The Download: Three start-up groups partner American Idol of start-ups

Three local outfits that strive to pair entrepreneurs with angel investors joined forces last week to create a competition of sorts to find the most promising business idea. Think “American Idol,” but for start-ups.

Online snack dealer Snack & Munch and college deal site Uscoop were selected from among nearly a dozen other upstarts to pitch the Capital Access Network, the University of Maryland business school’s angel network.

Brothers Ammar and Farooq Yousuf began selling customized packs of 24 snacks online as a side business to their work at a government contractor. But demand has swelled so much in just eight weeks that they’re looking to hire help and increase marketing.

The brothers have found a range of interested buyers that include corporate offices and conferences, homemakers, soldiers and college kids. “Eventually we want to become the biggest online vending machine,” Farooq Yousuf said.

Uscoop has found its niche in the college student market. The site has reps on 40 campuses nationwide that hunt for fashion and dorm trends. The site then showcases the trend and pairs it with a deal to buy similar items online.

It’s the brainchild of Jocelyn Gailliot, Madeline Moore and September Rinnier, three entrepreneurs who first tried breaking into the local deals space. But that market was clogged with competitors, prompting them to target national, online retailers.

The journey began with an online chat hosted by Brazen Careerist, a networking Web site that connects two people — in this case a start-up and entrepreneur — at random for five-minute discussions. The two can swap contact information if they hit it off.

Nearly a dozen firms then honed their products and pitches throughout the weekend at an accelerator hosted by Peter Corbett of iStrategyLabs. They presented to a room of investors and entrepreneurs, who ultimately selected Snack & Munch and Uscoop to pitch Maryland’s investors.

Deals, deals, deals

The battle for deal dominance raged on last week as both District-based LivingSocial and Chicago’s Groupon continued to roll out programs that allow subscribers to access discounts at restaurants in real time.

LivingSocial’s Instant Deals program debuted several weeks ago in the Washington region, but expanded to New York last week. A spokeswoman said the company sold more than 14,000 lunches at $1 a piece in its first day.

Meanwhile, Groupon extended its real-time deals service, Groupon Now, into a handful of additional markets, including Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle. It launched in Chicago.

Groupon registered for an initial public offering earlier this month and counts local business mogul Ted Leonsis and Peter Barris of New Enterprise Associates among its investors and directors. LivingSocial is backed by AOL co-founder Steve Case and Don Rainey of Grotech Ventures, among others.

Apps aplenty

Several local outfits have produced smartphone applications of late. Here’s a sampling:

Meporter enables the average smartphone user to become a one-man newsroom. The app allows people to write, photograph or film happenings in the moment and share with others using the app. Andy Leff is the founder and chief executive officer of Arlington-based Meporter.

• When you’re crawling the city’s bars in search of a mate, Gender Zoo wants to improve your chances — statistically speaking. The iPhone and Android apps collect observations from patrons about the male-to-female ratio and age range of the crowd. The inputs are then averaged and published to the app, which was created by Springfield developer Minh Tran.

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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