I’ve spent the last three months working closely with our program’s first 10 companies (Techstars Class 135), which have convened from all over the world — Singapore, Munich, Seoul, Toronto, Los Angeles, Austin, and New York –- right here in Philadelphia. And I’m thrilled to share just how far they’ve come.
I’ve met with hundreds of companies and worked hand-in-hand with our partner, Comcast, to select these first 10, which collectively fit under our umbrella thesis of investing in companies that tackle big problems in media, entertainment and connectivity. Now more than ever, we are aware of the critical role media has in our daily lives and the need to balance its relentless evolution with its survival. I’m inspired by our mission to help usher in the next wave of companies that will reinvent what media is, how it is consumed, and how it will bring us together.
These founders are driven entrepreneurs who are not only motivated to scale their businesses, but also to build a better world by doing that. As you’ll see below, they have worked tirelessly over the course of our program to achieve meaningful milestones. I’m proud of their traction and excited for their future.
Meet the Companies
Orai is an artificial intelligence speech coach that helps people become more effective and confident communicators.
Orai’s CEO and co-founder Danish Dhamani struggled to communicate confidently when he immigrated to the US from Tanzania. He tried everything spanning from books to online courses and found that the most effective way was through 1:1 coaching, which is largely inaccessible and expensive. He launched Orai, along with his co-founders Paritosh Gupta and Aasim Sani, to create a scalable means of offering 1:1 communication coaching to the masses.
With 100k users and counting, Orai is now the #1 public speaking app in the App Store. The company has also solidified a channel partnership with Mandel Communications, and has enterprise customers including Medallia and Comcast.
Portl is the personalized entertainment platform for rideshare vehicles today and autonomous vehicles tomorrow.
While in the backseat of a rideshare vehicle, 88% of riders opt in to experience Portl’s content and localized recommendations for nearly eight minutes at a time. Drivers also love Portl, as it can increase their ratings and tips.
Following a pilot in Toronto, the company has signed advertising deals with partners including Nestle, Duracell and Phillips and is gearing up to launch in US cities including Philadelphia. Portl also recently partnered with a major telco provider to activate hundreds of thousands of tablets on its nationwide network through 2023.
Thinker-Tinker transforms kids’ screen time to quality, active playtime with a character-based learning platform that blends traditional tactile play and digital interaction.
Thinker-Tinker’s CEO and co-founder, Yuting Su, yearned for a better way to educate her toddler; having a dual Masters in Medical Informatics and Game Design, she understood that his developmental need to learn through tactile play was being unmet with his increasing screen time. To tackle this problem, Yuting teamed up with her co-founder, Ray Chen, a serial entrepreneur with experience in both hardware and software engineering who co-founded an online subscription business that grew to $70M in revenue. Together, they created a smart plush toy that can sense children’s interactions to provide customized learning and emotional feedback. With a tablet tucked inside, a Thinker-Tinker toy also offers educational apps, storybooks, and physical tokens to encourage children to learn by playing games.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Yuting and Ray are taking on a unique opportunity to partner with Universal on a licensing arrangement that combines Thinker-Tinker’s play platform with a variety of DreamWorks iconic characters from classic films, the latest theatrical releases, and future animated series.
Eyecandylab enables video content creators to engage their viewers and monetize their media through interactive augmented reality experiences.
After an initial launch in Germany with a major media company that resulted in 365k downloads and a #1 rank in the App Store, eyecandylab debuted in the US successfully with Nickelodeon. With over $700k in revenue this year generated by licensing their patent-pending computer vision technology and live TV matching infrastructure, the company is now focused on scaling their AR experiences via the entertainment, ecommerce and Sports verticals.
Trapica leverages artificial intelligence to optimize targeting decisions in advertising campaigns as they run, allowing marketers to reach the right audiences at the exact time they are ready to convert.
$55B is spent on social network advertising every year, but 70% of those ads are reaching the wrong audiences. Mike Teitelman and Yoav Melamed started Trapica to solve this problem. Using their product, their customers have saved up to 70% off their conversion cost and increased their ROI by 300%.
