I went to Beaver Creek Colo. this week for the Rocky Mountain region’s largest and longest running startup conference, VCIR.
Twenty-two early-stage tech startups had less than five minutes to impress a panel of venture capitalists and judges. Many of them had already secured high-profile customers, a team of engineers, and close to $1 million in seed funding. The calibre of the startups was unusually high.
Most of the founders said their major obstacle to growth is cash. In Colorado and the surrounding states, it’s not easy to procure a first round of institutional funding. As Democratic Gov. Hickenlooper admitted in a conversation with the media, “better access to venture capital came up all over the state,” when his team conducted research for their Economic Development Project.
In an impressive pack, here are a few that stood out.
What do they do? Don’t underestimate company culture — it can mean the difference between success and failure. Just take a look at Microsoft‘s morale-killing ranking system, which was recently chronicled in Vanity Fair. RoundPegg says its software can replace those expensive consultants who are routinely brought in to make recommendations, like firing a bad egg in senior management. The cloud-based software can also help recruiters identify candidates who are culture fits and can track employee engagement.
What’s cool about it? Cofounder and chief psychologist Dr. Natalie Baumgartner told me the startup has integrated with Jive to track conversations between teams and make broader assumptions about employee satisfaction.
The verdict: This startup is taking on a genuine pain point. However, the software might work best in collaboration with an external consultant. A few potential issues with a software-only approach: If a high-ranking employee is identified as a negative influence on office culture, would RoundPegg’s results be enough to root him or her out? Sentiment analysis, which tracks how employees really feel, is a tricky technology problem. It’s darn near impossible for a machine to tell the difference between neutral, positive, and negative expression.
What do they do? Lendio helps small businesses find the best loan. Simply fill out a survey and answer a few questions, and the company trawls its database for a loan match. The company is not a lender but makes fees on the referrals.
What’s cool about it? It’s free for small businesses to use, and owners may be able to bypass those long and boring negotiations with the local bank.
The verdict: It’s a useful tool for small businesses that aren’t typically denied loans. But how about the “underbanked” population? Startups like Kabbage have raised a pool of equity and debt to lend to online retailers at better rates than traditional banks.
What do they do? The founders are on a mission to do away with buttons on machines. Most mechanical systems use an interface that consists of buttons in some sort of control panel with a small monochrome screen. Many manufacturers have tried to replace this with touch, but they have to design the screen and all the hardware behind it, as well as integrate with the existing system. Serious Integrated’s touch screen tech (above) sells via Arrow Electronics, one of the largest Colorado-based companies.
What’s cool about it? Founder and CEO Terry West was the first employee at Blackberry RIM. Revenues are promising — in its first year, the company pulled in a humble $134,000; this quarter, it’s on track to meet a $250,000 revenue goal.
The verdict? One of the judge’s favorites, particularly given the team’s expertise. The company has already raised close to $1 million in seed funding — to scale, it will need some venture funding.
What do they do? Once you’ve identified the cloud applications you need, whether it’s SendGrid or Twilio, select from over 20 pre-built integrations in the startup’s Elements Library. The goal is to save developers time by helping them avoid writing custom code for each application. Cloud Elements makes its money by selling its technology and consulting services.
What’s cool about it? If an application you need isn’t in the library, the team will build it at no additional cost. CEO Mark Greene said they are relying on developers to spread the word as “evangelists,” so they cater to their needs.