One-by-one, the 28 young companies rotated onto the fluorescent-lit stage at TechBuzz last week with just four minutes to persuade a room of high-net-worth investors to crack open their wallets.
This is the second year that the ventures, many just months old, have been formally included at Capital Connection, an annual investment conference hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association. Their addition comes as an increasing number of seed-stage financiers flood the investment sector.
But as we wrote last week, the market may soon grow more crowded. When people become eligible to buy equity stakes under new “crowdfunding” rules, individuals of modest wealth will be eligible to cut small checks to companies just like those presenting at TechBuzz last week.
So what can you get for your money? Here is a sampling of the ventures on display at last week’s event and the amount of money they are seeking from investors.
From comments on news articles to restaurant reviews, the Internet is rife with opinions.
Falls Church-based ProConIt has developed a widget that divides online commenters into two groups — those for or against a particular topic. Other users can then rate the remarks, allowing those with the highest average score to rise to the top.
When the data is aggregated from multiple Web sites, ProConIt can gauge public opinion on a broader scale.
Grant Griebel, vice president for customer solutions, said the widget has already been used by professional sports teams, product makers, entertainment companies and news outlets, including The Washington Post. The founders recently met with members of Congress about using ProConIt to assess constituents’ opinions on particularly policies.
“This technology can pretty much be used anywhere people are discussing or debating something,” Griebel said.
Vienna-based Fiteeza uses the motion-sensing technology that powers Microsoft’s Kinect console to bring fitness classes, such as yoga, kickboxing and jazzercise, from your local gym into your living room.
Rather than pile into a studio, participants “arrive” at live classes via a digital avatar that captures their body movement and facial expression. An actual instructor anchors the class and can provide individual feedback.
Executives Kenneth Nelson and Brandy Thomas don’t aim to replace gyms. In fact, they plan to sell the platform to fitness centers that want to grow their clientele without adding more brick-and-mortar locations.
Instead, they aim to upend the home fitness industry that pumps out scores of DVDs and other work-out guides every year.
Look out, Jane Fonda.
John Bracken isn’t fond of conference calls.
His Reston-based firm, Speek, aims to do away with dial-in numbers, tedious pin codes and irritating hold music. Instead, people can call one another with the simple click of a personalized Web address.
Bracken said Speek intends to facilitate phone calls over the Internet, similar to Skype, as a way to untether conference calls from telephones entirely.
The company also plans to eliminate some of the small but common headaches that come with conference calls by offering services that identify who is speaking at any given moment and share documents with the group.
Elementary school students log onto Naaya to learn global studies and hone communication skills while venturing through an online world in which they meet historical characters, discover wildlife and buy and sell goods.
The brainchild of Amir Hudda, the Tysons Corner-based company aims to build on the social gaming trends that helped to catapult Zynga, the maker of Facebook games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars, into a publicly traded company.
The difference, Hudda said, is educational value. Naaya also partners with schools to create networks that are exclusive to their students, thus ensuring the youngsters are only interacting with peers.
“The concept is to get kids to spend their online time more effectively,” Hudda said.
When McLean-based Augaroo was founded last year, the venture wasn’t chief executive Justin Langseth’s first foray into Big Data.
For the past decade he has served as chief technology officer at two big-data companies. First was Claraview, a business intelligence and data storage firm. Then software maker Clarabridge, which helps companies parse through reams of customer feedback.
Now Langseth has created a product called Zoomdata to help companies “finger paint” with their information. In other words, they can craft visual aids that make data easier to understand.
“People have to be able to get access to their data and be on top of it much more quickly than in the past,” Langseth said.