Instead of a summary of each company (Alan Veeck ( @aveeck ) at Meakem Becker Venture Capital and author of Pittsburgh Ventures blog did a fantastic live blog roundup of the companies here), I’d like to toss out some gut reactions to the companies, presentations and the feel of the environment overall.
- In monitoring local media, it seems like there has been a lot of funding activity in the region recently, from early stage angel investments to larger acquisitions of Pittsburgh-based startups. That feeling of optimism was present at the event today as well, and from the folks I was able to speak with, there might be more good news coming down the pike.
- It was great to hear about some of the success stories coming out of AlphaLab. One of my personal favorites is a company called The Resumator, led by Don Charlton ( @TheResumator). They’ve gotten some serious press and some seed funding post-AlphaLab, which is helping them to expand their feature set.
- Social is everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. It’s hard not to get sick of hearing about it, but it really doesn’t make it any less important. I’m reminded of when everyone was talking about the internet being game-changer in the late 90’s-to-early-’00s — while it was so annoying to hear, the folks saying it were absolutely right.
- The actual design of the various PowerPoint presentations was pretty good. I know it sounds superficial, but a stylish presentation makes a company look much more “together”. Great job, everyone.
- Loved the presentation by Nick Pinkston, CEO of CloudFab ( @cloudfab). I continue to believe that storytelling and metaphor are the best way to connect with an audience, and I think Nick did a very good job of doing just that. Speaking with him afterward (both about his company and about using his technology to develop some components for a project on which I’m working), it was evident that he sees this as a product customization revolution rather than simply a sourcing opportunity. I love the vision.
- Fooala has developed a site called CollegeBite ( @collegebite), a very cool open ordering platform that enables restaurants to create/expand an online presence using mobile and the web. One of the things I loved about it is that I’ve already used the site! While the presentation was a bit difficult to follow at times, I did find the team to be very, very strong. Finally, they’re classic Gen Yers — smart, mobile, experienced, passionate, hungry and making a difference. Two of the guys are from Duke, one of whom met one of the CMU founders while in Sydney, Australia. What a story.
- Brian at NavPrescience has a compelling pitch — a software package that is integrated into GPS functionality that learns your driving habits and adjusts routing and point-of-interest suggestions accordingly. One of my favorite lines of the day was Brian’s deadpan delivery of “[GPS] devices are pretty stupid”, referring to the dictionary definition of “slow to learn and understand”. As a recent owner of a BlackBerry Tour with GPS capability, I’ve found how dead wrong TeleNav can be with even the simplest of directions (he cited that only 35% of GPS routes are actually ‘fastest’, confirming my experience). Brian’s use of a scenario in his presentation (there’s that storytelling again) was very engaging. Things that I disliked are mostly brand-oriented — I’m not a fan of the name (I keep wanting to say NavPresence and the word ‘prescience’ is a bit SATish) and the logo is a rough (use of Verdana, complicated design and the invocation of magic when the system is built on three years of solid R&D at CMU). I know that the company isn’t looking to sell to consumers, but it’s still something that could be improved.
While it’s a tough time for everyone in this economy, I’m really optimistic about the entrepreneurial community here in Pittsburgh. Being named the second-best place to start a small business in the U.S. doesn’t hurt, either. All-in-all, I have to commend AlphaLab Class #3 on a job well done.