The Download: Fortify Ventures initiates second class of start-ups at accelerator

February 10, 2013

As Fortify Ventures enters its second year in the District, the seed-stage investment firm and start-up accelerator welcomes a fresh crop of young ventures that’s both smaller and more mature than last year’s inaugural class.

February has been a busy month for Fortify. The firm, formerly known as Fortify.vc, also relocated to new offices in the same Northwest D.C. neighborhood, co-habitating with the newly formed entre­pre­neur­ship hub called 1776 .

“Density is important for start-ups,” said founding partner Jonathon Perrelli. “To have investors, accelerators, events, energy, all of those things being under one roof is attractive for the ecosystem.”

Fortify put down roots in the District last year after receiving a $100,000 grant from the city. The money lured organizers out of Arlington and required Fortify to remain in the city for four years. It also is required to host its annual start-up pitch competition, called Distilled Intelligence, there.

Organizers said the move to 1133 15th St. NW allowed the accelerator to focus on its main function — choosing and funding promising start-ups.

“Being a venture fund, running an accelerator and hosting large events like Distilled Intelligence, those are our priorities,” Perrelli said. “Managing a large campus is not.”

But a new location isn’t the only change. Just five start-ups make up Fortify’s latest class, the first of two organizers plan to host this year.

Last year, the accelerator welcomed one class of 12 ventures. Perrelli said all 12 ventures still exist, though some are less active than before. The ventures have raised nearly $5 million in total from investors since their participation in the accelerator, he said.

The reason for the change is two-fold, organizers said. For starters, smaller classes are easier to manage. Secondly, organizers were more discerning in their selection of participants this time around.

Every young company in the new class has a functioning product, rather than merely an idea, increasing their odds of survival in a world where failure is more common than success.

“It mitigates some risk,” general partner Simon Rakoff said. “It’s a big difference to invest money in a company that’s a couple of people with an idea versus a company that’s got a product that’s working, whether it’s been used or not by a customer.”

So what are the companies?

TrendPo ranks politicians based on mentions in news outlets and social media. The brainchild of JD Chang, the firm got its start in San Francisco two years ago as a game that applies the principles of fantasy football to politics. Now, Chang hopes its media analytics can be used to predict election outcomes.

SnobSwap allows men and women with a closet of designer apparel to trade, buy or sell their “pre-loved” items with other fashionistas. Elise Whang, an attorney-turned-entrepreneur, launched the company last April after years of swapping clothes with her sisters.

When a 2,500-page bill landed on the desk of Capitol Hill staffer Aneet Makin just days before a congressional vote, he knew the system needed to change. So last spring, Makin and co-founder Guy Morgenstern created LegCyte , a software program that helps parse through lengthy legislation.

Working on national security matters for the White House and State Department in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, meant Dave Aidekman rarely took a vacation. But when he did, the getaways were “massive.” Now he aims to help people do the same through Trip Tribe , an online service that organizes group vacations for people with similar interests.

Need to hitch a ride? RidePost connects drivers going one place with passengers headed the same direction. It’s not a novel idea, admits chief executive Marty Bauer, but the four co-founders think they’ve solved the issue of safety using Facebook profile information. They plan to target college students and young people initially.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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February 10, 2013

As Fortify Ventures enters its second year in the District, the seed-stage investment firm and start-up accelerator welcomes a fresh crop of young ventures that’s both smaller and more mature than last year’s inaugural class.

February has been a busy month for Fortify. The firm, formerly known as Fortify.vc, also relocated to new offices in the same Northwest D.C. neighborhood, co-habitating with the newly formed entre­pre­neur­ship hub called 1776 .

“Density is important for start-ups,” said founding partner Jonathon Perrelli. “To have investors, accelerators, events, energy, all of those things being under one roof is attractive for the ecosystem.”

Fortify put down roots in the District last year after receiving a $100,000 grant from the city. The money lured organizers out of Arlington and required Fortify to remain in the city for four years. It also is required to host its annual start-up pitch competition, called Distilled Intelligence, there.

Organizers said the move to 1133 15th St. NW allowed the accelerator to focus on its main function — choosing and funding promising start-ups.

“Being a venture fund, running an accelerator and hosting large events like Distilled Intelligence, those are our priorities,” Perrelli said. “Managing a large campus is not.”

But a new location isn’t the only change. Just five start-ups make up Fortify’s latest class, the first of two organizers plan to host this year.

Last year, the accelerator welcomed one class of 12 ventures. Perrelli said all 12 ventures still exist, though some are less active than before. The ventures have raised nearly $5 million in total from investors since their participation in the accelerator, he said.

The reason for the change is two-fold, organizers said. For starters, smaller classes are easier to manage. Secondly, organizers were more discerning in their selection of participants this time around.

Every young company in the new class has a functioning product, rather than merely an idea, increasing their odds of survival in a world where failure is more common than success.

“It mitigates some risk,” general partner Simon Rakoff said. “It’s a big difference to invest money in a company that’s a couple of people with an idea versus a company that’s got a product that’s working, whether it’s been used or not by a customer.”

So what are the companies?

TrendPo ranks politicians based on mentions in news outlets and social media. The brainchild of JD Chang, the firm got its start in San Francisco two years ago as a game that applies the principles of fantasy football to politics. Now, Chang hopes its media analytics can be used to predict election outcomes.

SnobSwap allows men and women with a closet of designer apparel to trade, buy or sell their “pre-loved” items with other fashionistas. Elise Whang, an attorney-turned-entrepreneur, launched the company last April after years of swapping clothes with her sisters.

When a 2,500-page bill landed on the desk of Capitol Hill staffer Aneet Makin just days before a congressional vote, he knew the system needed to change. So last spring, Makin and co-founder Guy Morgenstern created LegCyte , a software program that helps parse through lengthy legislation.

Working on national security matters for the White House and State Department in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, meant Dave Aidekman rarely took a vacation. But when he did, the getaways were “massive.” Now he aims to help people do the same through Trip Tribe , an online service that organizes group vacations for people with similar interests.

Need to hitch a ride? RidePost connects drivers going one place with passengers headed the same direction. It’s not a novel idea, admits chief executive Marty Bauer, but the four co-founders think they’ve solved the issue of safety using Facebook profile information. They plan to target college students and young people initially.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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