Powered by NEXTpittsburgh / Written by Kym Lyons
The new batch of companies in East Liberty-based accelerator AlphaLab includes a virtual travel agent, a company that aims to improve online product recommendations, and a platform to connect nonprofits with sponsors for their major events.
Founded in 2008, AlphaLab helps to launch innovative technology companies through 20-week programs that offer funding, guidance and office space. Its successful start-ups include NoWait, ShoeFitr and Jazz (formerly The Resumator, founded by ImaginePittsburgh.com Neighbor Don Charleton.)
The startups of AlphaLab’s 15th cycle are at different phases of readiness but all have at least some experience to speak of, says executive director Jim Jen (who is also an ImaginePittsburgh.com Neighbor). Most have done some form of customer validation, and some have products and revenue already.
“This group of companies is well-aligned to the trends in the industries they’re tackling,” he adds.
It was a highly competitive process to whittle down the field of companies—their largest ever—and drew from a national applicant pool. Three of the seven companies are from out of state.
They’ll spend the next several months availing themselves of all the resources, networking and training the incubator has to offer.
CEO Greg Buzulencia has a modest goal for his startup. “We just want to revolutionize the travel agent space,” he says with a chuckle, “like Airbnb did for the hotel industry.”
ViaHero curates customized travel recommendations from experts who have either traveled extensively to your destination or are locals. It flips the revenue model on its head, by compensating the person providing the guide information, Buzulencia says, rather than the hotel or airline trying to sell the most lucrative trip. For instance, an expert on Barcelona might advise visitors to order Cava instead of Sangria and avoid certain touristy areas in favor of more authentic local hangouts.
He’s only got five experts signed up so far, but Buzulencia is focused first on making the experts’ recommendations robust in one location, and will scale the platform from there. His dream location to get expert travel guides: Cuba, which is a newly-available travel destination for some (but not all) Americans.
“There’s so much pent-up demand, and there are so few people who have traveled there,” he says. “It’s the kind of place a lot of adventurous people are going to want to go.”
Planning a fundraiser on a shoestring budget? Endorsevent will help connect you with brands to help sponsor part of your event. The goal is to connect small organizations and nonprofits with small and medium companies who are looking for branding opportunities.
“Let’s say you’re a pizza shop and you want to promote your company,” says Endorsevent CEO Amber Stradford. The pizza shop could provide pizza for a fundraiser in exchange for its name in the program, or its signage at the event, she explains. The Endorsevent platform connects organizations who may not have the resources to hire an event planner or the staff to do outreach to find local companies seeking promotion. Companies can donate funds or in-kind services to organizations with whom they wish to partner.
Stradford, whose background is in digital marketing, funded the building of the platform herself and is hoping AlphaLab can help her build her network here.
Twined is a response to all the lousy product reviews which leave consumers wondering which opinions are real and which ones are paid for by brands, CEO Phil McKeating says. Twined will enlist what it calls “tastemakers” to offer recommendations based on product reviews, McKeating says.
Its tastemakers are handpicked from around the web based on their expertise in a given subject matter.
“So instead of random crowdsourced reviews, we offer recommendations,” McKeating says. “Instead of finding out what a restaurant is like on Yelp, we’d get the opinion from someone like a qualified food critic.”
He envisions most of Twined’s recommendations being valuable to young families, “who don’t have time to read a dozen reviews, but might need help picking out baby products.”
Time to purge that old hardware or device? Clarabyte has a three-pronged group of digital solutions, says CEO James Deighan. Say you’re looking to sell your old smartphone. Clarabyte’s software will allow you to purge and destroy the digital data, provide automated hardware testing to determine if all the parts are in working order, and then let you list it for sale on several e-commerce platforms, like Amazon and eBay, all at once.
Some $50 billion in credit card rewards go unredeemed by consumers, says Matthew Kennedy, founder of Skick’D. Under new regulations, that doesn’t make banks happy because it creates liability on their balance sheets. Skick’D would connect consumers with highly-tailored offers that will let them redeem their rewards points so everyone walks away happy.
Think of Mighty as a concierge service for contractors in the home improvement industry, suggests CEO Mike Regan. Instead of bids for service like one might find on sites like Angie’s List, Mighty would manage all the contractors needed on a particular home improvement job. “It will aggregate contractor services the way Uber aggreggates driving,” Regan says. He’s working to make Mighty scalable during his stay in AlphaLab.
Remember the old game Capture the Flag? Combine that with location-based advertising and you’ve got the general concept of Flagtag, says CEO Omar El-Sadany. Its target audience is college students, who would use the Flagtag app to find nearby food and drink specials from advertisers, on a geolocated map. The first person to claim the deal would then clear all the other nearby users’ “flags,” adding a competitive aspect. The app is still in private beta, El-Sadany said, and he and his team are hoping their time at AlphaLab will get them ready for launch.
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