Startup Epicenter — rumbles with the latest start-ups

startupepicenter.jpgEighty entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists gathered yesterday at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West’s headquarters for Startup Epicenter to hear funding pitches from ten early stage startups.

Despite the comic regularity of business plans predicting explosive revenue growth and profitability one to two years out, several promising startups emerged at the event. VentureBeat’s Mark Coker was on hand and here are his notes.

CollegeWikisAnyone who thinks Facebook has the college social networking market locked up to itself hasn’t met Joe Dipasquale, CEO of CollegeWikis. The startup, launched only three months ago, has created a nationwide network of university-specific wikis. Already, more than ten percent of the student bodies of several campus such as Stanford University and Tufts University have signed up for the service, he said. According to Dipasquale, the company had an impressive two million page views in June and is on track for three and a half million in July.

The secret? In a unique twist on wikis, the company has integrated the utility of Yahoo Answers with the viral features of email distribution lists. Users can sign up for CollegeWikis and subscribe to various opt-in email lists created by fellow students, such as “Class of 2010,” “Business Majors,” or “Delta Gamma Sorority.” Once subscribed, they they can pose questions to the list such as, “who’s the best chemistry professor?” or “where’s the best pizza restaurant?” When a member of the list replies with their answer, their email response automatically generates a new page in the wiki, which then grows organically and automatically as additional answers come in. Over time, each college-specific wiki grows into a shared knowledgebase repository of local interest questions and answers. The company’s challenge, however, is data management: A mass of email-spawned wiki pages could undermine the user experience if duplicative questions clutter the site. Also, there doesn’t appear to be an automated mechanism for expiring old wiki pages that are no longer relevant. The company is seeking to close a $750,000 round in seed funding, of which it says it has already received commitments for $250,000.

DatamashLeonard Backus, CEO of Datamash pitched for $500,000 to help grow his document integration software startup. The company’s software, delivered as a subscription service, simplifies dynamic data integration between documents, applications and web pages. Backus says his technology supports mashups between virtually any application, even applications from dissimilar vendors. For example, a company sales manager’s real-time quarterly sales forecasts from Salesforce.com could be integrated directly into a spreadsheet used by the CFO to monitor quarterly profit forecasting. Users can easily tag data fields in any source document or application and then “connect” the source to another document, such as an ordinary cell in a spreadsheet. Unlike enterprise data mashup competitors such as Denoda, Backus says his software requires no programming. The company enters beta test in the next few weeks.

Mark Vilimek, founder and CEO of Giftbanc (web link not available), wants to do for social giving what Prosper.com has done for social lending. According to Vilimek, when people donate to charities, 63 percent of their money on average never reaches the intended beneficiary. Instead, the money is burned up by administrative overhead. Vilimek’s social giving platform allows individuals to volunteer their own time to conduct their own viral fundraising drives, leveraging widgets and other tools provided by Giftbanc to hit up members of their own social networks for benevolent dough. The company is looking for $250,000 in seed funding. (It competes against other sites such as Project Agape.)

GetQuikKen Ryu, founder and CEO of Sunnyvale-based startup GetQuik, wants to do for online restaurant order transactions what OpenTable has done for online restaurant reservations. More than 100 mostly San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, such as Mexican eatery Una Mas and premium sandwich maker Erik’s Delicafe, have signed up to receive orders through the system. Customers register one time at the GetQuik web site, input their credit card and state their preferences for their favorite restaurants and food items, and then in the future can place instant orders online, or via a mobile phone. At Una Mas in Los Gatos, Calif., for example, every burrito is custom made and customers must field a plethora of questions, such as whether they want pinto or black beans; white, brown or mexican rice; hot, mild or nuclear salsa; and whole wheat or white tortilla. GetQuik allows customers to state their preferences once and then order with a couple clicks on their mouse or cell phone. It’s like the convenience of Amazon One-Click meets food ordering. Customers appreciate the service because they avoid waiting in line, and restaurants like the service because it increases food service revenues and eliminates the hassle of money changing. GetQuik takes a ten percent transaction processing fee on all orders. The company is seeking a $500,000 funding round.

curbside_site_head.gifMarc Bandt, the president and CEO of Curbside M.D., has created a social network platform for doctors that he believes can grow to 100,000 users within a year. The site offers physicians secure email, instant messaging and telephony. Curbside M.D. plans to earn the bulk of its fees via advertising sponsorship from big pharmaceutical companies, which he says currently spend seven billion dollars each year marketing to doctors. The site has a long way to go to reach its 100,000 membership goal, however. The site launched in March, and to date has only 30 users. Bandt says the number will exceed 100 by the end of the July. (Until the company shows more impressive membership growth, we’re rating this a long shot. There are already many medical social networks and physician community sites, including SocialMD.com, Healthcareguy.com, med3q.com and DoctorNetworking.com)

RideStation newRideStation founder and CEO Murali Krishna Devarakonda boldy claims he wants his tiny startup to become the eBay of ridesharing and the Nasdaq of carbon credits. His company has developed an on-demand rideshare application that matches carpool drivers with passengers. In an interesting twist, the application allows carpool drivers to earn instant cash while both driver and passengers earn carbon credits. Devarakonda says other ridesharing competitors, such as NuRide, GreenRide and GoLoco, don’t offer the same breadth of features.

With many large employers under pressure to encourage their employees to ride share, Devarakonda plans to market his service directly to companies. Once a company chooses RideStation, its employees can choose ride sharing partners from within the same company. Employers use the application as a benefits management platform to track employee ride sharing, and employees use the system to choose ride sharing partners and compensate drivers by sharing costs for trips. RideStation earns transaction fees from employers. The company is seeking $500,000 in funding to expand is sales and development staff.

Mark Coker is a contributing writer for VentureBeat. He’s founder of Dovetail Public Relations, a Silicon Valley technology marketing firm. He has no clients among the companies mentioned in the story, nor among their competitors. More on Mark at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markcoker

[Disclosure: Fenwick & West is a VentureBeat sponsor]