In the last 6 months, Trapica has grown in revenue by 25% MoM and added some of the biggest advertisers as clients, ranging from Universal Studios to Dirty Lemon. The company will soon apply its homegrown product to other marketing verticals, including linear television, a $150B market.
Polycade turns video games into in-person social events with an engaging, connected arcade console and a curated, digital gaming platform.
Having grown up with a dad who created Atari and Chuck E Cheese, Polycade CEO and Co-Founder Tyler Bushnell remembers the time when people would meet their significant others over a game of Pong. But gaming has strayed from its social roots; nowadays, it’s an isolating experience. Tyler, alongside his co-founder Jake Galler, set out to change that with Polycade.
After successfully raising $120k out of a $20k ask on Kickstarter, the company reached over $750,000 in sales, without any marketing. Polycade’s pilot customers include WeWork,
Grubhub, and Comcast Business. Over the next three years, they plan to deploy 20,000 Polycades, amass a community of over 10 million users, and grow into the largest out-of-home gaming platform — fundamentally changing the way people experience and discover games.
Pium allows you to experience a variety of mood-boosting scents throughout your day with one connected device and a subscription-based scent platform.
75% of daily emotions are affected by smell, and research shows that combining scent with a visual cue strengthens our memory of that visual in the long term.
Powered by patented scent capsules, Pium’s connected device can trigger different scents at different times of day, like a fresh rosemary scent in the morning and a relaxing lavender scent at night. Since the device is connected, a simple Alexa command or tap on a smartphone releases the right scent at the right time. And since the product can sync with other forms of media to create more immersive experiences, Pium is poised to position scent as a new form of media that’s as ubiquitous as sound and visual media – having the potential to encompass the $600B hospitality market and the $2tn entertainment and media markets.
The Pium team is excited to partner with Universal Parks and Resorts and Loews Hotels to offer a sneak peek of the product to hotel guests. The product will be more widely available next fall.
Tally empowers content creators to make and host their own live, interactive shows.
By 2021, there will be 611M viewers watching live video. But, on average, people spend 95 minutes watching gaming livestreams on Twitch for every 3.5 minutes watching non-gaming livestreams.
Tally CEO and Founder Alex Au helped some of the most popular gaming livestreamers grow and retain their audiences by making their content more interactive – building a viewer interaction platform used by 7.5M MAUs and a network of over 35K influencers. Alex saw an opportunity to apply what works in gaming livestreams to make all other content livestreams more engaging. He iterated on different show formats to determine what mechanics drive viewer interaction.
Today, 9 out of 10 viewers interact with shows on Tally and, on average, these viewers engage twice every minute with no monetary incentive.
WiARframe empowers anyone to prototype and share augmented reality experiences in minutes.
The web revolutionized every aspect of our lives. But that wasn’t the case back when only engineers could create for it; it wasn’t until we built tools to empower designers and lower the barrier to entry that we unlocked the web’s potential.
Having spent his career building tools for creators at Atari and designing games and digital products, WiARframe CEO and Founder Jeremiah Alexander believes that augmented reality is having a similar moment. While it is widely held that AR has the potential to be even bigger than the web, currently only people with deep technical knowledge can design for it.
WiARframe changes that, and now notable media companies including SYFY and leading agencies including Huge, EON Reality and Nexus Studios are gearing up to use wiARframe for their next AR projects.
alive5 offers the easiest way for small-to-medium businesses to engage customers and accept payments on any digital messaging channel.
Every day, we collectively send 141B text messages via the top messaging apps. But most small-to-medium businesses struggle with juggling these newer communication channels with their existing ones. Companies without a multi-channel strategy retain customers at a rate of 33%, compared to an 89% retention rate that companies with a cohesive strategy enjoy. alive5 addresses this problem by helping businesses manage their customers on any channel – website, SMS, Facebook Messenger et al — while also offering a PCI compliant solution to help facilitate payments in these channels.
alive5’s platform supports over 800 customers, including 200 of the top pro and college sports teams, major hotel brands, Comcast Spectacor, as well as Spectra Venue Management, which manages hundreds of venues throughout North America.
Thank you speakers and mentors!
