September 13th, 2012 Ultra Light Startups Investor Feedback Forum

On September 13th, 2012 OLC attended and sponsored Ultra Light Startups’ Investor Feedback Forum held at Columbia University and sponsored by Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization, Columbia Technology Ventures, CVC, InSite, Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt LLC and Amazon Web Services.  The hosts were Graham Lawlor of Ultra Light Startups and Michael Gold of Clubster and techdrinkup.

The discussion featured five venture capitalists on the panel: Somak Chattopadhyay of Tribeca Venture Partners, Owen Davis of NYC Seed, Daniel Schultz of DFJ Gotham Ventures, Brian Cohen of NY Angels and Kirill Sheynkman of RTP Ventures.

Winning presenter Jason Keck of Stereotypes presented his concept of a social network based on a users musical tastes and interests.  ULS estimates the market for this concept at $280 million.

Runner-up Satjot Sawhney of Tapfame presented a mobile app portfolio platform.  This sector is one of the fastest growing for unfulfilled demand on competing platforms such as eLance, ODesk, StackOverflow and LinkedIn.  Investor feedback questioned the value proposition as Sheynkman commented that applications are built by teams, not individuals; Schultz remarked that the competition is not on price with Bangalore but on talent; and Davis suggested finding a well defined market niche.  Cohen, however, expressed confidence in Sawhney’s leadership as this is his third company, with a success and a failed company already on his resume.

Third-place finisher Ned Gannon of eBrevia presented his firm’s commercialization of natural language processing technology developed at Columbia to assist corporate attorneys, in-house counsel, and business executives in performing a variety of tasks more efficiently, accurately, and cost effectively. Using machine learning techniques, the company’s software can extract and summarize legal provisions from a wide array of legal documents.

Michael Weinberg of Wizpert presented his firm’s concept of crowdsourced curation of blogger expertise.  Wizpert accesses the long tail of the blogosphere for instantaneous communication to users.  Venture capitalist feedback from Davis was to make sure they identify and validate true experts in various fields.  Schultz cautioned Weinberg to look at the precedents of InfoRocket and be sure not to annoy the bloggers being referenced.

Alon Yaffe of InstallFree presented his firm’s desktop virtualization for enterprise using any device.  Chattopadhyay felt that the “any device, any browser” concept offered strong differentiation and that competitors’ offerings such as Citrix and VMware didn’t always perform well.  Davis suggested being a lighter version of VMware to avoid limitations on available applications.  Sheynkman felt that with competing products from DropBox, QuickOffice and Google Docs, the consumer game is over and that InstallFree should demonstrate to IT departments a comfort level with many devices.

Dimitris Alexiou of Cargofy presented the first business-to-business platform connecting cargo with shippers.  He suggested that the shipping industry has historically avoided efficiency and innovation in scheduling shipments.  VC feedback was mixed as Davis suggested Cargofy be sober about market dynamics and why this hasn’t worked yet and understand the reasons why. Cohen suggested going to customers first and trying to offer a custom-built solution.  Lawlor agreed and added that Alexiou may need a big player like Maersk or sacrifice market liquidity.  Sheynkman suggested that VC’s don’t understand this business, they need to be educated, and that Cargofy would need to close its first deal and demonstrate cash flow, in order to overcome initial skepticism.  Both Schultz and Chattopadhyay suggested taking lead from other marketplaces and either partner with early adopters or “anchoring” early customers and considering some kind of potential data play.

Aubrey Levy of Mobcaster presented his firm’s concept of a crowdfunded platform for an independent online television channel.  Ultra Light Startups estimated the market size for this business at only $7 million.

Sood Rohit of InAJiffy presented his firm’s concept of a marketplace for finding and procuring services from a variety of business vendors from insurance to shipping.  ULS estimated this market’s size at $47 million.