Accelerators

The Graduates of ERA’s Demo Day Want to Solve All Your Problems, from Paperwork to Catering

All your issues, disrupted.
img 20120921 104157 1 The Graduates of ERAs Demo Day Want to Solve All Your Problems, from Paperwork to Catering

Join ERA! Climb this mountain with Charlie Kemper!

Well, here we are again: Time to unleash a new class of freshly minted accelerator graduates upon the New York tech scene. This morning investors, reporters and supporters gathered in the Starfleet Academy-like environs of IAC’s Chelsea headquarters for Demo Day.

But first, a few facts and figures from managing director Murat Aktihanoglu re: the state of ERA itself. This was the third class of companies to graduate from the accelerator, which launched in 2011. The previous two ERA classes now boast a collective valuation of over $100 million.

But, “we could do nothing without you and the New York community,” said Mr. Aktihanoglu, pointing out that the most recent Entrepreneur’s Roundtable meetup had more than 1,000 guests, with a line out the door. (Betabeat can attest to this–and frankly, as we left, it looked like the situation was getting testy.)

Perhaps the shining moment of the day, however, was the brief intermission, during which ERA managing director Charlie Kemper told a tale that, while inspiring, should scare off a few would-be hiking partners. He talked several of the ERA CEOs into participating in a three-mile race, called the Spartan Sprint. They arrived to discover it was actually more like 11 miles long, and it was on a ski mountain. The race had to be paused in the middle for a freaking tornado. And every single one of the ERA members finished the course (eventually).

“Perseverance is more than a word on an office poster.” Talk about things you don’t want to have to learn the hard way!

On to the survivors:

Bizodo

The founders of Bizodo (which we initially heard as “Risotto,” by the way) took the stage in matching red sweaters to the strains of Pink Floyd’s “Money.” But then you’ve gotta do what jazzing up you can when your pitch revolves around paperwork. It’s not a particularly sexy sector, but the concept is promising: Think of the time devoted to filling out a W2. HR sends you the document; you download and print the document; you sign the document; you scan the document; HR downloads and prints the document. It goes in a filing cabinet.

“We are changing the way that people exchange documents online,” promised CEO Jonathon Ende (who’s also one of the brains behind AlleyNYC). “We are changing the way that business process documents.” Their plan: A suite of services enabling users to create, manage and exchange forms–all in the cloud. HR is their initial target market, but the team’ll be monitoring what HR does with the tools for new use cases. Data savvy!

They’re raising $1.5 million, with the promise that the term sheet process, at least, will be seamless.

Jetaport 

The CEO of Jetaport, on the other hand, strolled out to “Danger Zone,” which is not something us nervous fliers want to associate with the travel booking experience. However, Mr. Jason Shames made a strong case: Orbitz and its ilk might be publicly traded and the market may look mature, but these guys have done, basically, jack shit in the way of innovation over the last decade. The biggest leap forward of recent years, he pointed out, has been the metasearch–but Kayak has basically the exact same user experience as it offered at launch.

That’s a problem, because no one has touched the massive headache that is group travel. Planning a group trip currently requires, on average, searching 9.5 times over a 22-day period. Then there’s the fact that someone always ends up carrying a couple thousand dollars on her credit card until her fellow travelers pay up. Jetaport proposes to simplify this process, by providing a platform that allows people to plan and purchase together, but with each trip remaining independent. A partnership with Expedia will help stock the company’s inventory.

The company is asking $500,000, with “about” $100,000 already invested.

Juniper and Trade 

Juniper and Trade CEO Sandy Lin launched her pitch by chronicling the many ways we’re moving away from mass produced and toward the custom and the artisanal–in food, in crafts. She and her cofounders want to bring the revolution to home goods, with an Etsy-like platform to connect buyers with a curated selection of makers. A telling example of the kind of vendor the company works with with: RecycledBrooklyn, a furniture company run by a pair of brothers who make things like benches upholstered with locally sourced burlap sacks.  

“We’re here to make buying a custom piece easier and better than buying from a store,” said Ms. Lin.

The company is raising a seed fund, but offered no specifics.

