Bang Ventures: the American Idol of tech

UpdatedBang Ventures, a Cambridge, Mass., based firm, wants to host the American Idol of the tech world.

The year-old company (previous coverage ) is launching a contest that will take business concepts from 100 tech entrepreneurs, have a panel of judges — including Marissa Mayer from Google, Leah Culver from Pownce and Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox — filter the field to 20, and then open up for a popular vote.

In the end, the three entrepreneurs with the most votes will win seed funding and a package that includes an experienced engineering team in Poland and professional services from law firms and accounting firms like Deloitte and Touche.

mayermarissa_5102.jpgUnlike Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator, a seed-stage incubator that selects programming whizzes in their mid-twenties, hands them a few thousand dollars, weekly advice sessions, and 10-12 weeks to crank out an initial product, Bang Ventures hopes to find business-savvy entrepreneurs who understand the market but who may not have the programming chops needed to make their visions a reality. Y-Combinator also tends to stay out of subsequent funding rounds, whereas Bang Ventures will continue to fund the companies that show early promise or gain traction.

Mark Modzelewski , who conceived of Bang Ventures’ approach, says the hardest thing for anyone working in Web 2.0 is building a user base that validates products and provides the feedback necessary to refine them. By selecting the final set of winners through a popular vote, he says, Bang is involving users at the concept stage and setting up the companies’ initial audience right off the bat.

Asked to explain famous U.S. baseball player Curt Schilling’s presence on the panel of judges, Modzelewski explains that Schilling is known in Boston circles as “an outside-the-box kind of guy” who helped found video game company 38 Studios (named after Schilling’s jersey number). Schilling, he says, entertains dreams of becoming a tech CEO.

Bang Ventures is issuing an open call to wannabe entrepreneurs and will have them fill out applications instead of submitting business plans. The top 20 that the judges select will videotape themselves making an elevator pitch–a concise description of their concept–and these pitches will be distributed via Bang’s site.

Modzelewksi says that Bang’s goal is to take a really good concept and “pre-marshal a bag of experience” to help it succeed. This is an interesting approach to the problem of discovering worthwhile outlets for venture capital and fostering the investments. The award package may not be ideal: An outsourced development house in Poland, no matter how talented, might be an awkward substitute for a scrappy band of hackers who work well together. And a seed-stage company might be early to benefit from a tax and accounting firm like Deloitte & Touche.

But on the other hand, why not try?

[Updated: The post initially said that Y-Combinator funded college-age programmers. The average age is actually 25]