During our program, we were incredibly lucky to have amazing guest speakers and over 140 mentors help our companies. Thank you for generously offering your time and continued support!
Special shout outs go out to our top mentors, selected by our 2018 class:
Thank you Techstars team!
It takes a village to pull off a successful Techstars program. I’d like to thank our Entrepreneur in Residence, Andrew Cove, who routinely burned the midnight oil in support of our founders, and our program manager, Rachel Greenspan, who kept on top of all of the moving pieces while we were going a million miles a minute.
A big thank-you hug also goes to our rockstar Techstars associates Will Sanderson, Jamie Fisher, Josh Klein and Emmy Phung! You guys not only worked hard to help our companies, but you made it fun. I’m definitely going to miss our crew.
Thank you to our partner, Comcast NBCUniversal!
Last but definitely not least, thanks to our amazing partners and mentors at Comcast NBCUniversal for continuously offering their time and key introductions that meaningfully helped and will continue to help our companies grow. We couldn’t have done this without you!
CONGRATS to the 2018 Class of our Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars!
We are excited to announce Techstars Class 135 – the 10 companies that will be joining us in Philadelphia for our inaugural Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars.
While they all collectively fall into this program’s overarching media, entertainment and connectivity focus areas, these companies range widely in their angle —from gaming, to augmented reality, to IoT. And their founders, who were selected from a diverse pool of applicants spanning 38 countries, will be joining us from all over the world —from Philadelphia to Singapore.
Starting today, we kick off this Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program, which will conclude with Demo Day on October 11th. While in Philadelphia, these companies will have access to a curated range of over 140 mentors from both the greater Techstars community — the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed — and from across Comcast NBCUniversal’s businesses, including the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, film studios, cable networks, Comcast Ventures, and Xfinity products and services. These mentors were hand selected for their unique interest and ability to help these companies grow.
Techstars is proud to have an incredible partner in Comcast NBCUniversal, who we have worked closely with to craft a one-of-a-kind program I am thrilled to share with our companies. This is going to be an amazing year for our program and the Philadelphia startup community!
Here are the companies participating in the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars:
Applications for the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, are now open through April 8th! Our first program will run July through October of this year and will take place in Comcast NBCUniversal’s global headquarters in Philadelphia.
The Companies We Are Interested In
In general, and in order of priority, Techstars places a high emphasis on team, market, progress and idea when it comes to selecting startups, but each program selects the companies that best fit its thesis.
For this accelerator, we are interested in applications from companies that are creating and/or utilizing technologies including (but not limited to) IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual or augmented reality, wireless communication systems, robotics, accessibility tech, blockchain, and voice — in the effort to solve problems in these key areas:
- Entertainment everywhere: Intuitively connecting consumers with engaging content in any form, on any device, anywhere.
- Next-gen marketing: Transforming marketing and advertising to meet shifting consumer behavior in the digital world.
- Breakthrough Experiences: Introducing new digital media experiences with well-fortified business models that produce win-wins for both content producers and audiences.
- Direct-to-Consumer: Introducing brands with the potential to create their own culture and following among consumers.
- Connected home/life: Empowering users to connect with the people, places and things that matter most.
- Smart Cities: Making physical products and spaces more intelligent through advanced sensors, devices and networks.
- Digital Wellness: Enabling better, more accessible well being through enhanced content and connectivity.
Above all, we are interested in meeting the teams who are in the best position to accelerate their companies’ growth and success by leveraging what our program offers — and who are also driven by the fundamental bias to make the world better.
Our Partner Comcast NBCUniversal’s Commitment to Our Program and Companies
In addition to Techstars’ global network, selected companies will receive access to and mentorship from decision makers at Comcast and NBCUniversal. We are excited to combine Techstars’ proven accelerator program with the wisdom of Comcast NBCUniversal’s industry leaders and domain experts. Our aim for the program is to produce triple-wins: Wins for the selected companies, who will not only benefit from our tried-and-true accelerator programming, but also from the unique access to potential opportunities offered by our partner, Comcast NBCUniversal; wins for Techstars, in continuing to build on our strong portfolio and be the network that helps entrepreneurs succeed; and wins for our partner, which is interested in supporting and cultivating entrepreneurs’ intent on developing the next generation of game-changing media, entertainment, and connectivity products that may also positively impact their customers and audiences.
