SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The Launch festival is a three-ring circus. Fifty startups are here presenting on the main stage, 250 startups are in the demo pit, and it’s got panel discussions with influencers from the tech community, not to mention nearly 6,000 registered attendees.
To help sort through the noise, Launch partnered with peer-to-peer lending platform MicroVentures and SourceBits, an app development firm, to release a live crowdfunding app that tracks the excitement surrounding the companies as they emerge out of stealth mode.
“The idea is to let the crowd indicate interest in companies in real time,” said Tim Sullivan, the CEO of Microventures, in an interview with VentureBeat. “It will be a leaderboard onstage and highlight certain companies getting more momentum than others. Hopefully, it will fuel interest in those companies and enable the attendees to focus more on the companies and less on the chaos. Just because somebody is not an accredited investor doesn’t mean they are not knowledgeable or don’t understand the space really well. Their voice is just as meaningful.”
The way it works is that every attendee receives 10,000 Launch dollars (accredited investors get an unlimited amount) to ‘invest’ in startups they like. These investments are not actual money but rather “commitments” that create a buzz barometer. This means that people who are not accredited investors can also contribute their feedback.
“People are excited to use it,” said Mark Chatow, SourceBits’ head of marketing. “It brings a passion and people are much more engaged in the conference because you feel like you are playing along. It will be interesting to see the correlation between the leaderboard and who ends up winning.”
Even the startups that don’t win the grand prize still stand to win offstage by raising capital. The hope with the Launch app is that theoretical dollars turn into actual dollars by providing a link between accredited investors and promising young companies.
“I think the best use case is for expressing interest in a follow-up meeting,” said Adam Draper, the founder of the BoostVC accelerator and incubator program. “No one will write a check after meeting someone quickly, but this is noncommittal. It says, ‘I am interested in you this many points,’ but nothing is being signed. I don’t need to meet you, but can express interest right away.”
Even though crowdfunding for startups is not yet legal, the app is an experiment to see how it could work once the crowdfunding provisions of the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act) Act take effect. It also helps journalists, investors, and interested people within the tech community get a quick grasp on the buzz in the room, which is no mean feat considering the size and scope of the conference.
Launch was started six years ago by Jason Calacanis, a prominent entrepreneur, investor, and blogger who wanted to provide stealthy startups with a place to publicly (and dramatically) release their products into the wild. Unfortunately, Launch itself now feels like the wild. Like all massive demo events, the opportunities for exposure are offset by the chaos. Over the next three days, it will be interesting to see how Launch’s app acts as a guide.