Fifteen start-ups pitched their business ideas before a crowd of more than 300 people at DreamIt Ventures' Demo Day in New York City Wednesday. The six-year old accelerator, which first launched in Philadelphia, has been running its New York program since 2011. Over the course of three months, DreamIt start-ups receive up to $25,000 in seed capital and access to a network of mentors. Since it launched, DreamIt has backed 112 companies that have raised some $92 million in follow-on capital.
As they presented their business ideas Wednesday, members of the most recent class aimed to increase that number.
To the credit of DreamIt's leadership, the accelerator goes to great lengths to inject a little variety into what could otherwise be a rather homogenous class of start-ups, both in terms of the founders and their business ideas. This year DreamIt partnered with Startl, an educational technology non-profit to bring more education start-ups to the group. It also partnered with Comcast Ventures on a project called DreamIt Access, which backs minority-led companies. Meanwhile, last year, the accelerator launched DreamIt Israel to bring promising Israeli companies to New York. All of that goes without mentioning the fact that more than a few of this year's class of founders were in their late 30s and 40s, something you don't see at most other accelerators where 20-something entrepreneurs dominate.
Despite the fact that the group was unusually diverse, though, a few trends emerged from this year's class. Here's what I found:
Thanks to the partnership with Startl, this year's class included several edtech start-ups. HeyKiki bills itself as "Kayak for classes," because its platform enables people to search for anything from yoga classes to SAT prep classes in their area. HeyKiki pulls from a range of listing sites in hopes of offering users a one-stop shop.
CreatorUp promises to teach business owners how to make compelling video content for their websites. Founded by a team of USC film students, the CreatorUp platform features video courses on topics like "How to Make DIY Business videos," which cost users anywhere from $30 to $100 a piece.
Finally, TradeUp is a start-up using online education to give people the skills they need to land a job. But TradeUp isn't reinventing the wheel here. Instead, it aggregates existing classes from the many free services already available online. Users sign onto TradeUp, choose a career track they're interested in, demonstrate their proficiency with a quiz, and based on the results, TradeUp leads them to the appropriate course for free. Once users demonstrate a certain level of proficiency, TradeUp will help connect them to jobs. When employers hire one of TradeUp's referrals, TradeUp gets a cut.
Rather than shoot straight for the masses, many of the start-ups have built companies to help their fellow entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
WireLawyer has essentially built LinkedIn for lawyers, a social network where lawyers at small specialty firms can rate and refer other lawyers they know. So, if a litigator has a client that suddenly has a real estate issue, the litigator can refer that client to another trusted attorney. Though the network is free to join, WireLawyer users will have to pay to accept referrals.
Miner enables businesses to promote their products to users nearby. But before you write it off as another also-ran Foursquare imitator, keep in mind that in addition to driving foot traffic to stores, Miner also enables users to buy those products straight from the app, without ever having to visit the store. Businesses pay Miner either per sale or per location for promotions that are redeemed in-store.
Mimoona makes a white label product that lets fashion designers crowdfund designs on their own sites. This solves a big problem for the fashion industry, which is, predicting demand for any particular style. This way, brands can post a design, set a minimum number of orders, and if enough customers commit to buy the product, the brand with go forward with it. If not, at least no resources were wasted. Mimoona is hoping that with enough brands on board, it will be able to begin forecasting fashion trends that it can then market to major retailers, as well.
Stylr bridges the gap between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores. The app pulls inventory information from 61 major retailers and syncs to a user's location. That way, people can use the app to search all of these retailers for say, a blue dress, limit that search by things like price and brand, choose a certain style, and see which locations have that style in stock, driving foot traffic into the stores themselves.
Two of this year's companies are making a brave attempt to make money from a traditionally cash-strapped base of clients: non-profits.
Perkle is a platform where non-profits can partner with socially responsible businesses. Non-profits sign up for the platform, describe the cause they're fundraising for and Perkle finds businesses that are willing to create a promotion to support that non-profit as part of their corporate social responsibility programs.
Another start-up that's gaining traction in the non-profit space is WeDidIt, which enables non-profits to fundraise more efficiently. The WeDidIt mobile app replaces the paperwork and ubiquitous clipboards that most non-profits rely on to fundraise. And the WeDidIt dashboard helps non-profits measure the ROI of their fundraising initiatives by comparing the effectiveness of every Tweet, Facebook post, and email the non-profit sends out. In July, alone, the company booked $30,500 in new subscriptions and recently landed a key client in Amnesty International.