Applications are due April 8th — start your application today.
Got questions? Attend one of the following AMAs to learn more about the program and talk to us live:
Let’s meet! Please fill out this form to request a meeting and mention which one of the cities or events below you’d like to meet at. Follow me on Twitter for the latest updates on locations and dates:
- Austin, Texas: Jan 24-25
- Mexico City, Mexico: Jan 31-Feb 1
- Miami, FL: Feb 7-8 (Black Tech Week)
- San Francisco & Redwood City, CA: Feb 13,14 (Startup Grind Global Conference)
- Los Angeles, CA: Feb 20-21
- Barcelona, Spain: Feb 26-Mar 1
- Philadelphia, PA: March 6-7 (& ongoing)
- Austin, Texas: March 9-11 (SXSW)
- Boulder, CO: March 15
- Boston, MA: March 19-20
- New York, NY: March 29-30 (& ongoing)
- Portland, OR: April 2-3
- Vancouver, Canada: April 4-6
And if you’re not planning on visiting these areas and/or the dates don’t match with your availability, don’t fret! You can still request a meeting; just let me where you are based on this form and we’ll do our best to chat with you.
But you don’t need to schedule a meeting to apply! You can, of course, still apply to the program right away.
I’m excited to learn about your company!
I’m thrilled to announce that I’m joining Techstars as the Managing Director of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator. This accelerator program will take place in LIFT Labs in the new Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia. My mandate is to identify, invest in and support the next breakthrough media, entertainment and connectivity startups.
This new role blends my career experience as a digital product executive with my passion for helping teams bring innovative products to market. Back in 2006, I was a product manager at Flickr, a small and far-from-traditional media company. It was there that I learned first-hand about the byproducts of democratizing content creation and distribution — the pillars that ultimately ushered us into the now-ubiquitous social media era.
Later, as the New Products Lead for the Wall Street Journal, I experienced the opportunities and challenges of developing innovative media distribution methods when I led the team that created WSJ Social, the first standalone publication on Facebook. As the Head of New Products for Disney’s ABC News, I drove new revenue streams and user experiences and, among other projects, led the creation of a real-time, data-driven, audio-based sentiment tracker for broadcast television, Social Soundtracker.
My experience on both sides of the table — in small, scrappy tech companies and the larger, polished media mainstays — has taught me that a successful future lies in a healthy relationship between the two versus the disruption of one by the other.
I first joined the Techstars family in 2015 as a mentor and immediately fell in love with the process of coaching companies and connecting them to the unique scale opportunities that a bigger, more established company offered. Even after my tenure working with large media companies, I continued to actively advise early-stage companies and connect them to various growth opportunities through my network. Among other things, my homegrown newsletter, Our Little Experiment, has connected a promising startup founder with $100k in funding, placed a CEO with another early-stage company and bridged together entrepreneurs from coast to coast with the opportunities and people that fueled their growth. I look forward to creating more opportunities to further engage my network in this new partnership.
I’m excited to combine Techstars’ proven startup accelerator program with the wisdom of Comcast NBCUniversal’s industry leaders and domain experts. Not only a powerful media and distribution company, Comcast NBCU has been developing technology with people of all demographics and abilities in mind.
When I recently visited their accessibility lab, dedicated to building and applying new technology to real-life and often forgotten use cases— from retina-driven screen navigation to intuitive connected home devices— I was impressed by not only the breadth of their technology stack, but also the acute human focus of it. This rare combination of access to the most influential leaders in media as well as a core, people-centered technology backbone is what gets me excited about our partnership and what will fuel the growth of the most talented teams around the country and the world who join us in Philadelphia. Not only is Philly a burgeoning startup ecosystem with $7B in exit value since 2010, it has an old soul with a heart for producing technological change that makes a difference.
I’m excited to rally the talented people of this combined team to ensure that the companies who join us, from Philadelphia and beyond, will elevate their ideas beyond where they dreamed.
Join us by applying to our program starting in January!