Entrepreneur

The 5 most memorable companies from 500 Startups Demo Day

I arrived back in San Francisco last night with a head full of startups.

I spent yesterday in Mountain View covering 500 Startups Demo Day. There, I listened (and wrote furiously) as 29 startups pitched to a room filled with entrepreneurs, investors, and journalists. The event moved fast and there was a lot of noise.

After the event, I was enjoying a glass of wine with some friends who asked me about the highlights. Whether it is due to their compelling presentations, innovative ideas, or impressive traction, here is a list of the 5 startups I am still thinking about today.

Food is an easy way to attract attention. Chewse is a B2B marketplace for organizations that spend lots of money on corporate catering. Whoever is in charge of ordering the food can search from available options, place the order online, and sit back while it gets delivered. The company is based in Santa Monica and has thus far only tackled the L.A. market. Despite that, there is a waiting list of 700 companies salivating (literally and metaphorically) for the service.

As you may know from my various writings, I am NOT interested in anything relating to babies. However, when a former Amazon hacker takes the stage and tells the room how she grew frustrated while pregnant at her baby registry options, sat down to build a better alternative, and launched a product two weeks before her son was born, I got interested real fast. BabyList lets people aggregate products from multiple sources onto one, master baby registry. She is revolutionizing baby e-commerce, one bootie at a time.

I spent two and a half years living in rural Asia. I am familiar with language barriers. Waygo is a mobile app that instantly translates text just by hovering a smartphone camera over it, no data connection required. This is a brilliant solution for travelers who need help interpreting signs, getting directions, and ordering food. Had Waygo been around while I lived in Thailand, I would never have accidentally ordered rat curry, or ended up in a province 5 hours away from where I needed to be. So far, Waygo is only available in Chinese.

I am a sucker for a tutu. Also for tea. Thus a former Peace Corps volunteer presenting about tea in a tutu grabbed my attention, to say the least.  Tealet is a marketplace that connects tea drinkers with tea growers. Founder Elyse Petersen traveled the world as a global tea ambassador, meeting with local tea growers and helping connect them with consumers. The current business models are not fair for the farmers, and Tealet addresses this by cutting out the middlemen. Consumers can buy individual teas (and read the stories behind them) or go in for a subscription.

Everything sounds better in a Southern drawl. SupplyHog creates a better way to purchase building materials. My father deals with contractors extensively in his line of work,and I am actually intimately acquainted with how inefficient construction projects can be. This is a case of a startup modernizing a vertical largely untouched by the internet with huge potential for growth. The team is from Chattanooga, Tenn. and a “perfect blend between geeks and rednecks.”

A few of the runners up are CompStak, which crowd sources data about commercial real estate and sells it to brokers, firms, and large property owners; ed tech company Curious Hat, which was founded by former DreamWorks employees; ‘priceline for movie tickets’ Dealflicks; and WalletKit which makes it super easy for businesses to set up mobile passbooks.

As someone who has attended her fair share of demo events and been pitched by countless companies, I was impressed by the caliber of the entrepreneurs and startups that presented. Most of the ideas had clear value and were businesses that the average person, even outside of the tech world could understand. There were a few startups that use data in interesting ways, but none that dealt with “unsexy” topics like IT infrastructure, development tools or enterprise tech. There were also no hardware products or products targeting the health sector.

Do I think that any of these companies is likely to change the world? No. But they are eminently consumer-friendly and fueled by excitement about what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Check out full coverage of the event.


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