Some fantastic companies at TechStars Seattle and one Unicorn in the making.

Yesterday was TechStars Seattle Demo Day and over the last seven years of TechStars Seattle, I can say this is the best batch of all. In case, you don’t know what TechStars or Demo Day is, your time will be better spent somewhere else than reading this.

There were nine companies in total. Three of which, I felt are above the rest, two that are exciting hardware play, and three others that could be big, and one that’s in a whole category by itself.

Satellites & Drone

Kepler — they are building a tiny satellite — the size of a show box — to provide high-speed data communication among satellites and base stations. The easiest way to think about this is how cell phones and cell towers work. They are building a space-based “cell-tower system”, for satellites to communicate with each other, but also be always connected to the base station even if they are not in a geostationary orbit.

DroneSeed — I didn’t know this, but Forestry has fallen behind in technology adoption. They still plant, treat, and assess forests (for wood or reforestation after a wildfire), the same way they did 50 years ago. DroneSeed feels like one of those “duh!” startups in the sense that of course it should exist. They use different types of drones to assess and map the landscape, software to make a seed or spraying plan, and different drones to do the work. What used to take a single forestry worker three days, to do, a single drone can do it in three hours.

Visualization as a Service, Free Rides, and Chatbots.

Polly.ai — Polly.ai is the number 1 Chatbot on Slack. Its primary use is to use a conversational interface for anyone in an organization to trigger simple surveys based on events on Slack. If you don’t use Slack, this will sound very foreign to you. The secret sauce is not just the conversational interface to setup and answer the surveys, but the analytics and reporting tool. HR can quickly setup employee happiness and engagement recurring surveys. Executives can setup post-All-Hands feedback questions. IT can set up a question to ask each time a user mentions certain keywords in a conversation.

Reflect — Been there, done that: Creating a dashboard with data visualisation for the customers of my product. It’s hard! Reflect is Data Visualization as a Service, focusing primarily on delivering a great tool for developers to integrate Reflect into their product. Yes, your team of designers, developers & PMs can do that, but if you do the math, Reflect will be a tenth of the cost.

Validated — They are building a rewards program for brick-and-mortar retailers, but instead of focusing on loyalty or discount, they provide retailers the ability to give customers free rides (Lyft for now) or free parking. Having worked in the Rewards / Incentives space for a long time, people have a tendency to overvalue those rewards over the cash value of it, so they are definitely into something.

My best three

Shyft — Shyft has a cool app that allows shift workers (baristas, cooks, waiters, construction, retail salespeople, homecare workers, etc.) to exchange their shifts when needed. A shift worker might need to take her kid to the doctor, and she needs someone to cover her shift in the afternoon. Today, this is done informally over SMS, email or phone. Shyft created an app to make it trivial and is being adopted as wildfire.

Keepe — It’s a three-way marketplace, initiated by rental property managers for rental property maintenance connecting tenants and contractors to do the work. Currently, the system is frustratingly inefficient. If you are a tenant and Garbage Disposal stops working, it can take a long time for the property manager to respond and find a contractor to come and fix it. Keepe enlists dozens of contractors and creates an SMS + App experience to make the flow from tenant-manager-contractor trivial. Instead of days or weeks, it’s a matter of hours to get things fixed.

Fig Loans— If I say “Payday Loan” you automatically get a knot in your stomach. It’s predatory lending going after the needy and, even though it’s legal, reasonable people certainly find it immoral. Fig Loan is not only focusing on creating a long-term relationship for short-term loans but trying to bring the 30M underbanked Americans into the fold, by helping them with many financial needs.

Beam: The Twitch-Killer

Beam it’s in a whole different category. If you are looking for a Unicorn out of this batch, Beam is it. You might not appreciate what Beam is doing if you don’t understand eSports, Video Games, or Twitch. Beam provides a live streaming platforms for video games (eSports) just like Twitch, but with two critical differences: 1) Very low latency (<250ms). 2) In-game interaction from viewers.

Latency is a big deal in any live streaming platform, from Twitch to Periscope. It’s a problem because these are two-way(ish) streams. The streamer broadcast their video to the viewers and the viewers can chat or “react” to it in real-time. With just a few seconds of delay, things become awful. The streamer says a few things and a viewer responds with “me too” and it’s hard to know what this “me too” is about because it was so late.

The idea of giving viewers the ability to interact with the game is extraordinary. Viewers can collaborate in the game controls (yes, sounds crazy, but they have some secret sauce there), and also influence the game environment by using their currency (Sparks) to add resources, weapons, or enemies on a game. In other words, not only you can have the laid back experience from Twitch, but you can also become a player in someone’s else game!

The usage and growth on Beam in just the last four months is incredible. Viewers spend about 3h per viewing session. They just opened up their platform to more streamers, and it wouldn’t surprise me if in twelve to eighteen months they have more viewers than Twitch.

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.