feedback and advice but our role is to help the founders make decisions by providing data and context learned through our experiences in a transparent manner. Ultimately it is their company and they have to make the call.

Pittsburgh startups get a shot in the arm. AlphaLab firms ranked among U.S. best

A merger of tech and collegiate athletics has two AlphaLab companies ranked as top seeds among the nation’s college startups.

South Side team sports scheduling and communications platform AthleteTrax and Grove City mobile athletic recruiting app ProfilePasser both made New York-based Inc. magazine’s list of America’s Coolest College Startups of 2014.

Chosen from a list of nearly 100 startups founded by college students, the companies are among 16 finalists that will be narrowed down to a single winner through readers’ votes cast in a March Madness-style bracket. The companies face off against each other in the first round of voting, which ends Monday, and tournament winners will be announced April 16.

Read more in The Post-Gazette.

Equipping Companies with the DNA for Success

by Jim Jen, Executive Director, AlphaLab

In speaking with prospective AlphaLab applicants I talk a lot about the nuts and bolts of our program – funding, mentorship, networks, resources, etc. I also try to touch on our philosophy, which gives founders a better sense of what they should know when deciding whether the accelerator program is right for them.

AlphaLab is centered around lean startup principles and rapid iteration. We urge companies to utilize customer feedback and test out their concepts quickly and cheaply to internalize the “build, measure, learn” cycle into their company’s DNA. This is critical to building a product that customers care about and love. We extend this beyond the product realm, applying it to business model, marketing messages and investor decks – with a goal of continuous improvement through market interaction.

Embracing this approach early helps companies to avoid premature scaling, cited by the Startup Genome Project as the “#1 Cause of Startup Death (http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanfurr/2011/09/02/1-cause-of-startup-death-premature-scaling/ ).” I have seen this problem both from startups here in Pittsburgh and during my earlier career in California. When not enough emphasis is placed on getting critical customer feedback, companies can financially and emotionally commit to the wrong product or business direction. Given the increasing expectation from investors that companies demonstrate their ability to be “lean”, it is critical that startups are able to infuse this into their DNA from the beginning. When screening applicants, this measure of “fit” plays a significant role in the evaluation, and is at the core of our underlying philosophy.

America’s Coolest College Startups 2014

For the sixth year running, Inc. spotlights the nation’s top startups taking campuses by storm.

Not long ago, people would call college “kids” who started businesses quaint. Now they call them the boss.

Helped in part by low-cost technologies and an increased prevalence of entrepreneurship training at the university level, college students–and indeed those even younger–are making solid strides at founding companies. And they’re not just launching local pizza shops and fashion boutiques. They’re starting up businesses that could scale into much bigger companies and may already cater to a national audience.

Read more on Inc.

Food safety goal for East Liberty startup FreshTemp Read more: http://triblive.com/business/headlin

Jeffrey Rieger thinks his East Liberty startup company FreshTemp may be entering a market at just the right time.

Stricter food-safety regulations are pushing the restaurant industry to track and record food temperatures more consistently and more often. FreshTemp is one of the only companies offering the sensors, software and other technology in one package to easily meet expected government rules, Rieger said.

Read more on TribLIVE.