Thursday, October 25, 2012

Into the Boston ‘Shark Tank’

Even though I have at best an exceedingly limited capacity to discern a kick-ass business idea from a dud, I remain nonetheless interested in the new business ideas that are out there (be they kick-ass or dud). Never more so than when they’re ideas sprouting right here in my own backyard.

Today, six of them are getting a chance to pitch investors in a Boston version of the reality show, Shark Tank, being held as part of the FutureM conference (which I really should be attending but, alas, will not be; as with the Red Sox, maybe next year).

I read about the Shark Tank event in an article by Scott Kirsner on

Investors winnowed a list of 70 startups down to six, and here’s who made the cut:

Arcbazar is based in Cambridge, Mass., and although I initially thought the name was something out of Harry Potter – I was confusing it with Azkaban – once I swung by and saw their site, I was struck by what a great idea this is. Folks with small architectural design projects (a vintage 1980 kitchen, or two vintage 1980 bathrooms come to immediate mind as examples)  upload info about what they’re looking for, including how much they’re willing to spend, and designers respond with their ideas.  The project owner picks the top three, and the award is split among them.

Depending on the type of competition you will get dimensioned plans, sections, elevations, and perspective views. Some designers may also submit additional views, animations and other 3D work.

I hope this isn’t the kiss of death, but I think that this is a great idea, putting (presumably) good design affordably within reach of folks who wouldn’t normally work with a designer. And providing opportunities for those just starting out to add to their portfolios.

Jebbit :

  • …looks at your interests and finds websites, clothes, products and services that you may find interesting.
  • …guides you around cool websites by asking you questions that highlight the most interesting features about the product or service.
  • [Lets you earn money, as] each question you answer correctly will earn you cash (usually about $0.30 per question).
  • [Lets you] choose to either keep the cash you've earned or multiply it for more money at the places you love most.

Or, in the description that Jebbit provided to Scott Kirsner,

Jebbit pays college students to check out new products and answer questions.

Whatever they do, I will take credit for having looked at the name and said “founders must be from BC”. As, it turns out they are. One of the co-founders is named Jeb, but I’m guessing that, Boston College being a Jesuit (a.k.a., Jebbie) school, that had something to do with it, too.  (The company’s original name was AddItUp, but the URL was apparently taken.)

Anyway, although I give them props for having a snappy one liner about what they do, I found their site a bit lacking in the type of clarity I’m always looking for – when you hit “About” you get mug shots and Truth/Lie snippets about the members of the team.  But I am so not their audience. You have to be a college/university student to be of interest to the companies that hire them to find out whether they’re getting through to “the kids” (which I guess is what is meant by your getting paid for a “correct” answer).

They do have some good clients already, including Bose and Zipcar. But isn’t this idea already covered? (Maybe not. Maybe it just sounds like something that’s already being done.)

CoachUp pairs athletes in the making with private sports coaches (which the company vets). I do so not want to like anything that puts kids in even more of a pressure cooker than they’re already in, but if your kid really and truly does have athletic talent, and he/she – and not just dear old dad – really and truly does want to take that talent to the next level (Division 1, The Pros), why not? Still…

Plus this seems – however great the vetting is – like a liability engine to me.

They do have Gabe Kapler – a former Red Sox player – vouching for them.  Gabe – along with a raft of angels – is an investor.

But I’d take a pass, just based on personal qualms.


Sidewalk profiles [small & medium businesses] by analyzing their digital footprint. We use this data to help local sales reps sell smarter. In the future, we'll help SMBs digitize. We have 100+ paying customers & 50+ marquee brands (Yelp, ATT, AMZN, etc) queued up for our beta. Scoble called us the biggest idea at 500 Startups.

Whatever Scoble thinks – and how do you like that little flick that we’ll all know who Scoble is (which, admittedly, I do) – I have to say they go on my screw-you list in that you have to “request an invitation” to get anything more out of their web site than:

Sidewalk’s APIs enhance local business data with
rich, social profiles. Discover prospects, research
leads, and enrich listings.

Oh, how very precious, indeed. (Go forth and digitize.)

Timbre (from Intrepid Pursuits) is a mobile app. It:

…highlights live music shows nearby, plays samples, and enables users to buy tickets. From the company's application: "We would like to spin this product out and raise a seed round so a dedicated team can focus on it."

Again, I’m not the audience. But for a website that gives out precious little when it comes to the written word (see me on Sidewalk), I think that what they’ve set up on the Intrepid site, which lets you thumb through all their apps, is pretty darned good. If it managed to convey information to someone like me, who has a complete and utter preference for the written word vs. the visual image, they’re doing something right. (Which is not to say that I care to live after  the last written word gets written.)

And then there’s the ‘now for something completely different’ entry, which looks a lot more like the sorts of companies I saw when I’d go to startup forums in days of yore. Last on the list:

NBD Nanotechnologies, which:

…makes use of a nano-scale surface to enhance water condensation. Mimicking the Namib Desert Beetle, our nanotechnology can be used to collect water in the most arid regions of the world.

Nothing about “apps”. Nothing about being “cool”. Nothing about being “hip.”

Just a bunch of ultra-bright science guys who want to benefit humanity. (Go, nerds!)

My bets are on Arcbazar – because it’s a service I might actually use – and NBD Nanotechnologies – because it’s something that just might change the world for the better.

Hope my bets don’t doom them…

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