VidRocket 

A few numbers about YouTube, courtesy of VidRocket CEO Rami: The site is still the third most visited on the web. In 2011, it received 1 trillion total views, and currently clocks around 4 billion views per day–2.8 million every minute. The odds of your video standing out amid a sea of content? Slim. That’s not a huge problem if you’re someone who uploaded a video of your sleepy kitten passing out in its Iams, but if you’re a brand that’s devoted actual money to a video for marketing purposes, that’s a little more alarming.

VidRocket wants to help, with platform to manage one’s various campaigns, gather reactions in one dashboard, and provide analytics.

The company is seeking $750,000.

Houdini 

This company’s tagline is “human labor in the cloud.” Alterative title? Mechanical Turk on steroids, as founder Muhammad At-Tauhidi called it. So what, precisely, is the nature of those steroids? Mr. At-Tauhidi had a simple answer: Quality assurance. Houdini breaks potential workers into categories–researchers, writers, etc.–then vets them. Mechanical Turk, on the other hand, has become “almost synonymous with low quality and poor results,” he said. So far, Houdini has signed more than a dozen customers and completed half a million tasks, adding up to 8,000 man hours of work, for $55,734 in gross revenue. There are 380 companies waiting to get into the private beta.

The company is seeking seed money, but didn’t provide a number.

CaterCow

As anyone who’s ever watched a Bridezilla’s marathon will no doubt attest, the process of finding and paying a caterer is frustrating at best, nightmarish at worst. On the other side of the transaction, caterers are constantly on the hunt for new business. Chris Collins, CEO of CaterCow, put it even more baldly: “Catering is broken.” Enter his company, which is an online platform for the sale of catering packages, which aims to make the process “fun, easy, and transparent.” So far they’ve sold over a hundred catering packages, netting more than $9,000–on which the company takes an 11 percent cut.

The company is seeking funding, but didn’t give a number.

Angel Politics 

There are 87,000 candidates running for political office every year, and 95 percent of the time, it’s the candidate with the most cash that’ll win. That’s according to Jessie Sandoval, cofounder and “chief political scientist” at Angel Politics, which aims to offer “big data fundraising and analytics platform for political campaigns.” In other words, the company wants to be the Trulia of politics (which just went public, by the way). The team has aggregated 55,000 candidate records, plus 10 million donor records, adding up to 20 billion data points to work with. “We are building America’s political genome,” said Mr. Sandoval, promising that “fundraising will never be the same after us.”

Angel Politics is raising a $500,000 seed round, with the goal of building out their mobile platform.

SaleMove

You’ve probably bought a book or two online. But life insurance? A car? Probably not. That’s because, as SaleMove CEO Daniel Michaeli explained, these kinds of sales “require a human touch, someone to help us navigate the maze. These products require a consultative sale.” SaleMove wants to make that possible for the two sectors mentioned above, plus jewelry and real estate. The company has built a SAAS platform that allows customers to add capabilities like video chat and collaborative browsing to their sites.

Of course, if you’re someone who shops online specifically to avoid human interaction, you’re just going to have to get faster on the CLOSE TAB button.

The company is raising a $750,000, and they’ve already got $160,000 committed.

Healthy Chic

Are you a yoga fanatic, looking for somewhere to buy yoga paraphernalia? Well, have the founders of Healthy Chic got a site for you. “For many Americans”–something like 20 million–”yoga and the yoga lifestyle is their oasis,” explained CEO Joel Fan. To furnish that oasis, they shell out a collective $40 billion for related crap. However, there’s no shop ready to meet their “yoga lifestyle needs.” (We guess Lulu Lemon doesn’t count?) Healthy Chic, which will sell activewear, nutritional products, accessories, inspiration bracelets, and performance-measuring gadgets.

The company is raising $1 million.

mxHero

“Email is not the most exciting of topics–I know that,” admitted mxHero CEO Alexis Panagides early in his pitch. (Points duly granted for candor, sir.) But it is a nagging problem, like the unattended toothache of office work, taking up an estimated 31 percent of everyone’s day. Then there’s the spam, and the phishing, and the limited attachment sizes, etc., ad nauseam. Building on some sort of server-side magic, mxHero aims to “fix” email with a series of helpful applications that do things like allowing you to send email attachments of any size. The company has done zero advertising, and yet has signed on more than 1,300 companies, to the tune of 25,000-plus users.

mxHero is seeking $800,000, and has already raised $415,000.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com